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William Nack
March 30, 1987
After taking into account logic, history and the odds, the author punches out his selection for the Hagler vs. Leonard showdown
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March 30, 1987


After taking into account logic, history and the odds, the author punches out his selection for the Hagler vs. Leonard showdown

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I look forward to a very strategic fight, to doing everything conceivable to win—to tying him up, to going behind him, to being cute—everything that's going to trigger him, to cross those wires. The key to Marvin Hagler is frustration. I've got to make him miss, force him to make mistakes. When he fought Roberto Duran, after one particular round he was shaking his head. He was frustrated. If I see that, then I've got him. I've got him!

Ask Leonard. What are you going to do different? Stand there and bang with Hagler? O.K. That's the only other thing he can do. Other than that he's going to run and do the same old stuff that Leonard's been doin'. I'll let him do the flurrying. But what happens when you stop and look at me and hit me with your best shot and I'm still there and I'm smiling in your face? Just what I did with Thomas Hearns. I realize Leonard's going to run; I'll cut the ring off. Put the pressure on him. Pressssurrrrrrre!

When he stops, here lam. Hello! I'm going to knock him silly.

No one can accuse them of speeding. In fact, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard will arrive for their showdown about five years late, and just that much older, roughly the time it took Leonard to decide he really wanted to fight the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, after all. Close boxing observers still debate who would have won this fight in 1982, the year Leonard, then the welterweight champion, killed prospects for such a match by announcing his retirement. Oh, Sugar Ray made a comeback on May 11, 1984, beating the obscure Kevin Howard, but he retired again immediately after that lackluster win.

Today the match fascinates more as an object of curiosity than as a historic showdown. Rather than a forum to settle their places in history it's a field exercise in déjà vu. Though both men have surely seen their best days as fighters, they are commanding unprecedented guarantees for their efforts to recapture the past—Hagler $12 million, Leonard $11 million. Much of the event's appeal turns on questions that only the joust can answer:

1) Can the 30-year-old Leonard, who will step into the ring having fought only once in five years and 50 days, conceivably bring enough of his old skills to whip one of the most dangerous, tenacious middleweights of all time? The extraordinary length of the idleness notwithstanding, can he pull it off without even one tune-up bout?

2) Will Hagler, officially 32, who has not fought since he knocked out John Mugabi in their war of March 10, 1986, suffer from being idle more than a year himself? And what to make of the fact that Hagler's eyebrows are laced with scars and that he has shown increasing susceptibility to cuts?

3) Can Leonard weather the kind of fury and will that Hagler used to demolish Thomas Hearns, and can Hagler raise himself to such a transcendent level of exertion again?

Knowledgeable followers of the fight game consider the most tangible, telling fact of this bout to be Leonard's essential idleness for more than five years. If Leonard defeats a man who has held the middleweight title since Sept. 27, 1980, he will have pulled off the comeback of the century, staggering both memory and imagination.

"It goes against all my instincts," says Barney Nagler, the 74-year-old sports columnist and biographer. "The last time we saw Leonard, he was getting knocked down in Worcester, Mass., by a lad named Kevin Howard. Why should he be any better now? He thinks he is, but he isn't. There isn't an old fighter who doesn't sit there and say, I can do it better.' That's why they come back. It's the oldest delusion."

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