Rewatching Leonard vs. Hagler

By Cain Bradley on June 11, 2017
Rewatching Leonard vs. Hagler
Leonard said Hagler was telling him to "slow down you little bitch. Fight me like a man."

Negotiations were key in the fight. Hagler got himself the bigger purse. Leonard negotiated bigger gloves, a bigger ring and 12 rounds instead of 15…

One of the great debates between boxing fans, comes from who won a close bout. There is usually no correct answer, boxing is a sport of interpretation. It still can provide great debate, in the case of Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, for years. Just put any combinations of words to do with the bout in Google to see examples of the arguments. Leonard got the split decision win but it remains the bout that causes the most debate. There will never be a definitive answer to who won, it just depends on how you see boxing. Let’s look at how the fight went down.

The fight was years in the making and has been talked about in much greater detail than it will be here. [1] Leonard had been retired for almost three years when the bout took place. Hagler himself was reaching the end of his career and had confided in Ray that he was no longer motivated to train and fight. Leonard’s decision to come out of retirement came over a year earlier when watching “John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi outbox Hagler. Of all people.” He told Michael J. Fox who he attended the fight with that he could beat Hagler and in May made that desire public on WDVM-TV. Barry Tompkins, the HBO play-by-play commentator commented that Ray had also started to believe he could beat him after the Duran-Hagler fight. The fight was officially announced in November that year. He was the 1-4 betting favorite, something which made Hagler uneasy. He was notoriously nervous of the Vegas betting markets as he blamed not winning the first Vito Antuofermo on the Vegas betting markets.

Negotiations were key in the fight, Hagler got himself the bigger purse ($20m vs. $12m). In return Leonard negotiated bigger gloves, a bigger ring and 12 rounds instead of 15. These negotiations probably cost Hagler a win. He also struggled to deal with the mind games of Leonard. Not only did he tell Leonard about his lack of motivation and an increased propensity to cut. Leonard also managed to disarm Hagler, his charm working in overtime. He never said anything derogatory and claimed his plan “was to make Hagler think people don’t appreciate his boxing ability.” Richard Steele also claimed he could tell something was off with Hagler from when he gave instructions in the dressing room and eventually realized “Hagler was trying to play a boxer instead of the fighter he was.” To those who believe Hagler lost, his defeat arguably came from actions before the bell rung.

Round 1
Sugar Ray dances out quickly, taking the center of the ring with Hagler in an orthodox stance. Leonard claimed this “settled him down” and Hagler “showed me a vulnerability.” They both use head movements and feints without much action as Hagler stalked Leonard. The first shot that lands is a left hook from Leonard which just catches the rear of Hagler’s face. Leonard uses his feet to slip away from Hagler moving around the ring. Leonard paws away with a jab at the body but nothing lands. The speed of Leonard is a bit too much as he comes in and lands a great straight right down the middle. Hagler smiles and talks back to him but Leonard, uses the huge ring to stay away from lunging Hagler attacks. Leonard switches to southpaw for a momentary second but returns to orthodox as Hagler goes southpaw. His first moment of success comes from an aggressive lunge with hooks to the body and one to the head when clinched on the inside. Another scrappy moment where neither really lands with success with 30 seconds of the rounds remaining. Leonard dances around for the majority of the rest of the round. CompuBox stats showed Hagler only throwing 16 punches and landing just four with Leonard landing ten of his 19 punches.  Hagler was a notoriously slow starter who usually lost a first round so there was no great signs of panic.
Leonard 10-9

Round 2
In between rounds, Leonard’s corner tells him “got him going out of his mind already, keep it up.” Leonard comes out to the middle first but then retreats to dancing around the ring. Hagler lands the first shot of the round, a lead left hook which Leonard is dancing away from. Leonard then makes him miss before coming down to the body. Leonard looks to grab Hagler when he twice gets into range and lands a sneaky uppercut on the way out. He continues making him miss, often surprising Hagler with his own attacks. As the 1:30 mark of the round both land punches. Leonard continues to control the pace of the fight as Hagler chases and Leonard only engages when he wants to. He spends the final 30 seconds of the round engaging, Leonard lands the right hand of a 1-2 combination near the end of the round before pivoting away from a Hagler right hand and punishing him. As they clinch he catches Hagler with a hook to the head. Hagler probably would have won the round after two and a half minutes due to constant pressure. But, Leonard steals the round by landing more punches. Again CompuBox has Leonard ahead landing 19 of 32 punches compared to the seven of 38 from Hagler.
Leonard 10-9 (20-18)

Round 3
Hagler is instructed to come out southpaw but Leonard still makes it to the middle of the ring first. He circles away with Hagler jabbing to the body. Leonard is happy avoiding any action, as Hagler relentless stalks. He lands a nice left hook as he catches Leonard when he brings his feet together. He continues to work away at Leonard who does not respond with much. The first shot of real significance thrown by Leonard is an overhand right which catches the top of Hagler’s head [2]. Leonard goes nicely to the body after Hagler overcommits and puts himself in a corner. Just after the halfway mark, they exchange shots with Hagler too slow to land his greater volume of punches. Hagler blocks an aggressive right from Leonard before both land a shot on the inside. Leonard tries to repeat the trick, circling before an aggressive right hand but this time Hagler punishes him with uppercuts on the inside. The commentators believe that Hagler is being frustrated with the holding and then a shove from Leonard. He lands a sneaky right hand on the break before a left hook a few seconds later. The final few seconds see another quick combination from Leonard catching Hagler and they exchange good shots at the bell. Hagler stated he believed this was the final round of the fight that he lost. As Leonard returns to the corner, Hagler stares him down. If the second was a bit debatable, the third is even closer. Hagler is having his best round and is definitely up with 30 seconds left. Does Leonard do enough to pinch the round? Not for me!
Hagler 10-9 (28-29)

Round 4
Hagler is instructed that “he is the boss” by his cornerman although there is still a lack of urgency something which Kenny Bayless later said surprised him. Leonard once again is straight out to the middle. He claimed it was a ploy that J.D. learned watching Hagler spar as he “feels that the first person to the center of the ring wins the fight.” Hagler is aggressive which his lead right hand catching Leonard. Hagler pushes the pace again early but once again does not really land anything of note. Both land hooks when they are tied up. A couple more right hands followed by a grab from Leonard. He then goes low with a right uppercut which looks to really connect. Hagler shows signs he is starting to find his range, landing a straight left. Hagler keeps looking to trap Leonard in corners but Sugar waits for the shots and escapes out to the side. They exchange with Hagler going to the body as Leonard lands a short lead hook. Sugar winds up his right and lands a bolo punch uppercut to the body of Hagler. Leonard stated “it didn’t hurt him, but it hurt his pride.” Once again Hagler stands in range and Leonard catches him with hooks. Hagler does return with a left hook of his own but this is a definite Leonard round.
Leonard 10-9 (39-37)

Round 5
Hagler is aggressive to start the round but the first shots come from a nice Leonard 1-2. He lands another two quality right hands and then a left hook. Hagler is also finding range though and lands a couple of jabs. Both miss each other with shots before a Leonard uppercut sneaks through the guard. He also makes Hagler pay when he dives at him by ducking underneath the shot and attacking. They exchange shots again with both landing punches, Leonard a vicious combination of hooks. He switches quickly in and out of orthodox before being nailed by another Leonard hook. Hagler is starting to land with more accuracy though and pushes Leonard back into his corner. He lands a straight left, right hook, straight left combination flush on the jaw of Leonard which send him back onto the ropes. Leonard chooses to respond with a flurry and lands a good left hook before Hagler catches him with a right uppercut. Leonard later called it the “only punch that hurt me.” He claimed he was off balance and stunned rather than in trouble. Leonard chooses to stand his ground and fight, with Hagler possibly not even aware that he had hurt Leonard. Leonard is backed on the ropes but ends the round with a flurry of his own. As he goes back to his corner, he talks to Hagler who proceeds to give him a shove towards his corner. Knowing Hagler hurt Leonard may be gently nudging me in his direction, but I think he does just enough with his bigger better looking punches to steal a round here. According to CompuBox he landed 31 power punches.
Hagler 10-9 (47-48)

Round 6
Leonard is told by his corner “don’t load up, I want you to box.” Hagler comes out with confidence and finds home with a leaping jab. Leonard lands with a right hand as Hagler comes towards him and twenty seconds later repeats the trick, when given range and time, he is still landing shots. Hagler is beginning to land his own counters though including a nice left hook. The commentators believe Ray is starting to breathe heavy and suggest his punches have less behind them. Of course, the change in punching velocity could be Ray remembering what his corner told him. Hagler is still stalking but being made to miss. As the halfway point of the round approaches, Leonard finds more space and lands with the right. Hagler is looking slower himself with wild shots that miss. Despite his back being on the ropes, Leonard lands the greater punches in the exchange with two left hooks. In the final ten seconds it is more left hooks that do the damage and takes that round for him comfortably. Leonard landed nine more punches and actually out threw Hagler in the round. Dave Moretti, one of the judges, gave Leonard five of the first six rounds and claimed he dominated with his speed.
Leonard 10-9 (58-56)

Round 7
In the corner, the mouth of Leonard is hanging open and he is breathing heavy. Both met in the center of the ring before the bell had even been rung. Hagler starts the round carefully looking for a home for his right hand but again Ray lands that superb left hook. Hagler does return with his own and follows it with a jab and another left hook. With Leonard against the ropes, Hagler is again too slow with a big right hand with Ray slipping and returning a left hook. Hagler enjoys a little bit of success with Ray taking a break around the halfway mark but Leonard has an impressive looking flurry which does not seem to land. Leonard is only enjoying success with the left hook. As Leonard lands he laughs at him, poking his tongue out which leads Leonard to erupt with hooks and even throw in an Ali shuffle. Left hook, right uppercut from Hagler lands with ten seconds to go. He also enjoys success with Leonard backed up on the ropes to finish the round. Leonard throws two shots after the bell and Hagler gives him a glare. Leonard puts his arms up in a victory salute. According to CompuBox he only lands four more punches but this was a strong Hagler round to me. Leonard had flurries that did not really land but looked stylish.
Hagler 10-9 (66-67)

Round 8
Before the bell rings, Leonard again engages in a few mind games. Hagler hits himself of the head, so Leonard does the same. Hagler comes out and lands a nice early jab. His corner have asked for uppercuts and he throws a couple of nice ones in the first minute. Leonard has stopped being able to get out the way off the Hagler jab. As the halfway point goes, Leonard gets up on his feet more. He is landed quick, short shots. Hagler though is working to the body still and incorporating the uppercut when he can. Around the thirty seconds mark and Leonard is definitely landing but the shots are barely jolting Hagler. This was another ploy of Leonard. Ollie Dunlap would shout out when there was 30 seconds left in each round and Leonard would try to up his work. Again, Leonard lands a meaty shot after the bell. I found this a tough round score to score. Hagler outlanded Leonard by four, with over half his punches being jabs. The body shots and pressure make me give it to Hagler. But Leonard is still having moments where he lands lovely clean shots on Hagler.
Hagler 10-9 (76-76)

Round 9
The corner of Hagler are happy with what they are seeing, telling him “that is exactly how to fight this guy.” Leonard touches the centre ring first. Again the left hook of Leonard impresses early while Hagler works at the body. Leonard also starts to enjoy success with a right uppercut. Just after the minute mark, Hagler lands a lovely straight left and backs Leonard onto the ropes where a left hook lands. After some ineffectual work to start the round when Leonard is backed onto the ropes, he finally enjoys success with his jabs, hooks and uppercuts. Leonard gets out with a flurry of his own which includes a lovely right hook landing flush. Hagler barely flinches but the crowd go wild. Just seconds later, Leonard is back at it again, this time it is a eight punch combination at centre ring. Hagler keeps coming forward though and lands a left hook from the orthodox stance. Once again he pushes Leonard back onto the ropes but it is more reminiscent of the first 30 seconds of the round as he paws ineffectual jabs at Leonard. Leonard returns with two big hooks. Hagler just stays on top of him, and enjoys the best of the exchange. Leonard drops both hands, playing possum before a big right hand. Hagler marches on looking to land. Best round of the fight for me. Flashier combinations from Leonard but Hagler is successful as well and kept the pressure on. He dominated the round despite Leonard having bursts where he looked like he could outclass Hagler. Hagler enjoyed his best success according to the CompuBox numbers which saw him land 51 of 102 punches.
Hagler 10-9 (86-85)

Round 10
Both meet at the center ring where Hagler misses on a swinging right hook. Leonard is noticeably lighter on his feet. Neither man really land on the other early with a Hagler left hook when in close the best shot. He backs Leonard up on the ropes and leads upstairs before going down with a body shot. Leonard is still dangerous given time and space, which he proved when landing a straight right. The short uppercuts and jabs are landing with more frequency for Hagler. The speed of Leonard is still there as he proves when backed up into a corner, he lands a left uppercut, left hook, right uppercut combination before gliding away. At the halfway point, Leonard lands a sweet short straight right. Hagler is doing less at short range and Leonard throws a nice right hook, left uppercut, left hook combination. Leonard is throwing combinations at a higher clip than the last few rounds. He still has a huge speed advantage over Hagler. After an exchange he drops both hands, drawing Hagler in and bows his head before unleashing a wild overhand right which Hagler rolls before missing with his own wild right hook. Hagler does land with a one-two just seconds later. Both exchange shots on the inside with Hagler possibly enjoying more success over the last 10 seconds. A slower round and Hagler does not do enough here to take it. The flurries, which have increased from Leonard as Hagler throws less, did enough to edge the round for me.
Leonard 10-9 (95-95)

Round 11
“Six minutes to win the title” claims Angelo Dundee. A quiet open to the round. They exchange great left hooks. Hagler lands a couple of jabs but Leonard makes him look silly by landing a couple of left hooks and a right uppercut to off balance Hagler who misses a right hook. Halfway through the round and not a lot has happened. Hagler traps Leonard on the ropes and goes to work although nothing special lands. Leonard loads up a bolo punch but misses on the 1-2-left hook. He sticks his chin out but Hagler blocks his punches. Leonard though has the timing of Hagler and spends twenty seconds not being hit with his hands by his side. He lands a left hook down then up to Hagler before theatrically twisting back to load up the right hand. You can almost see the fight draining out of Hagler as Leonard moves and showboats. As Leonard later revealed, Hagler was telling him to “slow down you little bitch. Fight me like a man.” The last thirty seconds and Leonard looks the fresher man. Leonard takes this round and the crowd are going wild for his antics. Even if you think this is a close round, the judges would likely have been swayed by the crowd.
Leonard 10-9 (105-104)

Round 12
With Dundee shouting “three minutes” at Leonard, he rises up with his hands in the air about 35 seconds into the break. Leonard summons to Hagler towards him and touches glove. Leonard is bouncing around but Hagler lands a nice jab. His feet just aren’t quick enough for Leonard and Leonard can be seen talking to him. He does back him up onto the ropes and lands a nice left hook but Leonard gets out too easily. Hagler returns him to the ropes but Leonard flurries with hooks to escape before skipping around the ring, evading Hagler. Again Hagler puts him on the ropes but he cannot land a huge amount. The crowd chants “Sugar Ray” and as he dances around he raises an arm to his fans. Hagler returns the favor before Leonard shows off a shuffle. He once again allows Hagler to engage before returning with a flurry of his own. It is probably a Hagler round. Leonard spends too much time showboating and throwing flurries that whilst they look nice, are probably not that effective. Hagler marches him down without really landing any great punches.
Hagler 10-9 (114-114)

The result:
Leonard goes over to his adoring fans, arms aloft. Hagler meanwhile danced around the ring claiming it was “because I won the fight.” Leonard believed it was uncharacteristic and because “he knew.” Hagler also has stated that Leonard told him you beat me, a claim which Leonard denies. The scores seem to be ready really quick. When it is announced “we have a split decision,” you almost do an intake of breath, even now. Roger Perron, an assistant trainer said the announcement made him go “uh-oh.” The audience, thinking Leonard had won clearly, booed. 115-113 Hagler. 118-110 Leonard. 115-113 Leonard. New champion. It is such a hard fight to score. Each win two, maybe three rounds definitively and the rest are easy to score for both fighters. Funnily enough, I have seen surprisingly people argue this to be a draw, although Larry Merchant did. You tend to either prefer the work of one boxer. Leonard won and boxed the occasion. He nicked rounds with showmanship and got the crowd on his side. Hagler to this day claims to know in his heart that he won. The end to the story comes with a memory that probably haunts the Hagler team to this day. Harry Gibbs was originally appointed to be a judge for the fight. The Hagler camp however, had rejected the appointment because of the way Hagler was treated in England when defeating Alan Minter. They demanded he was replaced with a Mexican judge. The Mexican judge, Jo Jo Guerra scored it 118-110. Harry Gibbs believed Hagler won 115-113. Hagler was still desperate for a rematch into his forties but would never step into the boxing ring again, retiring in Italy. Leonard had five more fights going 2-1-2 including beating Duran and drawing with Hearns.

[1] The book Four Kings by George Kimball goes into the rivalry between Hearns, Hagler, Leonard and Duran and is absolutely superb
[2] The commentators called this as landing, but if a boxer had hair it likely would not have been seen like that.

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Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler 06-04-1987



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  1. David 04:00pm, 06/23/2017

    Oh and by the way, I had Ray Leonard winning the first 5 rounds and Marvin Hagler winning the last 7 rounds. Hagler whipped him and should have kept his title.

  2. David 03:55pm, 06/23/2017

    You forgot to mention that when Roberto Duran survived fifteen rounds with Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard said, “I’ll wait until Hagler gets older.” And he did. Ray Leonard fought Hagler three years later.

  3. Koolz 05:49am, 06/14/2017

    Haven’t seen this in a while.
    Hagler doesn’t know how to cut off the ring he chases to much.
    Damn Lenard corner is smart!  Just box get in the jabs and combos don’t load up.  Very smart!
    I have never seen a fighter get more combos off after the bell then Lenard in this fight!
    Don’t see anything controversial to me in this fight it was very close fight.  Lenard didn’t exactly dominate it he won by two or three rounds.

  4. tuxtucis 09:15am, 06/13/2017

    I watched twice the fight: both times i had 8-4 for Leonard.

  5. Anonymous 02:07pm, 06/12/2017

    SRL won. No doubt. Fought smart and with a plan.

  6. nonprophet 10:08am, 06/12/2017

    Always thought that fight deserved a re-match.

  7. Alt Knight 05:27am, 06/12/2017

    I saw this fight on closed circuit as well on Governors Island while it still served as a USCG base back in ‘87. Forget how much I paid to see it, couldn’t have been much, might have been a token 10 or 20 dollars. Not that big of a crowd as I recall, maybe one-fitty to two hundred max,  would be a good guess. However, almost everyone watching was agreeing that Leonard was “f**king” Hagler up. The guy sitting next to me was from Massachusetts and rooting for Leonard, while as a Maryland native, I felt I had to root for Hagler. haha. Go figure. When they announced a split decision, everyone and I mean everyone, seemed to groan and utter bullsheeit.

  8. Pete The Sneak 04:36am, 06/12/2017

    Saw this fight on closed circuit in Yonkers Raceway ($50.00 bucks for entrance). Couldn’t stand Leonard and wanted to see Hagler dismantle and destroy him. It was close, but yeah, Leonard’s speed was indeed the difference and he did outbox Hagler much to my dismay. Was one of the worst feelings I ever had watching a boxing match from a rooting interest. And as much as I hate to say it, Leonard was correct when he said that Hagler’s dancing around the ring after the fight was his way of knowing he lost. When have you ever seen blue collar worker/fighter Hagler do anything like that? it was as Leonard said ‘uncharacteristic.’...Peace.

  9. Cain Bradley 02:39am, 06/12/2017

    Did not see that on film. Sure he did for moments and if he could have worked at that pace for 30 seconds more in every round then he wins quite comfortably. He was the better boxer. Made Hagler miss and his speed troubled Hagler.

  10. Alt Knight 04:50pm, 06/11/2017

    Not even close. WHY this decision is “controversial” is a mystery to me. Leonard boxed Hagler’s bald head silly. And I was rooting for Hagler, couldn’t stand Leonard then or now, but Leonard won that fight, no doubt about that.

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