Hagler vs Leonard: Ego v Envy
By Simon Graham
Throughout the 1980s the boxing world danced to Ray Leonard’s tune as the games brightest star the USAs boxing sweetheart and the sport’s biggest ego. He had the ability to dictate terms to promoters, contenders and governing bodies. Leonard lost only 5 times in a glittering amateur career that brought him the 1976 Olympic title which in turn secured a lucrative professional contract, he was a millionaire before his first title fight in which he beat Wilfred Benitez for the WBC welterweight Championship.
By Comparison the shaven headed menacing brawler from Brockton Massachusetts Marvin Hagler had to do things the hard way, without a well-connected promoter and no TV deal, it would be 50 fights into his pro career before Hagler would finally be given a shot at the middleweight title a controversial draw in Las Vegas against Vito Antuofermo, this would set a trend in Hagler’s future career, constantly undermined and consistently kept in the shadow of Sugar Ray Leonard.
The relationship between the two fighters progressively worsened over the years they had mutual respect but every time an inevitable meeting between the two looked imminent Leonard would either retire or fight another fighter from a different weight class.
On one occasion Leonard and his PR team organised a glittering televised press conference attended by movie stars, sports top competitors, sports writers and press, a special invite was sent to the Hagler team who along with the many in attendance were expecting Leonard to announce he was ready to sign contracts and finally fight the champion.
The Hagler team were shocked and publicly embarrassed when Leonard announced he would once again retire, “You wanted the fight” he would say “but I’m here to tell you it will never happen, I officially retire for good” and incensed Hagler would never forgive Leonard for the blatant show of disrespect and ridicule his envy of Leonard’s superstar status quickly turned to disdain.
Hagler won the middleweight title with a brutal mauling of Alan Minter during ‘that’ infamous night in London a night that shamed British boxing (on behalf of true British fight fans I would like to publicly apologise for the treatment Hagler received) he went on to defend the title 12 times beating the likes of Thomas Hearns and John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi.
The Fight the world wanted finally took place in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace and an estimated worldwide TV audience of around 300 million on April 6, 1987, the richest fight in boxing history at that time produced one of the sport’s most controversial decisions with Leonard winning via a split vote.
Hagler quietly disappeared that night while Leonard embraced the plaudits, boxing had once again kicked Hagler in the teeth he retired never once making a comeback even the allure of multi-millions couldn’t tempt him back.
Leonard on the other hand would go on to make two further comebacks eventually retiring for good at the age of 40 after losing to Hector Camacho, I guess even the great fighters never learn.