On this day in 1987, two legends met at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and produced one of the most talked about fights in history. Sugar Ray Leonard was coming off of a three year lay off and had only fought once in a total of five years, a 9th round TKO in a tune-up fight against a fringe Philly based contender named Kevin Howard. Leonard followed up the mostly lackluster win with a three-year layoff. In the other Corner was Marvelous Marvin who captured the Middleweight crown in 1980 as a slight underdog in dominating and stopping Alan Minter in the third round in front of a sold-out Wembley Arena in Wembley, London, and never looked back. Hagler was one of if not the most dominating fighters of the decade defending his 160 Pound title twelve times and winning all of them by stoppage except one, A points victory over the legendary Roberto Duran. His 12th defense came against John “The Beast” Mugabi in Caesars Palace. A bout that Sugar Ray Leonard was sitting ringside for. Watching the fight Leonard figured something out and decided at that point to challenge Hagler. Sugar Ray retells the story “I was at ringside, sitting with Michael J. Fox. 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.” Shorty thereafter Leonard launched the gauntlet and 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 New York City.
As for the fight itself, it produced very good action, nothing like Hagler/Hearns or any of the Leonard/Hearns fights produced or even did it produce the type of fireworks that Hagler/Duran did. However, the two first ballot hall of famers and legends of the sport gave the packed out crowd an entertaining fight that is still at top of mind 31 years later. Why? Well, one scorecard, in particular, stands out more than any other thing that went on that night. The scorecard handed in by Jose Juan Guerra of 118-110 lives on as perhaps the worse scorecard in middleweight history. Rivaled of course by Adelaide Byrds scorecard of 118-110 for Canelo over Golovkin. Guerra’s card was the difference as Lou Filippo and Dave Moretti handed in more reasonable cards of 115-113 for opposite fighters. For the record, 3DBoxing has scored the fight just as Lou Filippo did 115-13 Hagler.
Leonard boxed beautifully in the first few rounds landing sharp jabs and sneaking in quick rights while circling and staying on his toes. Throughout the first three rounds, Hagler stayed on the attack mainly out of the orthodox stance but Leonard was able to stay off the ropes and kept circling making Hagler miss for the most part. By round four Hagler was able to get to Leonard and land on the inside. Hagler switched back to the southpaw stance mainly and was able to score with accuracy to the head and to the body really starting to wear Leonard down. By the mid rounds, Hagler was beginning to find the range scoring from the outside and doing effective work on the inside. Leonard was no longer moving with the same zeal. In the seventh, a Hagler hook rocked Leonard really hurting the smaller challenger for the first time. The next round saw Hagler batter Leonard into the ropes. Leonard was hurt and in trouble, as the bell sounded to end the eighth.
The ninth round was the best of the fight and an all-time keeper. Hagler pinned Leonard in his corner and was teeing off with lefts and rights, rocking the challenger and looking to finish him. Leonard bounced back with a flurry that caught the serious attention of Hagler. To start the 10th round the challenger was back on his toes circling, moving and flicking the jab. Hagler was still stalking and trying to walk Sugar Ray down landing some on the inside. However, Hagler’s shots were now mostly arm punches lacking the same snap he had in the earlier rounds. Hagler’s punches like Leonards’ legs clearly no longer had the same pep as the early rounds. The final three rounds were pretty even and decided the fight they were three close, competitive rounds that could be scored either way. Both fighters left all that they had and emptied their gas tanks. As, the final bell rang both fighters were suffering from exhaustion and both, and for good reason, thought they had done enough to eek out a decision. Leonard lifted his arms and let out his million dollar smile while Hagler pumped his fist in his quiet confidence that he was known for and was seen breaking out the dance moves in celebration while waiting for the cards to be read.
31-years-ago the decision went to Leonard and its been a hotbed for debate ever since. While it certainly isn’t clear who should have earned the decision. What is clear, is that regardless of who your scorecard favored the number of close rounds will always leave this in debate and there was certainly no robbery. While either fighter getting a close decision was well within the arena of acceptable. There is still conspiracy and debate about the 118-110 scorecard that was handed in by Jose Juan Guerra, there are rumors and conspiracies that he was aligned with the sanctioning organizations. Years later the WBC honored Guerra with a resounding round of applause. Really? For a judge known for handing in one of the worse scorecards in the history of the sport in one of its biggest fights? While these rumors and conspiracies are just that and will likely never be resolved. Hagler and Leonard live on as a career-defining fight for two of the legends of the sport.
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.
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.
Hagler was five to two betting favorite in Vegas