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Friday, 9 November, 2001, 23:18 GMT
Sugar Ray's 'Marvellous' comeback
Continuing his look at boxing duels that dominated a decade, BBC Sport Online's Alex Trickett revisits the 1980s and Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvin Hagler.

The exception in this series of duels, Sugar Ray Leonard and "Marvellous" Marvin Hagler fought only once.

But when they did in 1987, their bout was the mega-hyped climax of a round-robin of match-ups that raised the profile of non-heavyweight boxing.

In a post-modern age of satellite television and showmanship, world boxing needed heroes at all weights.

Marvin Hagler trains in 1980
Hagler: 'When I see blood I become a bull'

And, while a weak heavyweight division awaited Mike Tyson's arrival, Leonard, Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns stepped to the fore.

The evergreen Duran had swept all before him at lightweight in the 1970s and bulked up to face sterner challenges at welter and middle in the 1980s.

"Hitman" Hearns packed a fierce punch and went on to win world titles at five weights.

Hagler, meanwhile, looked like the perfect middleweight.

"When I see blood I become a bull," he once said. Sadly for his opponents, he took on his animal guise often.

Leonard had the quickness of thought and fist to adapt to any challenge.

  1980's round-robin
1980: Duran bt Leonard
1980: Leonard bt Duran
1981: Leonard bt Hearns
1983: Hagler bt Duran
1984: Hearns bt Duran
1985: Hagler bt Hearns
1987: Leonard bt Hagler
1989: Leonard v Hearns (draw)
1989: Leonard bt Duran

He, above all, revelled in the boxing spectacle, making showmanship an integral part of his display.

The four fighters produced a sequence of memorable bouts.

Duran upset Leonard before uttering the unthinkable "no mas" [no more] as he quit on his stool in a rematch.

Hagler and Hearns went toe-to-toe in perhaps the most explosive first round in boxing history.

But it fell to Leonard and Hagler - the most successful fighters in this elite round-robin - to duke it out for the unofficial title of king of the 1980's ring.

Sugar Ray, who had not fought since 1984, donned his gloves especially and the rivals squared up at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas on 6 April, 1987.

Leonard celebrates points victory against Hagler
Leonard celebrates victory against Hagler

An overwhelming favourite, Hagler started cautiously, falling behind on all cards.

Leonard frustrated the champion by avoiding toe-to-toe exchanges - which he could not win - and by scoring points with weak arm punches.

The bout finally came alive in round nine.

As an increasingly vexed Hagler surged forwards in search of the knock-out punch, Leonard used all of his guile and durability to stay on his feet.

Hagler landed the harder blows.

But - ever the showman - Leonard impressed the judges with the flashier flurries and was rewarded with a controversial points victory.

Leonard fought like a girl - his punches meant nothing
Marvin Hagler

"I had fun tonight," he declared afterwards.

"This is what I said I would do and I did it. It wasn't for the title. Beating Marvin Hagler was enough."

Hagler's contempt for the decision was total.

"Leonard fought like a girl," he said.

"His punches meant nothing. I fought my heart out. I kept my belt. I can't believe they took it away from me.

Disillusioned, Hagler never fought again preferring to launch a film career and changing his name to Marvellous by deed poll to sooth his bruised pride.

Leonard fought on, clashing with Hearns and Duran again, before quitting for good after a 1997 loss to Hector "Macho" Camacho.

Roberto Duran
Duran: Hands of stone

Some critics would claim that Las Vegas-style showmanship had deceived the judges into awarding him a false victory against Hagler.

They missed the point.

Like the greatest of champions - and in the face of a seemingly insurmountable odds - he had simply found a way to survive and prevail.

Links to more Boxing stories are at the foot of the page.


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