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Jeff ‘Candy Slim’ Merritt: A Fighter’s Life (Part Three of a Three Part Series)

Steve Compton

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Note: When we left Jeff Merritt, he was basking in the glow of his 16th straight victory, having just blasted out Ron Stander on a show in Cleveland promoted by Don King.

After a short rest Merritt was scheduled to face Henry Clark in a rematch of their August 1969 fight. Don King had negotiated a career high purse for Merritt of $10,000 but it would prove a monumental blunder of matchmaking. The Clark fight was scheduled for March 1974. Also scheduled for March 1974 was heavyweight champion George Foreman’s anticipated title defense against Ken Norton. Clark had been acting as Foreman’s chief sparring partner. In Foreman, Clark couldn’t have found better preparation for Merritt. Like Merritt, Foreman was a tall power puncher who often walked in with his hands low, winging punches. Unlike Merritt, Foreman was incredibly strong and much more durable. Clark made much of the fact that he had been a short notice replacement in his first fight with Merritt and that now, in the best shape of his life, he was prepared to get revenge.

Merritt was unfazed by Clark’s tough talk. “He’d have to run up every hill in Oakland and chop down every tree in California and he still won’t beat me.” Merritt likewise had the best preparation for Clark. Clark had always been compared to a poor man’s Muhammad Ali and to prepare for Clark Merritt traveled to Muhammad Ali’s Deer Lake training camp to spar with the genuine article. If Merritt could beat Clark he was expected to have a place of honor on the undercard of Foreman-Norton against either Oscar Bonavena or Jose Luis Garcia but there were hints that he was taking the fight less than seriously.

Larry Holmes, interviewed for this story, stated that Merritt smoked marijuana and began hanging out with the wrong people. In his book he claimed Merritt also drank cough syrup to get high. “I thought the guy could have been champion of the world but he blew it all by hanging out with the wrong people. But you know that’s how it goes. There are a lot of those guys in the sport. He did drugs and I didn’t want any part of that. That’s not Larry Holmes. I figured with what he was in to he was either going to wind up getting shot and killed or die of an overdose.” Earnie Shavers echoed these sentiments. “Jeff was a nice guy but didn’t take care of himself like he should. He was his own worst enemy. Jeff didn’t do right and abused his body.”

In an interview just prior to the Clark fight Don King hinted at these issues as well. “He will be the next heavyweight champion if he keeps his head on straight. He’s his own worst enemy. If he goes astray along the way it will be his own fault.”

The extent that Merritt abused himself prior to Clark is hard to determine. In interviews just prior to the fight he looks healthy, strong, confident, and formidable. Whatever the case, he ran into a buzz saw against Clark. True to his prefight boasting Clark was as prepared for Merritt as he was for any fighter he ever fought. Less than twenty seconds after the bell opened the fight he came over Merritt’s low guard with a left hook that sent Merritt reeling back into his own corner. Clark followed and showered him with punches dropping Candy Slim. Merritt struggled to his feet, dazed and confused, looking awkwardly over his right shoulder at nobody in particular. As Clark moved in Merritt lazily circled but was buzzed with a quick, grazing hook and then sent flying backwards by a pinpoint right hand fired right down the middle and landing squarely on the point of the chin. Merritt landed flat on his back and immediately the contest was waved off. He struggled to his feet and staggered around as he was pointed back to his corner. When he was finally capable of grasping what had happened he looked around in stunned disbelief. For all intents and purposes Merritt’s career was over with this defeat.

In the past six months Merritt had finally cracked the lowest rung of the top ten rankings and in the blink of an eye it was over. It was a stunning blow for Don King as well. Three months earlier his other marquee heavyweight, Earnie Shavers, had similarly been blasted out of contention via a first round knockout courtesy of Jerry Quarry. Undaunted, King was already barreling forward with plans to stage a monumental promotion in the unlikely setting of Zaire between champion George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. While King focused on his “Rumble in the Jungle” he had little time for anything else. As Jeff stewed about the loss to Clark and grew frustrated by King’s lack of attention he fell back into his old habits and one again found himself at odds with the law.

Two weeks before Ali defeated George Foreman in their historic Zaire showdown Merritt was arrested and charged with several crimes. In October Merritt returned to his native Kansas City to visit his family. While riding in a car he was pulled over and taken into custody for questioning. Earlier a group of men had knocked down the door of a home and held a couple at gunpoint while they stole a television, a gun, a watch, and $13. Jeff denied he had been involved but the car he was found in was identified as the getaway vehicle and the gun used in the robbery was found in the car. Merritt, hard to miss at six foot five inches, was picked out of a lineup by the victims.

While in custody Merritt was implicated in the robbery of a craps game that took place on October 16. It was alleged that Merritt had beaten and robbed Otis Myrick and Raymond Medellin of cash and valuables totaling nearly $600. Initially Jeff tried to deny involvement in the armed robbery or that he had taken any money from Myrick or Medellin yet under questioning he admitted his involvement and on the advice of his attorney pleaded guilty to both crimes in the hope of leniency and a shorter sentence. On February 19, 1975 he was sentenced to two terms of five years in the Missouri State Penitentiary to be served concurrently with the seven year sentence he had recently been given for the armed robbery. Jeff Merritt’s life had now come full circle.

Much has been written about Don King’s treatment of Merritt but it’s hard to figure how much more King could have done for Merritt or his career. When he initially took over Merritt’s contract Jeff was a junkie, recently released from jail, and considered such a problem that no other manager wanted anything to do with him. King took Merritt on and turned his career around. In a matter of months he got Merritt his two biggest fights, a top ten ranking, and the best publicity of his career. A manager can only do so much. A fighter has to train and win. Merritt squandered his position by getting knocked out by the light hitting Clark, hanging out with the wrong people, and ultimately winding up back in prison.

When Merritt was paroled just over a year and half after re-entering prison he was ready to get back into the mix. Once again Don King was there. He immediately got Merritt a nationally televised fight on the undercard of George Foreman’s showdown against Scott LeDoux. Merritt would be facing Sacramento prospect Stan Ward. It seemed like King had pitched Merritt a softball. Ward had just five wins to his name and it was hoped that if Merritt could score one of his vintage knockouts he would be matched with Foreman for a career high payday. It was a remarkable opportunity for a fighter who hadn’t fought in two and a half years coming off a devastating one round knockout loss and recently released from prison. There would have been a long line of fighters begging for just such a showcase but King gave the opportunity to Merritt. It’s hard to reconcile that with the idea that King somehow mismanaged Merritt.

As stated above, a manager can only do so much for his fighter. A fighter has to win to keep the paydays coming. Merritt looked to be well on his way to winning in the first round when he shut Ward’s right eye with a series of left hooks and seemed to be having things his own way. But Ward proceeded to hang tough and in the third round clipped Merritt with a right hand that dropped him. After Merritt was dropped again the fight was halted to save Merritt from serious injury. It was Candy Slim’s last chance to carve out a place in boxing history and thereafter he would fade into obscurity.

The following spring Merritt would be picked up on a parole violation. He had slipped back into heroin addiction and was now enrolled in a methadone program. Five months later he was arrested for the attempted murder of Jimmy Ward. Jeff had shot Ward five times outside of a Cleveland nightclub. He was charged with murder, pleaded self-defense and the following June was acquitted. The day after his acquittal he was once again arrested for parole violation and sent back to Missouri to serve his sentence. The next three years were a haze of drugs and multiple prison sentences stemming from parole violations. In 1982 he briefly returned to the ring long enough to knock out Memphis Al Jones. The fight was held in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at a rambling nightclub that specialized in country music. The main event featured Merritt’s old stable-mate Earnie Shavers, like Merritt trying to recapture past glory.

In the late seventies or early eighties Jeff’s mother had moved out to California to be closer to Jeff’s half brother Kenneth. About 1981 she relocated to Las Vegas where most of the family eventually joined her, Jeff included. His family hoped that the move would help Jeff but drugs continued to control his life. He robbed and stole to support his habit. It has been written that Jeff would appear at major boxing events in Las Vegas, homeless and begging for money. This is only part true. Jeff wasn’t homeless, although his addiction may have given him that appearance at times, but he did go to the fights and panhandle often trying to hook up with Don King for a handout. On occasion King would find him and give him some money but usually he was just a sad reminder of the ravages of drug abuse.

Numerous arrests and convictions followed over the years. In 1998 when he was sentenced to prison for the last time he was listed as a habitual criminal. The years of hard living and drug abuse had taken their toll on his once formidable body and while in prison he suffered a stroke that resulted in partial paralysis. He was given early release and spent the remainder of his days confined to a wheel chair, living on disability, and being cared for by his sister Patricia before he passed away June 1, 2014.

Merritt’s legend has only grown over the years, fueled by the early promise he exhibited and the occasional tantalizing mention he gets in passing by men like Muhammad Ali, Earnie Shavers, and Larry Holmes. Jack Newfield was largely responsible for writing the modern narrative of Jeff Merritt’s career in his expose of Don King, painting Merritt as the victim of King’s malevolence. Despite Merritt’s relatively meager accomplishments inside the ring he has become one of boxing’s greatest what-if stories. According to Shavers, Merritt “could have been champion for a thousand years if he had taken care of himself.” But Jeff didn’t take care of himself and rather than a what-if story he serves as a cautionary tale for young fighters. Jeff used his ability in the ring to create multiple opportunities for himself and invariably he squandered them each time, choosing instead to live in the moment and not for the future. A quick fix was more attractive than three months of training. A night on the town was easier than thirty minutes in the ring. His contemporaries Earnie Shavers and Larry Holmes have both settled into a comfortable life in their declining years while Merritt, who chose a less Spartan path, had a considerably more difficult life after boxing. In the end the man who may have had more potential than both of them remains a fascinating footnote for fans of boxing to ponder.

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Three Punch Combo: An Early Look at Inoue-Donaire and Under the Radar Fights

Matt Andrzejewski

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Inoue vs Donaire

THREE PUNCH COMBO — This past Saturday, Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KO’s) punched his ticket to the bantamweight final in the World Boxing Super Series when he impressively knocked out Emmanuel Rodriguez in the second round of their scheduled 12-round fight. The win sets up a showdown with veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KO’s) who punched his ticket to the final with an impressive knockout of Stephon Young last month.

As expected, Inoue has opened as a monstrous favorite in the betting markets. While this suggests a one-sided wipeout, I have some other thoughts.

Inoue is pound for pound one of, if not the, hardest puncher in the sport today and put that power on full display in his destruction of Rodriguez in the semi-finals. But having enormous power does not make him indestructible.

In watching that fight against Rodriguez, there were clearly flaws on display on the defensive side of Inoue’s game. For one, Inoue does not move his head at all and as such can be hit. Rodriguez landed several clean punches on Inoue in the first round. And Inoue frequently keeps his hands low looking to bait opponents into throwing to set up counter opportunities. It has worked so far but could be something he pays for down the road.

Donaire is a smart and skilled fighter and though he is 36, his last few fights have shown that he still has plenty left in the tank. Moreover, he possesses one thunderous left hook and has always been at his best when fighting below 122. He has all the capabilities to expose Inoue’s flaws and a left hook that can alter the course of a fight as we have seen him doing plenty of times in the past.

Unlike a lot of people, I do not consider Donaire to be another layup for Inoue. There is real danger in this fight for Inoue if he does not make changes to his game. Donaire has starched big punching rising stars before and I would not discount his chances to expose the significant defensive flaws in Inoue’s game.

 Under The Radar Fight

Boxing returns to ESPN on Saturday with a card from Kissimmee, FL headlined by 130- pound champion Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO’s) who is making the second defense of his title against former US Olympian Jamel Herring (19-2, 10 KO’s). While I think this should be an excellent fight, the co-feature, which is flying deep under the radar, should be even better.

In this fight, former two division world champion Jose Pedraza (25-2, 12 KO’s) makes his return to the ring after losing his lightweight title to Vasiliy Lomachenko in December to face Antonio Lozada (40-2-1, 34 KO’s). Given their respective styles, this fight at the very least will provide plenty of sustained action.

Appropriately nicknamed “The Sniper,” Pedraza at his best is a precision puncher. A boxer-puncher by trade, he uses subtle movement inside the ring to create angles that are used to land sharp power shots on his opposition. He is also a very good inside fighter and will shift around on the inside to once again set up just the right angle to land his power shots with maximum efficiency. But despite being a good inside fighter, Pedraza has a tendency to stay in the pocket a bit too long which leaves him open to getting hit.

Lozada is best known for his upset TKO win against one-time blue-chip prospect Felix Verdejo in March of 2018. However, he failed to build momentum off that win and is coming off a lackluster split draw his last time out to 12-7-1 journeyman Hector Ruben Ambriz Suarez.

Lozada certainly does not have the technical proficiency of Pedraza. He is slow and plodding. But what he does bring to the table is relentless pressure combined with a high volume of punches. He will press forward, recklessly at times, winging punches consistently hoping to wear down his opposition through attrition.  As such, he tends to get hit a lot and can be involved in shootouts.

Cleary, Pedraza is the more skilled fighter, but given Lozada’s all-offensive mindset as well as Pedraza’s willingness to stay in the pocket, the leather is all but guaranteed to be flying from the opening bell. Neither are big punchers either so I suspect we see a fight that goes rounds providing many exciting exchanges and one that could certainly steal the show on Saturday.

Another Under The Radar Fight

Also on Saturday, Fox Sports 1 will televise a card from Biloxi, MS featuring a crossroads fight between former 154-pound champion Austin Trout (31-5, 17 KO’s) and former US Olympian Terrell Gausha (21-1, 10 KO’s). But it is another 154-pound fight on the undercard that is receiving almost no coverage that I want to highlight. It pits Chordale Booker (14-0, 7 KO’s) against Wale Omotoso (27-3, 21 KO’s).

Booker turned pro in 2016 after a successful amateur career and has kept up a fairly busy schedule. He is coming off a dominating 8-round unanimous decision over veteran Juan De Angel in January and now is taking a big jump up in his caliber of opposition in facing Omotoso.

Booker, a southpaw, likes to press forward behind a stinging right jab. He possesses elite level hand speed and likes to use that jab to set up quick power punching combinations. Booker is also an excellent counter puncher and possesses a very potent right hook coming from that southpaw stance. He will often hold his left low to bait his opponents into opening up to set up counter opportunities. However, he has also been clipped by his share of left hooks fighting in this manner and this is something he will need to tighten up against Omotoso. So just how will Booker respond to Omotoso’s pressure and heavy handed body attack? Depending on the answer, we will either see Booker step up to the next level or get exposed. And that’s what makes this fight so intriguing to me

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Serhii Bohachuk KOs Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.-Super welterweight prospect Serhii Bohachuk got his first taste of upper tier boxing from Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez and gave him his best Sunday punch to win by knockout.

Bohachuk (14-0, 14 KOs) showed the excited Hollywood crowd he’s more than ready for former world title challengers like Hernandez (34-11, 22 KOs) or maybe even the current contenders with an exuberant display of pressure fighting at the Avalon Theater.

The smiling Ukrainian fighter has been steadily attracting fans to the 360 Promotions fight cards.

Trained by Abel Sanchez, the lanky and pale Bohachuk – whose nickname “El Flaco” fits perfectly – always moved forward against Mexico City’s Hernandez who has made a reputation of being crafty despite the strength of competition. With Bohachuk constantly applying pressure the Mexican fighter used the first round to touch and feel his way around the Ukrainian bomber.

In the second round a sharp counter right floored Hernandez who quickly got up and resumed the contest. It looked like the end was near until Hernandez caught Bohachuk with a solid right cross. It was a warning shot well heeded by Bohachuk.

Both fighters exchanged vigorously in the third round with the Ukrainian fighter’s youth a definite advantage. Hernandez was able to display his fighting tools more effectively in the third round but could it be enough?

Bohachuk was clearly the heavier-handed fighter but was finding it difficult to connect solidly against the Mexican veteran. But in the fifth round Bohachuk lowered his gun sights and targeted the body with a left hook that dropped Hernandez.  The fight was stopped by referee Wayne Hedgepeth at 1:40 of the fifth round.

Other Bouts

A battle of super featherweights saw Rialto, California’s Adrian Corona (5-0) rally from behind to defeat Florida’s Canton Miller (3-3-1) by split decision after six rounds.

Corona had problems with Miller’s speed in the first two rounds and was unable to track the moving fighter’s direction. But in the third round Corona began to apply more aggressive measures against Miller and was especially effective with lead rights. The momentum changed quickly.

Miller switched from orthodox to southpaw and it served to pause Corona’s momentum, but he seldom scored with solid blows. Though Miller landed quick soft blows, Corona was landing with strong shots and convinced two of the three judges that he was the winner by 58-56 twice. A third judge saw Miller the victor by the same score 58-56.

“It’s not my job to judge the judges,” said Miller. “It’s my job to just fight.”

Corona was happy with the victory.

“I could have put the pressure on him a little more,” said Corona. “It was a very technical fight and he put on a great fight.”

Other Bouts

George Navarro (6-0-1, 2 KOs) knocked out Cesar Sustaita (3-5) with a perfect overhand right that disabled the senses and forced referee Raul Caiz Jr. to halt the fight at 1:37 of the first round.

“I worked hard to prepare for this fight,” said Navarro.

A super bantamweight clash saw Humberto Rubalcava (10-1, 7 KOs) knock out Daniel Constantino (3-3-2) and win by knockout after a flurry of a dozen blows went unanswered. Referee Angel Mendez stopped the battering at 1:39 of the first round.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler Stood Tall in an Era of Epic Battles

Rick Assad

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Leonard & Hagler

It’s been said — and it applies to all sports, but especially boxing — that in order to be great, one has to face great competition.

During the 1980s, in what many consider boxing’s “Golden Age,” several epic battles were waged between Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Ray Leonard, which helped drive the sport’s appeal after Muhammad Ali’s retirement in 1981.

All four are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but Leonard and Hagler stood the tallest.

With each celebrating birthdays this month – Leonard turned 63 on Friday, May 17,   and Hagler turns 65 on Thursday, May 23 –  this seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on their legendary careers.

Leonard, who would become a world champion in five weight classes, was a nonpareil ring craftsman who could box with absolute ease and also unload the heavy artillery.

Some said slick marketing after claiming the Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a junior welterweight helped Leonard vault to fame. Sugar Ray had the look, personality and charm to attract a large fan base, but did he have what it takes to hold his own against the top welterweights?

The answer was yes, but it wasn’t until Leonard stopped Wilfred Benitez in the 15th round for the World Boxing Council and lineal welterweight title in November 1979 at Caesars Palace, that he would be given his due.

Entering the fight, Benitez had a 38-0-1 record and was a two-division world champion.

In the opening frame, Leonard drilled Benitez with a left hook after tossing a jab and a right cross.

Two rounds later, Leonard knocked Benitez on his backside with a rattling jab. “I wasn’t aware I was in a championship fight early because I hit him so easy,” said Leonard, who was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine in 1979 and 1981, but then he adjusted to my style. It was like looking in a mirror.”

Leonard knocked Benitez down with a thunderous left in the 15th, but couldn’t put him away until the referee called it off with six seconds left.

“No one, I mean no one, can make me miss punches like that,” said Leonard of Benitez, who is also in the IBHOF.

In June 1980, Leonard, who went 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts, returned to the Canadian city where he first gained fame and faced the indestructible Duran, the former lightweight king, who came into the bout with a 71-1 record and was regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

The fight drew international attention and although Leonard lost, his showing removed any and all doubts about his greatness.

With 46,317 inside Olympic Stadium, Duran dictated the early pace by cutting off the ring and not allowing Leonard to extend his arms.

For four rounds, Duran didn’t give Leonard enough room to move and unload any significant blows.

Leonard finally came alive in the fifth and unleashed numerous combinations. The remainder of the fight saw Leonard score, but it was Duran who looked stronger and sharper.

William Nack, writing in Sports Illustrated described it thusly: “It was, from almost the opening salvo, a fight that belonged to Duran. The Panamanian seized the evening and gave it what shape and momentum it had. He took control, attacking and driving Leonard against the ropes, bulling him back, hitting him with lefts and rights to the body as he maneuvered the champion against the ropes from corner to corner. Always moving forward, he mauled and wrestled Leonard, scoring inside with hooks and rights.”

After 15 rounds, Duran won a very narrow but unanimous decision, handing Leonard his first setback after opening his pro career with 27 wins.

Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s trainer, had advised him to stick and move against Duran who wanted to brawl. But Duran was able to get inside Leonard’s head and Leonard, wanting to prove his toughness, did not follow Dundee’s advice.

Leonard realized his error and vowed not to make the same mistake if he met Duran again. And they did meet again, five months later, before a national television audience with 25,038 looking on at the New Orleans Superdome.

This time Leonard would fight his fight and not Duran’s. “The whole fight, I was moving, I was moving,” he said, “and voom! I snapped his head back with a jab. Voom! I snapped it back again. He tried to get me against the ropes, I’d pivot, spin off and pow! Come under with a punch.”

Late in a memorable seventh round, Leonard wound up his right hand as if to throw a bolo punch but instead tagged Duran’s face with a sharp jab.

Leonard then taunted him, sticking out his chin and daring Duran to hit it. The taunting continued as Leonard moved around the ring.

It was clear Leonard was ahead on all three scorecards, but it was still close, and Duran, though not hurt, seemed to lack real punching power and probably felt humiliated.

Toward the end of the eighth round, Duran turned his back to Leonard and uttered the now famous line “no mas” (no more).

It was over with 16 seconds left as Leonard regained the WBC and lineal welterweight belts.

Duran said he quit because of stomach cramps after overeating following the weigh-in. To which Leonard replied, “I made him quit…to make Roberto Duran quit was better than knocking him out.”

Leonard then agreed to meet Hearns in order to unify the welterweight title. They met on September 16, 1981, a sweltering night in Las Vegas, at an outdoor arena at Caesars Palace before 23,618. Hearns walked into the ring with a 32-0 mark and 30 knockouts, while Leonard had a 31-1 record with 22 knockouts.

In the early stages, Leonard stayed away and boxed while Hearns tried to find a hole in Leonard’s defense.

After five rounds, Leonard was trailing on the cards and had a swelling under his left eye. In the sixth, Leonard found his range and landed a left hook to the face and he was again the aggressor in the seventh.

Hearns decided to box and piled up points while Leonard wanted to unload the heavy guns.

Hearns dominated rounds nine through 12. But just before round 13, Dundee said to Leonard, “you’re blowing it, son! You’re blowing it!”

For the 13th, Leonard, who now had a badly swollen left eye, caught Hearns with a stunning right and then landed a clean combination as Hearns was on wobbly legs.

Hearns went through the ropes, but it wasn’t ruled a knockdown by referee Davey Pearl because it wasn’t a punch that sent him there.

Late in the same round, Hearns was decked after Leonard connected with multiple blows.

In round 14, with Hearns leading on all three cards but clearly out of gas, Leonard seized control with a sizzling overhand right and a combination that saw Pearl call a stop to the action.

A third round TKO over Bruce Finch in February 1982 with the WBA, WBC, and lineal welterweight titles on the table, was followed by a scheduled fight with Roger Stafford.

While in training, Leonard had problems with his vision. He was diagnosed with a detached retina which was repaired in May of that year.

In November 1982, at a charity event in Maryland, Leonard announced he was retiring from boxing.

Twenty-seven months passed before Leonard returned to the ring in May 1984, when he faced Kevin Howard in a non-title match.

In the fourth round, Leonard was knocked down for the first time in his career. He went on to win, TKOing Howard in the ninth, but then shocked everyone at the post-fight press conference by announcing he was calling it a career once again.

Leonard sat ringside for the Hagler-John Mugabi fight in Las Vegas in March 1986 and was surprised to see Mugabi actually outbox Hagler for much of the contest before succumbing in the 11th round.

Leonard had seen enough and announced two months later he was coming back and that his next opponent would be none other than the great Hagler who would be making the 13th defense of his middleweight title.

The fight was set for April 6, 1987 at Caesars Palace. Hagler opened a 4-to-1 favorite.

Leonard won the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards as Hagler, a natural left-hander, fought in an orthodox stance.

In the third round, Hagler switched to southpaw and fared much better, but Leonard remained in control with the help of superior hand and foot speed.

Leonard started to tire by the fifth as Hagler buckled his knees with an uppercut toward the close of the frame.

Hagler scored well in the sixth round, but Leonard also had effective moments.

Hagler did well in the seventh and eighth as he landed his jab while Leonard wasn’t able to counter.

The ninth round was the most exciting with Hagler stunning Leonard with a left cross and had him pinned in the corner.

Leonard was able to escape and though each looked sharp, Hagler’s punches were crisper and more resounding.

The 10th round wasn’t as dramatic, but Hagler took that stanza, while Leonard boxed sharply in the 11th.

In the fight’s final round, the 12th, Hagler landed a tremendous left hand that backed Leonard into the corner.

Leonard threw a flurry of punches and the round concluded with each fighter exchanging blows along the ropes.

The final CompuBox stats had Leonard landing 306 of 629 punches for 48.6 percent and Hagler connecting on 291 of 792 for 36.7 percent.

The fight was very close. Lou Filippo had it 115-113 for Hagler but was out-voted by Dave Moretti and Jose Guerra who had it for Leonard by scores of 115-113 and 118-110 respectively.

Hagler, who closed his career with a 62-3-2 mark and 52 knockouts, insisted he won the fight.

This was Hagler’s final time inside the ring and he would eventually move to Italy.

Prior to his famous battle with Sugar Ray, Hagler scored two of the biggest wins of his career, scoring a unanimous decision over Roberto Duran in November 1983 and stopping Thomas Hearns in the third round in April 1985. Both bouts were at Caesars Palace.

Here is Pat Putnam’s lead graph of the classic Hagler-Hearns fight as it appeared in Sports Illustrated: “There was a strong wind blowing through Las Vegas Monday night, but it could not sweep away the smell of raw violence as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns hammered at each other with a fury that spent itself only after Hearns had been saved by the protecting arms of referee Richard Steele. The fight in a ring set upon the tennis courts at Caesars Palace lasted only one second longer than eight minutes, but for those who saw it, the memory of its nonstop savagery will remain forever.”

After upsetting Hagler, Leonard waited 19 months before getting back in the ring. In November 1988, he defeated WBC light heavyweight title-holder Donny Lalonde via a ninth round TKO. The WBC also sanctioned this fight for their inaugural super middleweight title.

Leonard then faced Hearns in a rematch in June 1989 at Caesars Palace and though it was ruled a draw, many at ringside thought that Hearns, who knocked Leonard down twice, deserved the decision.

Six months later, at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Leonard met Roberto Duran in a rubber match. Leonard prevailed over Duran by unanimous decision.

There would be two more fights for Leonard before he retired from boxing for good. In February 1991 at Madison Square Garden he lost a unanimous decision to Terry Norris in a clash for the WBC junior middleweight crown.

Another retirement followed, but his career wouldn’t officially be over until March 1997 at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when Leonard, now 40 years old, was stopped in the fifth round by Hector Camacho with a fringe middleweight title at stake.

These last two fights were aberrations compared to Leonard’s glory days when he was the undisputed ruler of the welterweight division.

Few who watched Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler at their peaks will ever forget what they brought into the ring. No, they didn’t do it alone, but it’s unlikely anyone better than these two titans will appear any time soon.

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