This Day in Boxing

Sugar Ray Leonard Beats Marvelous Marvin Hagler This Day April 6, 1987


Sugar Ray Leonard Beats Marvelous Marvin Hagler This Day April 6, 1987

Upset of the decade



  • Sugar Ray Leonard 158 lbs
  • Marvin Hagler 158½ lbs
  • SD in round 12 of 12
  • Location: Caesars Palace, Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
  • Referee: Richard Steele
  • Judge: Jose Juan Guerra 118-110
  • Judge: Lou Filippo 113-115
  • Judge: Dave Moretti 115-113
  • WBC Middleweight Champinship (12th defense by Hagler)




Leonard decided to challenge Hagler after watching his fight with John Mugabi on March 10, 1986. “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 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 May 1, 1986, Leonard was interviewed on WDVM-TV in Washington, D.C., and made his desire to come back and fight Hagler public. “I know exactly what it takes to beat the man,” Leonard said. At the time, Hagler was vacationing on a private yacht in the Caribbean. Hagler did not comment on Leonard’s challenge until July 2, when he held a press conference and said he was considering retirement and didn’t know if he would fight Leonard or anyone else.

On August 18, Hagler announced that he would fight Leonard, and the fight was officially announced at a press conference at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan on November 3, 1986.

Hagler was guaranteed $12 million plus a percentage of the revenue. Leonard was guaranteed $11 million plus 50 percent of the closed circuit television rights in the Baltimore-Washington area. Hagler ended up with about $20 million and Leonard $12 million. After Leonard agreed to let Hagler have the larger purse, Hagler agreed to let Leonard choose the gloves (10-ounce Reyes), the number of rounds (12) and the size of the ring (20-foot).

The fight was available on pay-per-view to about three million homes in the United States, and there were between 1,500 and 1,600 closed circuit locations, with about three million seats, in the United States and Canada. The fight was also televised in about 75 foreign countries.

The fight took place in a 15,336-seat outdoor arena at Caesars Palace. Tickets prices were $700, $600, $500, $400, $200 and $100. The fight sold out in 16 days. “We’ve had to turn away some of our better customers because the demand was so great,” a Caesars Palace spokesman said.” A paying crowd 12,379 generated a live gate of $6.2 million.

HBO paid $3.1 million for the delayed rights and showed the fight five times between April 11 and April 18.

According to Bob Arum, the fight grossed $78 million.

Hagler had made 12 successful defenses of the World Middleweight Championship, which he won with a third-round TKO of Alan Minter in London, England, on September 27, 1980.

Hagler and Leonard fought for the WBC title only. The WBA stripped Hagler for not fighting Herol Graham, its top-ranked contender. The IBF did not strip Hagler, but it refused to sanction the fight and said the title would be declared vacant if Hagler should lose to Leonard.

Hagler had not lost a fight since dropping a ten-round unanimous to Willie (the Worm) Monroe on March 9, 1976. Hagler would defeat Monroe twice in 1977, winning by a 12th-round TKO on February 15 and by a second-round TKO on August 23.

Leonard, who held the Undisputed World Welterweight Championship from 1981 to 1982 and the WBA Junior Middleweight Championship in 1981, had never fought as a middleweight.

Leonard had not fought in three years and had fought just once in the previous five years. He had retired on November 9, 1982, six months after undergoing surgery to repair a detached retina in his left eye. Leonard returned to the ring on May 11, 1984, and defeated Kevin Howard by a ninth-round TKO. But Leonard, who suffered the first knockdown of his professional career in the fourth round against Howard, was so disappointed in his performance that he announced at the post-fight press conference that he was going back into retirement.

Although Leonard had been medically cleared to fight Hagler, many feared for his safety and did not believe that he should have been allowed to fight. Dr. Ferdie Pacheco stated, “This match endangers the eyesight of Leonard, as well as his life, and makes a mockery of the credibility of any boxing commission that sanctions it.”

More than 1,100 reporters and photographers from 32 countries received press credentials.

In a UPI poll of 21 writers covering the fight, 18 picked Hagler to win and three picked Leonard.

Hagler opened as a 4-1 betting favorite when the match was announced in November 1986. By the day of the fight, the odds had fallen to 3-1.

Hagler entered the fight ranked as the No. 1 pound-for-pound boxer in the world by KO Magazine.

Leonard came out dancing and moving and making Hagler lunge and miss. In the early rounds he was the consummate boxer, firing combinations as he kept from harm’s way. Leonard put on a show, twisting and turning and popping Hagler — here an uppercut, there a jab, at one point grabbing the rope in his right hand and mugging at the champion, at another point delivering a low-blow bolo punch sure to further inflame an already frustrated opponent. Hagler was having a devil of a time connecting with anything close to a serious blow. Leonard was getting off more quickly, consistently stealing a march on Hagler. Looking off-balance and disoriented, Hagler missed frequently and often wildly.

Leonard won the first four rounds outright, but by the fifth and sixth, Hagler was beginning to find the range and Leonard was no longer moving with his early verve. In the seventh, a Hagler hook rocked Leonard and the challenger briefly sagged. Now, Hagler battled Leonard to the ropes, firing shots up and down. He had Leonard in trouble as the bell sounded.

But the champion was still behind in the scoring, and it was patently clear that, if his legs held up, Leonard would win. In the eighth round, an impatient Hagler snarled to Leonard, “Come on, slug!”

“No chance,” said Leonard.

But Hagler was beginning to catch Leonard on the ropes, and the challenger was growing weary. In the ninth, surely the best round of the fight, Hagler pinned Leonard in the latter’s corner and was whaling at him ferociously with both hands, rocking the challenger and looking to finish him.

But no, double no! In an instant, Leonard retaliated with a flurry that had Hagler’s head snapping left and right. Leonard then spun away and escaped. Hagler pursued, thinking he still had Leonard in trouble. But when Hagler caught up, Leonard flurried again, drawing upon reserves he had no right to have. Throughout the fight, even with Leonard right in front of him, Hagler had problems solving his foe’s rich boxing style. He couldn’t seem to put combinations together, and whenever he seemed to have Leonard in trouble, he couldn’t muster the savvy to put him away.

The 12th round underscored that failing as well as any other, and Leonard’s spent condition at the end was testimony to the strength of character it had taken to score this upset of upsets. In the face of his long layoff and the odds against him — five to two in Vegas betting parlors — Leonard had fought magnificently and displayed great courage and resolve.

Leonard landed 306 of 629 punches (49 percent), and Hagler connected on 291 of 792 (37 percent).

The split decision in favor of Leonard was very controversial. Judge Jose Guerra’s score of 118-110 in favor of Leonard was heavily criticized. “JoJo Guerra should be put in jail,” Pat Petronelli, Hagler’s co-trainer, said. Harry Gibbs of England was originally scheduled to be a judge, but the Hagler camp objected. They said they believed English judges favor boxers and requested a Mexican judge, so the commission replaced Gibbs with Guerra. Watching the fight at home two weeks later, Gibbs scored the fight for Hagler.

After the decision was announced, Leonard told the crowd that he would see them “six months and fifteen pounds later,” implying that he would next fight WBC Light Heavyweight Champion Thomas Hearns. Leonard later said he “was only joking.”

Bob Arum and rival promoter Don King, who was just a spectator at the bout, got into a shoving match when Arum prevented King from entering the ring after the fight. They were separated by security. “That man had nothing to do with this fight,” Arum said. “There was no way he belonged in the ring.”

On May 27, 1987, Leonard announced that he was going back into retirement, but he left open the possibility of another comeback. “You guys know me,” he said. Leonard would return to the ring the following year to fight Donny Lalonde for two titles. “I told you guys some time ago I was going to try to retire,” he said to the press. “I tried. It didn’t work.”

On July 2, 1987, sports anchor John Dennis of WNEV-TV in Boston reported that Hagler was involved in “widespread abuse of both alcohol and cocaine.” Dennis went on to say: “Those closest to Marvin Hagler say it was that decision on April 6 that started him on the downward spiral. Almost immediately after his return home to Boston, they say Marvin’s despair over the loss steered him toward alcohol and cocaine.” The following day, during an interview with Dennis, Hagler denied the allegations. “I want to reassure the public I have no problem with drugs or alcohol,” Hagler said. He suggested that jealousy within his family was responsible for the report.

Hagler announced his retirement after watching his half-brother, Robbie Sims, lose to WBA Middleweight Champion Sumbu Kalambay by a 12-round unanimous decision on June 13, 1988. Unlike Leonard, Hagler stayed retired. He moved to Italy and acted in several action movies.

There was talk of a rematch, but it never happened. Seth Abraham, who was president of HBO Sports, said, “Marvin made it very clear — he thought he was jobbed and he was never going to fight again. And he never did. There were conversations, but they were never at the level of negotiations. If people say Marvin wanted the fight and Ray didn’t, that’s revisionist history.”

Hagler vs. Leonard was named Fight of the Year and Upset of the Year by The Ring. The fight was later named Upset of the Decade.

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