The 6th of April 1987, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, two of boxing’s greatest ever fighters met in the ring in what would become the richest bout in the sport’s history at the time.
“Sugar” Ray Leonard and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler were two titans on the sport when they met in Sin City with Hagler putting his WBC middleweight strap on the line, whilst also entering the fight beaten in over a decade.
Leonard, on the other hand, hadn’t boxed in three years and was stepping up to middleweight from his regular welterweight, he was the underdog in so many ways. Comparable to Kell Brook’s recent step up to take on Gennady Golvokin. Leonard, like Brook, had no right to win the fight.
Marvelous Marv had held world middleweight titles for eight years and in his two previous fights, had knocked out John Mugabi and his great rival Thomas Hearns, we was the king of boxing and considered to be the pound for pound number one at the time.
Sugar Ray, arguably, was the slicker of the two men boasting a skill-set which is still heralded as one of the greatest of all time. He was fast, quick on his feet and his punch selection was second to none. Hagler was naturally bigger and strong, the key for him was to dictate the tempo and to try and bully Leonard.
Leonard started quickly, using his fast hands to rattle of combinations and then get out of Hagler’s way. Marv struggled early on with his balance and accuracy, being frustrated by the quicker man. Leonard won each of the first four rounds with the champion finding himself constantly confused by the challenger’s game plan.
Leonard’s inevitable ring rust arrived in the seventh, a hook from Hagler had him buzzed and was only saved from a serious onslaught by the sound of the bell but it was clear that the champion’s freshness and the fact that he was more ring active was coming into play.
In the eighth, Hagler attempted to goad his rival, knowing that he needed a knockout due to his slow start. His taunts were, however, met with a grin and “no chance” from Sugar Ray who had previously been goaded into a scrap by Roberto Duran. Sugar Ray was a slickster, having a war didn’t suit him and the fact he was ahead by such a distance meant that he didn’t need to engage.
The final rounds consisted of Hagler backing Leonard up trying to apply the killer blow but his rival wriggled like an eel, counter-punched and drew on ridiculous stamina reserves to battle to the final bell and secure a famous victory via split decision.
Leonard’s victory was named Upset of the Year and Fight of the Year by Ring Magazine and would also go on to be called Upset of the Decade. The former welterweight would step up in weight again to draw with Hearns and avenge his loss to Duran and has become one of boxing’s all-time greats and now is a fantastic boxing analyst.
Hagler would never fight again, retiring after the fight and moving to Italy and has taken up acting, starring in a number of movies. He has continually ignored Hearns’ pleas to come out of retirement.
30 years on and both fighters are Hall of Famers and considered greats of the sport, whilst Leonard’s unlikely victory goes down in history as one of the biggest upsets in boxing.