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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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Boxing Odds and Ends: Ramirez-Postol, Taylor-Serrano and More

Arne K. Lang

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It takes a strong constitution to be a boxing promoter because things always go wrong. The only law that governs boxing is Murphy’s Law.

Carl Frampton’s first fight under the Top Rank banner was slated for Aug. 10 of last year in Philadelphia. With the fight five days away, Frampton suffered a freak injury while sitting in a hotel lobby. A boy playing behind a curtain knocked over a seven-foot pillar which fell on Frampton’s left hand, fracturing it.

This was the second time that a Frampton fight was knocked out by a freak injury. Two years earlier, a homecoming fight in Belfast had to be scrapped when Frampton’s opponent, Andres Gutierrez, slipped in the shower in his hotel on the eve of the battle and suffered severe facial injuries.

The latest bout to fall out because of an odd development is Jose Ramirez’s Feb. 2 WBC/WBO lightweight title defense against Viktor Postol at a Chinese golf resort south of Hong Kong. The event fell victim to the coronavirus, more exactly the fear it has instilled.

The virus, which produces flu-like symptoms that are resistant to conventional antibiotics, apparently originated at an outdoor food market in the city of Wuhan where live animals are sold. The numbers vary with each new story, but according to one account there have been 444 confirmed cases in Hubei province, of which Wuhan is the capital city, and 653 cases worldwide including two in the United States, a man in his 30’s living near Seattle and a Chicago woman in her 60’s.

The fear of a pandemic (an epidemic becomes a pandemic when it spreads across multiple geographic regions of the world) has led to some drastic measures. The Chinese government has reportedly put 12 cities on lockdown, blocking traffic in and out. At many airports, visitors arriving from China are being screened. There are now thermal cameras than can record a person’s body temperature remotely.

Jose Ramirez (pictured with his promoter Bob Arum) was scheduled to leave for China yesterday (Jan. 23) but was intercepted. Viktor Postol is already there and apparently stranded until an outgoing flight can be arranged.

The Ramirez-Postol fight was to air on ESPN. No make-up date has been set.

– – –

British promoter Eddie Hearn says he’s close to finalizing a fight between Katie Taylor and Amanda Serrano. Hearn says the fight will take place in the U.S. in April. It figures that Madison Square Garden is the frontrunner.

If the fight comes off on schedule, this will be the biggest women’s fight in history!

That’s because the odds attached to the fight figure to be in the “pick-‘em” range and that guarantees that boxing writers and others in the boxing community will be surveyed to get their picks – about which there figures to be considerable disagreement – and that will greatly enhance the pre-fight buzz.

Taylor, 33, last fought in November in Manchester, England, advancing her record to 15-0 (6 KOs) with a unanimous decision over Christina Linardatou, a fighter from Greece via the Dominican Republic. It was Taylor’s first fight at 140 after previously unifying the lightweight title with a hard-fought decision over Belgium’s Delfine Persoon.

Amanda Serrano, a 31-year-old southpaw, born in Puerto Rico and raised in Brooklyn, has won titles in five weight divisions. She last fought as a featherweight, turning away gritty Heather Hardy, but has competed as high as 140. Boasting a 37-1-1 record, she’s won 23 straight, 18 by stoppage, 10 in the opening round

What sets women boxers apart from their male counterparts is that the women have a significantly lower knockout ratio. Amanda Serrano is the glaring exception.

Despite a less eye-catching record, Taylor has arguably fought the stiffer competition considering her extensive amateur background. As a pro, her victims include Cindy Serrano, Amanda’s older sister by six years. Taylor whitewashed her in a match at Boston Garden, prompting the elder Serrano sister to call it a career.

– – –

The most bizarre (non)story to appear in a boxing web site this week involved former unified heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe. A man representing Bowe, identified as Eli Karabell, was frustrated because Eddie Hearn wasn’t returning his calls. Karabell had offered Hearn the right of first refusal on Bowe’s next fight.

Bowe, now 51 years old, last fought in a boxing ring in 2008 when he returned to the sport after a three-and-half year absence for an 8-round bout in Germany. In 2013, he appeared in a kickboxing fight in Thailand where he was stopped in the second round after being knocked down five times by leg kicks.

“Will there be another chapter to write for Bowe?” concluded the author of this piece.

Egads, let’s hope not.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing-Odds-and-Ends-Crawford-Canelo-Caleb-Plant-and-More

Boxing Odds and Ends: Crawford, Canelo, Caleb Plant and More

Although a lot of disinformation comes out of the mouths of boxing promoters, Bob Arum was apparently serious when he broached the idea of a two-fight series between Terence Crawford and Conor McGregor, the first fight to be conducted under MMA rules and the second under boxing rules.

Crawford is amenable. “I just have to have the proper time to prepare myself,” he told ESPN’s Dan Rafael. “…I haven’t been in that (wrestling) environment in a long time, but most definitely I feel I can compete with anyone given the proper time to train on the MMA side, being that I have a wrestling background.”

Crawford, 32, last wrestled in middle school so he would certainly need a refresher course. However, he would have a better chance of defeating Conor McGregor in an MMA match than McGregor would have of defeating him in a boxing match. So, if Arum’s proposed two-fight series ever comes off, the tailpiece may be unnecessary.

– – –

As first reported by ESPN’s Steve Kim, Andy Ruiz Jr. has dumped trainer Manny Robles. According to Kim’s report, Ruiz’s father informed Robles of the decision and said it was Al Haymon’s idea.

Andy Ruiz appears to be one of those people that can gain weight just looking at food. He weighed 297 ½ pounds for his pro debut at age 19, carried 268 pounds for his first meeting with Anthony Joshua, and ballooned up to 283 ½ for the rematch after leading reporters to believe that he had actually slimmed down for the sequel.

Ruiz, noted Kim, went from a feel-good story to a cautionary tale in just six months.

– – –

Who ya’ gonna believe?

A certain disreputable web site, bragging that it had an exclusive, told its readers that Canelo Alvarez had settled on Billy Joe Saunders as his next opponent and that they would meet on Cinco de Mayo in Las Vegas. The next day, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix, a far more trustworthy source, reported that Ryota Murata had emerged as the frontrunner and that negotiations were underway to stage the fight in Japan.

Perhaps it makes sense for Canelo to promote his brand in a new market. However, if he fights Murata, who holds a WBA belt, he would reportedly be dropping back to 160 and at age 29 he appears to have outgrown the weight class.

Stay tuned.

– – –

If Caleb Plant were an NBA player, his name would be Kevin Love. Plant, who recently married FOX/PBC reporter Jordan Hardy, is the only U.S.-born, non-Hispanic white person among the various champions in the 17 weight divisions.

Plant, who hails from tiny Ashland City, Tenn. (23 miles from Nashville) defends his IBF super middleweight title on Feb. 15 at Nashville’s 20,000-seat Bridgestone Arena. In the opposite corner will be Germany’s Vincent Feigenbutz who will be making his U.S. debut.

The 24-year-old Feigenbutz, who turned pro at age 16, has won 10 straight and 30 of his last 31. He represents a big step up in class from Plant’s last opponent, Mike Lee, who was in way over his head.

– – –

A sad note from South Africa: Five days after the death of trailblazer Peter Mathebula, his widow, Emma Gabaitsiwe Mathebula, died suddenly of an apparent heart attack. Peter Mathebula’s funeral, originally set for Saturday, has been pushed back until Tuesday and will now be a joint funeral.

Mathebula, who won the WBA world flyweight title in 1980, basically died a pauper, having sold all of  his boxing memorabilia to keep his head above water. His heirs had reached out to the government for assistance in defraying the costs of his burial.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 82: Jason Quigley Returns to SoCal and More

David A. Avila

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Southern California prizefighting heats up with Jason Quigley headlining a fight card in Orange County and then, two days later, another fight card takes place in the heart of Los Angeles.

Ireland’s Quigley (17-1, 13 KOs) faces Mexico’s Fernando Marin (16-4-3, 12 KOs) on Thursday Jan. 23, at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. DAZN will stream the Golden Boy Promotions fight card live.

Quigley, 28, seeks to reclaim territory lost when he suffered a defeat last July against Tureano Johnson. Ironically, Marin would lose 10 days later in Hollywood to super welterweight contender Serhii Bohachuk.

For several years Quigley had trained in Southern California but decided to change trainers and location. He moved to Great Britain and still prepares near his native country but primarily fights in the U.S.

At one time Quigley clamored for a match against Gennady “GGG” Golovkin or Saul “Canelo” Alvarez but now finds himself trying to prove he belongs in the upper tier of the middleweight division. It’s loaded with talent.

Also on the same fight card will be popular North Hollywood super welterweight Ferdinand Kerobyan who was headed to contender status when he ran into Blair “the Flair” Cobbs. At the time Cobbs was an unknown quantity but no longer.

Kerobyan (13-1, 8 KOs) meets Azael Cosio (21-8-2) in an eight-round clash in the semi-main event at OC Hangar. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Red Boxing International

On Saturday Jan. 27, Red Boxing International hosts its first boxing card of the year at Leonardo’s Night Club located at 6617 Wilson Ave. L.A. 90001. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Super welterweight Bryan Flores (13-1, 6 KOs) meets Brandon Baue (15-17) in the main event  in the first event of the year for the ambitious promotion company. For the past two years Flores fought primarily in Tijuana, Mexico where he racked up six wins. Now he’s back on Southern California soil.

Another match features lightweights Angel Israel Rodriguez (5-0) facing off against Braulio Avila (3-6) in a six-round fight.

Rodriguez fights out of Pico Rivera, Calif. but recently fought in Costa Rica where he won by first round knockout in November. He will be fighting Avila who just fought two weeks ago at the Chumash Casino in Santa Ynez, Calif.

It’s a long fight card with 11 bouts on the schedule.

JRock and Rosario

Boxing fans received another lesson on never underestimating a ranked contender regardless of the name recognition.

Jeison Rosario knocked out Julian “J Rock” Williams who was making the first defense of the WBA and IBF super welterweight world titles he won last year in my selection as “Fight of the Year.”

Rosario walked in with little recognition and was thought to be a soggy piece of bread for Williams. The long armed Dominican fighter walloped Williams in front of his hometown fans in Philadelphia. It was yet another warning for fans to understand that anyone who steps in the boxing ring ranked as a contender can do the unthinkable. In this case Rosario knocked out the champion in five rounds.

Many felt Williams was far too skilled, especially on the inside where he showcased those skills last May against former titlist Jarret Hurd. It was a remarkable display of the art of inside fighting. But against Rosario, he never got a chance to exhibit those skills.

The loaded super welterweight division has another dangerous champion in Rosario.

Fights to Watch

Thurs. 6 p.m. DAZN – Jason Quigley (17-1) vs Fernando Marin (16-4-3).

Sat. 6 p.m. Showtime – Danny Garcia (35-2) vs Ivan Redkach (23-4-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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