3 More Rounds

From the Vault: Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvelous Marvin Hagler

(Top Story photo by Corbis)

The sport of boxing is unique from other major sports in a very big way: the spectators of the match do not know at any stage who is winning until the very end. Unfortunately, there are more than a few occasions when the scores of a major fight are read and it seems the judges who scored the bout watched a totally different contest than the average spectator. The “Who Really Won” column that I will post once every few weeks will be dedicated to the fights whose official scoring at the time was and still is up for debate.

Perhaps one of the most debated fights of all time is the April 1987 epic showdown at Caesar’s Palace between middleweight king “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and flashy megastar “Sugar” Ray Leonard. It’s said you can watch this fight over and over again and each time pick a new winner. This hotly debated contest pitted two legends of the ring against each other for an ultimate showdown for boxing supremacy south of the heavyweight division.

“Sugar” Ray Leonard

The term “he was born and bred for greatness” perhaps fits no boxer better than it does Ray Leonard. With his dazzling moves, flashy style and exceptional charm; Ray won gold in the 1976 Olympics and became a media darling when he turned pro. The camera friendly fighter enchanted Middle America with his smile and personality en route to earning over millions even before he fought for a title.

After winning the WBC welterweight crown in 1979, Ray’s legend grew as he defeated the likes of Roberto Duran and Tommy Hearns while earning even more millions. The icon then discovered he had a detached retina in 1982 and risked going blind if he continued fighting. He thus retired at 25 years old and in his prime.

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler

Marvin Hagler turned pro in 1973 with very little fanfare and looking for some paydays for himself. For six years Hagler fought in virtual darkness with no one paying attention to him. In 1980 Marvin finally won a world title at middleweight but was ushered out of the ring without getting a chance to celebrate as the London, England crowd near rioted when he knocked out their hometown champion.

Now the middleweight champion, the workmanlike Marvin went on a vicious knockout streak that included a sensational victory over Tommy Hearns in 1985. With that win, Hagler finally was pushed into the spotlight by the media and filled the superstar role that was left voided when Ray Leonard retired.

Sugar Ray comes out of retirement for Marvin

Not happy in retirement and feeling his ring legacy was cut short, Ray was anxious to make a comeback. Having won titles at welterweight and super welterweight, Ray aimed to win a title in a third weight class against a great opponent to cement his legacy as one of the best ever. The man he needed to beat was the dominant middleweight champion Hagler.

The world shook when Ray Leonard announced he would come out of retirement to fight the destructive Hagler in his first fight in years; and at middleweight, a weight he never campaigned at before. Marvin realized a fight with the returning Leonard would give him an enormous payday, and a win against him would be the perfect way to end his career and walk off into the sunset. Thus it was on; the flamboyant Ray Leonard against the blue collar Marvin Hagler, each fighter gunning for the chance to cement his name into the history books as a true ring immortal.

The Fight

Ray comes out well worked up and sweaty, wearing white and red and looking very focused but somewhat nervous. Next out is Hagler, wearing dark blue with a look of strong determination on his face. Both get great ovations from the crowd. Hagler seems eager to fight as the fighters are introduced and the bell sounds to start the contest.

Round 1: Both men hesitant and cautious to start the round. Ray continuously moving side to side, Hagler can’t lock him in. Ray with quick flurries in-between the movement. Ray keeps distance as Hagler can’t get comfortable enough to throw power shots. Rounds ends, goes to Ray for his superior footwork and crisp combos, Marvin too inactive and cautious.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 10-9

Round 2: Ray sill moving as Marvin stalks him and looks to land something big. Ray interrupts him with a flurry and continues to stay out of range. Hagler can’t land clean on the speedy Leonard. Ray sticking and moving, then holds Hagler when he gets too close. Ray with a couple nice combos as the round ends then taunts Marvin, who is attempting to box with Ray. Marvin is way too cautious and is fighting Ray’s fight, round to Ray.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 20-18

Round 3: Ray still moving away from Hagler. Hagler finally gets through and lands some strong left hands on Ray. Ray goes back to sticking and moving to slow down Marvin. Hagler more energetic now and tags Ray with some body shots. Ray answers with a couple of right hands and as the round ends he lands some nice combos on the slower Hagler. Very, very close round; Marvin’s best round of the fight but Ray still wins the round as he was more consistent.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 30-27

Round 4: Marvin comes out swinging but is not able to land on the smaller Leonard. There’s some clinching and inside punching by both. Ray is exerting lots of energy moving around. Marvin gets in some nice body shots. Ray winds up and hits Marvin with a showboat punch that gets a crowd reaction. Good combo by Ray as the round ends. Not much went on this round, I give it to Hagler as he was the aggressor and Ray more or less took the round off.

Round:  Hagler 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 39-37

Round 5: Ray tags Marvin as he rushes in. Ray is picking Hagler apart with quick right hands and is opening up on the bigger man. Hagler answers with a straight left but Ray counters with a combo. Great round. Marvin with a hard uppercut that stuns Ray, Leonard clinches. Marvin chases Ray to the ropes and puts an assault on him as the round ends. Very exciting and tight round, I give it to Hagler as he had Ray hurt and his punches carried far greater power.

Round:  Hagler 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 48-47

Round 6: Hagler with a hard left to Ray’s head and follows up with some strong body punches. Ray is trying to fight off the stalking Hagler. Marvin is able to trap Ray against the ropes and pounds away but Ray fights out of the corner and lands some solid flurries on the plodding Hagler as the round ends. Both men slowed down and were not too effective this round, I give it to Ray as his sharp, clean flurries at the end stole the round.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 58-56

Round 7: Hagler once again attempts to walk his man down while Ray tags him with combos. Hagler returns fire with a left hook that freezes Ray. Hagler goes to the body as he traps Ray against the ropes. Ray keeps moving and throws a few flashy combos but Marvin gets him to the ropes again and is able to pound away at the body and head. ANOTHER very close round, I gave it to Hagler as his punches were much more solid than the fatigued Ray’s.

Round:  Hagler 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 67-66

Round 8: Hagler is now effectively walking Ray down with stiff shots. Marvin jabs Ray to the head and follows up with a nice combo. Ray circles away from Marvin and lands a few quick flurries that don’t seem to have much effect on Marvin. They trade as the round comes to a close. I gave Hagler the round as he evens the fight on my card.

Round:  Hagler 10-9     Overall:  Even 76-76

Round 9: Ray with tremendous energy lands a nice looking combination on Hagler then moves away. Hagler chases and gets Ray to the ropes. Ray fights out of it but Hagler chases and lands a very hard left hand. Ray leans against the ropes and Hagler tees off with vicious power shots. Ray opens up with a monster combination on Hagler and gets away. Hagler goes after him again but Ray comes back with another lighting quick combo on Hagler’s face. Hagler refuses to back off and sticks to Ray like glue. Ray with another combo but Marvin stays with him and continues to club him with hard shots as the round ends. Amazing round. I give it to Hagler as he never took a step back and pounded Ray despite the astonishing flurries by Leonard. Round of the fight.

Round:  Hagler 10-9     Overall:  Hagler 86-85

Round 10: Ray once again dancing away from Hagler as the bigger man hunts him down. Hagler chipping away but Leonard gives him a few short, crisp combos to slow him down. Hagler keeps coming. Round ends with Ray fighting off the imposing Marvin with short, speedy bursts of punches. I gave the round to Leonard as Marvin did not land anything too substantial and Leonard’s combos connected cleanly this round.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Even 95-95

Round 11: Ray opts to trade with Hagler and gets the better of the exchanges. Ray is beautifully tagging Hagler then stepping away. Hagler traps Ray again against the ropes and starts to do damage but Ray escapes. Leonard rebounds by bouncing a couple of quick flurries off Hagler’s head. Hagler unable to get to Ray as Leonard wins the round.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 105-104

Round 12: Both men are amped for the last round. Hagler gets Leonard to a corner and starts to rip him to the body. Ray responds with a big time combination that allows him to get out of there, but Hagler seemed unfazed by Ray’s punches. Ray circles the ring as Marvin chases. Both go all out as the round closes with each man dishing out all they have left. Another very close round that I gave to Leonard based on him landing the much cleaner punches.

Round:  Leonard 10-9     Overall:  Leonard 115-113

Aftermath: Official scorecards were 115-113 Leonard, 115-113 Hagler and a ludicrous 118-110 for Leonard. This fight was unbelievably tough to score as there were at least four rounds that could have gone either way. The debate on who won the fight will go on forever but from my eyes Leonard took it by the slimmest of margins. Ray went on to win titles in two more weight classes and stamped himself as an all time great and a true ring legend, while Hagler was so heartbroken by the decision he never put on a pair on boxing gloves ever again.


  1. Ali Shakoor

    February 15, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you. I hadn’t seen the fight in years, and and scored it for Leonard via close decision. Yes, I was a bit of a Leonard mark, but I really think he pulled off the monumental upset. I’ve been getting killed over the years for my opinion.

  2. Ramon Aranda

    February 15, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    I still have it on VHS…I may have to watch it over again and score it this time.

  3. Rajbir Parmar

    February 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

    LOL Ali, same here! From what I would hear ppl say, I thought it was a straight out robbery in favour of the more popular and marketable Sugar Ray. I was in shock when I watched and scored the fight to see that in Ray had in fact tamed Hagler and took his title. Granted it was very, very close but Hagler has only himself to blame for letting Ray bank the first 3 rounds so easily.

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