Boxing's Fab Four Part Eight: Hagler Vs Leonard

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

06th April 1987, Caesars Palace Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas

WBC Middleweight Title

Marvelous Marvin Hagler Vs Ray Leonard

Ray Leonard's defeat of Thomas Hearns back in 1981 to unify the welterweight division was meant to put him on a collision course with middleweight king Marvin Hagler. Unfortunately for Leonard his career was put on hold due to retina trouble.

He defended the undisputed welterweight crown against Bruce Finch, stopping his challenger in the third round. He was due to to face Roger Stafford in May 1982, but it was discovered that Leonard had a detached retina in his left eye. After successful surgery the champion thought it best to retire from boxing, even though he had the all clear from the doctors.

In May 1984 Leonard came back against Kevin Howard. Though He stopped Howard in the ninth round, he had to get off the canvas in the fourth round from a right hand, the first time Leonard had been down. He was so disgusted with his performance that he announced his retirement straight away.

Hagler was chasing shadows at times

After blasting out Thomas Hearns in three pulsating rounds of pure violence, Marvin Hagler next entered the ring eleven months later against unbeaten John 'The Beast' Mugabi. The Ugandan challenger had won all his twenty-five victories by knockout and was ranked number one by the WBC, WBA and IBF authorities. 

Hagler was making his twelfth defence of the crown he won in 1980, with only Roberto Duran taking him the distance. Mugabi gave the champion a tough fight and almost closed his right eye, but the champion put Mugabi down for the count in round eleven. Both men urinated blood and had to be hospitalised after the bout.

'Sugar' Ray Leonard's decision to fight Hagler came when he was ringside watching the Mugabi fight. "I was at ringside, sitting with Michael J Fox," Leonard said. "We were sitting there having a few beers, and I'm watching John 'The Beast' Mugabi outbox Hagler. Of all people John 'The Beast' Mugabi. Now, I had a few beers, and I said 'Michael, Michael, I can beat Hagler.' And he said, 'Ray, do you want another beer?' I said, 'Yes I do, but I can beat Hagler'."

On 18th August 1986 Hagler announced he would be fighting Ray Leonard next and a press conference held at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan on 03rd November officially announced the contest. With concerns over Leonard's retinal problems he turned up to the press conference with a medical seal of approval from a number of doctors.

At first the Nevada State Athletic Commission were reluctant to sanction the fight, but the commission's chief physician, Dr Flip Homansky, was satisfied that the challenger had gone through an extensive medical examination and was declared to be in top shape. "A patient is a patient. We went about it the same way we would examine any person," stated Dr Homansky. "My conclusion is that Mr Leonard is in excellent physical health. There was no finding to preclude his fighting in the state of Nevada."

Lloyds of London, the insurers of the bout, hired Dr Louis Angioletti, the director of the retinal diagnostic centre of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary to examine Leonard. "The weak area (of the retina) was completely reinforced so that, in my opinion, there is less risk of further damage. I do not find Mr Leonard would be subjected to any unacceptable risks. If I thought there was a one percent chance that he was at any greater risk to have damage done to the eye, I would sit him down and say, 'I don't think you should be fighting.' "

Exactly where Hagler wanted Leonard

Hagler was asked if he was going to hit the challenger on the surgically repaired eye. "I plan on hitting him all over his body," he responded with a smile. "This is K," he said holding up his right hand, "and this is O," holding up his left hand. "There ain't nobody going to take nothing from me."

"The key is mobility and lateral movement. I don't hit that hard," admitted Leonard. "I just hit consistent. The key is to be elusive, but also to be present. To score points. He thinks I'll be tired by eight or nine rounds. But by then the fight will be over. By then I'll have scored enough points through those eight or nine rounds to win. It's a twelve-round fight."

When the bout was announced in November, the champion opened as a four-to-one betting favourite, but by fight night his odds dropped to three-to-one. Many felt this fight had come too late in their careers, but Hagler wasn't showing any signs of decline with a large section of the press predicted another successful title defence for the champion.

Leonard hardly took a step forward

Leonard, in his absence, said he had grown into the middleweight division and weighed in on the day of the contest as 158 pounds (71.67 KG) and the champion came in a little higher at 158½ (71.89 KG).

The champion entered the ring as KO magazine's number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world and as the WBC title holder, as the World Boxing Association stripped him of their belt as he refused to fight their number one contender Herol Graham. The IBF didn't strip Hagler, but refused to sanction the contest and declared their championship would be vacant if Hagler lost.

The bell chimed to get 'The