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If not for Leonard, Hagler Could've Remained Champ Another Three Years

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By Frank Lotierzo

It's hard to believe that it's been 29 years (April 6th 1987) since the showdown between undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler 62-2-2 (52) and former undisputed welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard 33-1 (24). As most boxing aficionados know, Hagler and Leonard had been on a collision course since November 30th 1979. That was the night Hagler fought middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo to a draw in the semi windup to the WBC welterweight title clash between title holder Wilfred Benitez and challenger Sugar Ray Leonard.

The Antuofermo-Hagler bout served as the warmup to the main event between Benitez and Leonard. Hagler fought Antuofermo to a disputed draw, a fight most observers thought he won, but he left the ring as the number one contender instead of the champ. An hour later in the same ring Leonard stopped Benitez with 6 seconds left in the 15th round to capture his first world title. To add insult to injury, Leonard was paid a million dollars for his 26th bout opposed to a paltry 40 thousand for Hagler in what was his 50th bout. Since that night Hagler longed to get Leonard in the ring since he felt he was always one-upped and overshadowed by him going back to their amateur days.

Finally, after nearly eight years of speculation and two retirements and comebacks by Leonard, they finally met at the Caesars Palace outdoor arena in Las Vegas for Hagler's WBC title. Prior to the bout Leonard agreed to letting Hagler make the larger purse as long as Hagler consented to fighting Leonard in a bigger than normal ring, 20 by 20, 10 ounce gloves instead of eight, and 12 rounds instead of 15. And even after granting those concessions, Hagler opened a 4-1 betting favorite. Leonard, who had only fought once in five years prior to facing Hagler, went on to win one of the signature bouts of his stellar career via a 12-round split decision.

In a bout which basically amounted to Hagler fighting as the aggressor and Leonard the boxer/counter-puncher, it turned out Leonard was just a little too quick of hand and foot and had his biggest moments at the close of most of the rounds that he won. For some unknown reason, Hagler tried to out-box Leonard, a tactic that resulted in him clearly losing the first three rounds. Being down 0-3 in rounds, Hagler reverted to fighting more and boxing less and probably won five of the remaining nine rounds – resulting in Leonard winning the bout by a consensus 7-5 in rounds or 115-113 on points. Officially, Judge Lou Filippo scored it 115-113 Hagler, Judge Dave Moretti saw it the other way, 115-113 Leonard, with the deciding vote being cast by Judge Jose Juan Guerra 118-110 in favor of Leonard.

Since the fight many fans have argued over the decision. The decisions rendered in close bouts are always subjective and if the bout isn't conclusive, the fans of both fighters think their guy won and that holds true regarding Hagler vs. Leonard. Some also believe Ray waited for Hagler to show signs of him being on the decline, due to the tough bout he had with John “The Beast” Mugabi in his previous fight 13 months earlier. However, the bigger issue that was missed by many and still is, was that Leonard always had the fighting style to give Hagler an ulcer. Hagler was at his best when his opponents carried the action to him, thus setting him up to fight as the great counter-puncher he was. The problem for Marvin on this night was, Leonard, like Roberto Duran, the only other fighter to go the distance with Hagler in a title bout, dictated that Hagler assume the role of “Smokin” Joe Frazier and fight as the predator. And that wasn't Marvin's forte, whereas fighting on the move and using his feet to get in and out was Leonard's.

It is my belief that had Hagler not lost to or never fought Sugar Ray Leonard in April of 1987, he would've remained middleweight champion until 1990. Instead of retiring with a final career record of 62-3-2 (52) going 12-1 (11) in title defenses, he most likely would've made one title defense a year for the next three years and retired as champ with a final record of 65-2-2 (55) and 15-0 (14) in title defenses. What gets lost in the aftermath of the bout is, stylistically, Leonard was all wrong for Hagler. Ray had the height and reach, the chin and just enough punch and strength to live with Marvin every day of the week. It was also Hagler's misfortune that Leonard had been observing him as a ringside commentator on HBO during his retirement in addition to Marvin conceding to Leonard's demands during the negotiations for the bout which began in late August of 1986.

After reviewing the following, I'm convinced Hagler could've held the title into 1990…..Think about this, in 1988 Ring Magazine's top five middleweight contenders/title holders excluding Sugar Ray Leonard were Sumbu Kalambay, Michael Nunn, Roberto Duran, Iran Barkley and Thomas Hearns. In 1989 the list reads Michael Nunn, Sumbu Kalambay, Mike McCallum, Roberto Duran and Iran Barkley. As for 1990, the order is Michael Nunn, Julian Jackson, Sumbu Kalambay, Mike McCallum and Steve Collins.

Let’s assume instead of fighting Leonard, Hagler fights three times circa 1987-1990 and meets Kalambay, Nunn and either Hearns or Barkley in title defenses. Does anyone believe the Hagler who was edged out by Leonard would've lost to any of them during this time frame? Hagler was the toughest and had the best chin among the group. He was a very underrated boxer/counter-puncher and unless you are an all-time great the likes of Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard, not one of the fighters listed above could've defeated him fighting in retreat. And we certainly know that none of them were in better condition, nor could they better him by going toe-to-toe and fighting it out.

Hagler of the late eighties, although not in his vintage form, would've been too physically hard and strong for either Kalambay or Nunn. There's no chance they could've held him off and out-boxed him. Sure, they may have survived into the last third of the bout but they'd both be looking more to survive than fighting to win. Neither could've hurt Hagler and it's doubtful they would've made it to the final bell. In a rematch with Hearns, Thomas would have tried to box Hagler instead of rumbling with him like he did in April of 1985. His problem would've been, as in their first fight, he couldn't hold Marvin off when he had his feet planted and tried to put him in one of the ringside seats. How long could Hearns realistically have held him off in a rematch fighting on his toes like Leonard did while looking to pick his spots? In a rematch with Duran, I doubt Roberto could've fought to the level he did the first time they met. And Hagler would've entered that bout with a severe grudge and something to prove. If we insert Barkley instead of Duran, Hagler could've out-boxed Iran with his eyes closed and probably stopped him due to cuts over his eyes somewhere during the second half of the bout.

The biggest conjecture regarding Hagler post-1987 is, how hungry would he have remained? Based on what we know of him and his history, he probably would've continued to chase and eventually break former middleweight champion Carlos Monzon's record of 14 consecutive title defenses. And Hagler surely would have been an overwhelming favorite to defeat every potential challenger mentioned. Monzon retired in 1977 at age 35. Had Sugar Ray Leonard remained retired, Hagler more than likely would have retired in 1990 at age 36 after breaking Monzon’s record with his 15th consecutive middleweight title defense.

In the nearly 30 years that have passed since Hagler and Leonard touched gloves, no one has highlighted who the top middleweights of that era were chasing Marvin for his title. The consensus after losing to Leonard was Hagler in 1987 was basically a shell of the fighter he was two years earlier. Something that wouldn't have even been an afterthought had he been awarded the decision over Leonard that many observers believe he deserved.

In closing, let’s set the record straight….Sugar Ray Leonard legitimately out-boxed a live body in Marvin Hagler who very well may have underestimated him going into the fight. Leonard owned the style matchup and the concessions that Hagler made all but sealed his fate. More importantly, had Leonard not been around, Hagler would've remained the undisputed middleweight champ for another three years simply because there wasn't another middleweight walking the planet who could've beat an even less than vintage version of him.   

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

 

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Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

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PHILADELPHIA, PA — On what Matchroom Boxing Promotions called the most important night in Philadelphia boxing in over 40 years, Jaron “Boots” Ennis (32-0, 29 KOs), the current IBF welterweight champion from the city of Brotherly Love, attracted a larger-than-expected crowd of 14,119 to the Wells Fargo Center where he stopped David Avanesyan who was pulled out after five rounds. In Avanesyan (30-5-1, 18 KOs), Ennis looked to impress on two fronts, both commercially and critically.

It didn’t take long for there to be some excitement after Ennis landed a clean jab that caused Avanesyan to stagger momentarily. Ennis turned southpaw and the action stopped after Ennis landed a low blow. Rounds two and three saw both fighters decide to fight on the inside. Ennis was able to land crisp upper cuts while only getting hit with a few shots in exchange. After four rounds, the evidence was clear that Avanesyan was getting hit with clean shots as his face started to get busted up. Avanesyan had a moment when he landed a right hand that got the attention of the crowd and Ennis.

In return, Ennis continued to press forward, this time behind a straight left and combinations. A huge overhand left floored Avanesyan who rose to his feet. Round five ended with Ennis landing some clean power shots that had Avanesyan looking deflated. The ringside physician called an end to the fight after the conclusion of round five.

After the fight, Ennis agreed that he would love the opportunity to fight Terence Crawford if Crawford were to win next month, this despite not having the type of performance that he would have loved to have had after having a year-long lay-off. Eddie Hearn mentioned that he would love to have Ennis return to Philadelphia sometime in October or November if the Crawford fight can’t be made in a possible unification fight.

Other Bouts

After three pedestrian rounds, what sounded like it would be a grudge match between Jahlil Hackett (9-0, 7 KOs) and Pete Dobson (16-2) finally turned into a fight in the fourth. With both fighters finally warming up, Hackett used his jab to continue to work his way inside to land power combinations. Dobson was forced to back up into the ropes and take shots after a large lump formed on his forehead above his left eye.

The action settled down after the sixth round with Hackett taking total control. He continued to work behind an educated jab that stunted any offensive attack that Dobson tried to muster. After all ten rounds, two of the judges saw the fight 97-93, while the third had it 96-94 all in favor of Jahlil Hackett.

Skye Nicolson (11-0, 1 KO), the 2020 Tokyo Olympian and current WBC featherweight champion, utilized her skills in every way to defeat Dayan Vargas (18-2, 12 KOs). All three judges scored the fight 100-90 after Nicolson completed the shutout in dominating fashion through her command of range with a sharp jab and lateral movement. Moving forward unification fights and a possible move up in weight may force Nicolson to face the type of opposition that could make for more entertaining fights in the future.

Light heavyweight action kicked off the main portion of the DAZN telecast. Jersey City native Khalil Coe (9-0-1, 7 KOs) made short work of Kwame Ritter (11-2). After an uneventful first round, Coe started to close the distance to start the second round and as a result he landed a hard straight right that hurt Ritter. A left hook dropped Ritter and he fell backwards into the ropes. When he got up, Coe was able to swarm him with hard shots and the referee called a halt to the action with just one second remaining in the second round.

Former world title challenger Christopher “Pitufu” Diaz (29-4, 19 KOs) made quick work of the game but clearly overmatched Derlyn Hernandez (12-2-1). A short-left hook hurt Hernandez and the seasoned Diaz took his time applying the follow-up pressure that forced the referee to wave off the action at the 2:36 mark of the second round. Diaz stated prior to this comeback fight that he’s looking for one more run towards a world title.

Christian Carto (23-1, 17 KO’s) looked impressive in three rounds of action against Carlos Buitrago (38-14, 22 KOs). Both fighters were happy to exchange from the opening bell. Carto took the punches he was hit with well and was able to return fire with combinations that caught and dropped Buitrago to start round three. A series of well-placed power combinations hurt Buitrago as the round came to an end, which prompted the referee to stop the bout at the end of the round.

A pair of Boots Promotions fighters kicked off the night with entertaining bouts:

It took all six rounds to decide the Ismail Muhammad (5-0, 1 KOs) Frank Brown (3-5-2) fight. Brown pressed the action early and caught the cold Muhammad in an exchange knocking him down for the first time in his career. Muhammad rose to his feet and proceeded to work the gameplan to get himself back into the fight. Muhammad scored his own knockdown in the fourth round and finished the fight strong to earn the unanimous decision victory by scores of 58-54 twice and 57-55.

Dennis Thompson (1-0) won his professional debut at bantamweight with a unanimous decision over the game Fernando Valdez (1-8).

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Muratalla Nips Farmer and Segawa Upsets Villa on a Top Rank Card in Las Vegas

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Fontana, California lightweight Raymond Muratalla, ranked #2 by the WBC and WBA and #4 by the IBF, continued his charge toward a world title with a hard-fought 10-round decision over Philadelphia southpaw Tevin Farmer on a Top Rank card at the Palms in Las Vegas tonight. The judges had it 97-92, 96-93, and 95-94. There were no knockdowns but referee Tom Taylor deducted a point from Farmer in round eight for excessive holding.

Farmer, 33, formerly held the IBF junior lightweight title. He lost the belt in his fifth defense to Jojo Diaz in 2020 and was out of the ring for the next 29 months. He won three straight after returning to the ring, elevating his record to 33-5-1 (8) preceding tonight’s tussle with Muratalla.

Farmer fought mostly off his back foot but was seemingly ahead after seven frames. But Muratalla, who improved to 21-0 (16), had more fuel in his tank and clearly got the best of the late rounds. He landed the best punch of the fight with a shade over a minute remaining in the final stanza, catching Farmer against the ropes and rocking him with a looping right hand.

Co-Feature

In a major upset, Sulaiman Segawa, a 33-year-old southpaw from Silver Spring, Maryland, by way of Uganda, out-worked Ruben Villa to win a 10-round unanimous decision and snatch away Villa’s regional featherweight title. The judges had it 98-92, 97-93, and 96-94.

Villa came in ranked #1 at 126 by WBC. He had lost only once in 23 starts, that coming in a WBA title fight vs. Emanuel Navarrete, a narrow defeat. Among his victims were reigning IBF featherweight champion Luis “Venado: Lopez. He was a consensus 14/1 favorite over Segawa who was 16-4-1 with only six knockouts coming in. But Villa fell behind early and although he had his moments, he didn’t punch hard enough to keep the Ugandan from staying the course.

Other Bouts of Note

In his first fight at 140 pounds, Brisbane, California’s Charlie Sheehy won an unpopular 8-round decision over SoCal’s Ricardo Quiroz. The judges had it 78-74 and 77-73 twice.

Sheehy (10-0, 5 KOs) was underwhelming. Quiroz (13-5) has been repeatedly matched tough and has never been stopped.

In a junior lightweight match, Jonathan “Geo” Lopez, a 21-year-old Pennsylvania native of Puerto Rican descent, trained by Eddy Reynoso, improved to 16-0 (12 KOs) first a first-round demolition of Venezuela’s Leonardo Padilla (23-6-1). Lopez, who defeated the likes of Xander Zayas and Abdullah Mason in the amateurs, knocked Padilla sideways and through the ropes with a body punch. Padilla slumped to his knees when he was extricated and was counted out at the 1:43 mark. “Geo” is a fighter who bears watching.

Albert “Chop Chop” Gonzales, a 22-year-old SoCal super featherweight, used an effective body punch to wear down and stop Texas campaigner Conrado Martinez. The end came at the 1:43 mark of the sixth and final round. Trained by Robert Garcia, Chop Chop improved to 9-0 (5 KOs). Martinez falls to 9-2.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

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‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez Delights the Home Folks: TKOs Barrera in 10

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Former pound-for-pound king Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez retuned to the ring last night (Friday, July 12) after a 19-month absence and scored a 10th-round TKO of Colombia’s Rober Barrera. The match was staged in the sports arena named for Alexis Arguello in the old town district of Managua. It was a homecoming for Chocolatito who was making his first start in his native Nicaragua since February of 2015 and making his debut as a bantamweight. He previously held titles at 105, 108, 112, and 115.

Barrera was 27-5 heading in, but his last three wins came against opponents who were a combined 12-55-4, suggesting he would be easy meat for the hometown hero. But the Colombian proved to be a lot tougher than expected. He wasn’t afraid to exchange with Gonzalez but was gradually worn down. He slumped to the canvas after taking a left to the rib cage in round eight and was felled by a combination in the next frame. Referee Ramon Gonzalez was remiss in not stopping the fight sooner. The official time was 0.51 of the 10th and final round.

Chocolatito Gonzalez (pictured on the left next to Jesse “Bam” Rodriguez after a sparring session at the Garcia Boxing Academy in Riverside, CA) turned 37 in June. That’s an advanced age for a prizefighter, in particular a prizefighter who competes in one of the smallest weight classes and Chocolatito began his boxing career in the very smallest class.

In October of 2015, he was elevated to #1 pound-pound-pound by The Ring magazine and also by the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, displacing long-reigning king Floyd Mayweather. Chocolatito was then 43-0 with 37 KOs and competing in the flyweight (112-pound) class. Since then, Gonzalez is 9-4, losing twice to Thailand’s Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (L MD 12; L KO 4) and twice to Mexico’s Juan Francisco Estrada (L SD 12; L MD 12).

Scottish boxing historian Matt McGrain, writing about Chocolatito’s “coronation” at the top of the P-F-P list, had this to say: “[Gonzalez] is the antithesis of Floyd…a destroyer who does not seek to hit and not be hit, but rather to hit, hit, hit…he breaks people.”

There were shades of the 2015 version of Gonzalez tonight. He still throws punches in bunches, but he also gets hit more often than he would have earlier in his career. Now a veteran of 22 world title fights who has answered the bell as a pro for 305 rounds, he would be wise to call it a career and rest on his laurels.

But he won’t and his next fight will inevitably be a bantamweight title fight in Japan. In an unprecedented development, all four of the belt-holders at 118 are Japanese: Junto Nakatani (WBC), Takuma Inoue (WBA), Ryosuke Nishida (IBF), and Toshiki Takei (WBO). On top of that, Chocolatito’s promoter is Japanese boxing kingpin Akihiko Honda.

With his win tonight, Gonzalez, a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, advanced his record to 52-4 (42 KOs).

Photo credit: Supreme Boxing

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