Hagler vs Leonard: Was Hagler Really Robbed?
A fight in Las Vegas on April 6th 1987, perhaps had the most controversial scorecards in boxing history.
It has been classed as daylight robbery, an act of grand larceny. The winner stole the fight with a few perfectly timed flurries in the last 30 seconds of each round. The loser was robbed in plain sight. The Las Vegas system had denied Marvin Hagler once again. Two of the three judges couldn’t separate emotion and admiration from a fighter defying belief from what was really happening in the ring. A fighter fighting above expectations but not actually doing enough to win. As Hugh Mcilvanney wrote ‘it was an epic illusion of victory.’
Much was written about the end of round flashy combinations supposedly designed to steal the rounds, for me they were there to seal the rounds, to remove any doubt. The last thing a judge remembers is usually the last thing they see. Sugar Ray Leonard knew this and much was made of it, but the storyline wants you to forget what the ‘Sugar Man’ did before the last 30 seconds of each round.
The ‘Superfight’ is still debated to this day, the narrative of an unjust result, a criminal one even, people continue to argue with much venom that Marvelous Marvin Hagler should never have lost his world middleweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard.
It was a split-decision victory for Leonard, but it was a decision that split the boxing world. Hagler a victim of Vegas judging before, bitterly protested the defeat that ended his long-reign as the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. Many fine scribes agreed.
In reality, it was no robbery, it was anything but. It is one of the great boxing myths of the modern-era. The fight was close, the robbery claims were incredibly wide of the mark. Say something enough times and it will be believed.
Hagler for all his protests only had himself to blame. He let Leonard build up an early lead, and at least on my card, he never quite pulled that early deficit back.
Coming out orthodox, fighting at a pace that allowed Leonard to shed his ring rust, find his timing, and conserve enough energy to see him home, Hagler in many ways, gave himself far too much to do. From the opening seconds, he was playing catch up, the fruitless chase had already begun.
Arguably, Leonard swept the opening four rounds, a couple of those rounds admittedly were close, but equally, rounds later on in the fight that I gave to Hagler, I could have quite easily given them to Leonard.
If Hagler had come out with anywhere near the aggression he had displayed against Thomas Hearns two years previously, he would surely have won. Hagler had ‘War’ displayed prominently on his baseball camp. Ceasefire might have been more reflective of what we witnessed in those crucial early rounds.
The 5th round was the first round that Hagler finally found his range and some semblance of fire as he hurt Leonard in the last 30 seconds of the round. It was a highly competitive round, Leonard stood and traded at times, but Hagler seemingly had made a pivotal breakthrough.
But if Hagler thought he had his man, he would be disappointed. Leonard always had guts and resilience and boxed quite beautifully in the 6th round. With half the fight over, Hagler could easily have been 5-1 down in rounds. The lack of urgency in the champions corner was startling, Hagler was behind, and already it was starting to look as though Hagler would need to stop Leonard to win the fight.
But if Hagler thought it was a matter of time before Leonard folded, he would be severely mistaken. Most predicted a one-sided massacre, Dr Ferdie Pacheco had said:
“This match endangers the eyesight of Leonard, as well as his life.”
But Leonard wasn’t only exceeding any realistic expectations, he was winning rounds and the fight.
Hagler plodded forward without the intensity of old, it lacked conviction. Leonard was showing signs of fatigue, but he was still holding his own, despite this observer giving Hagler two rounds on the bounce. The scorecards were narrowing, the following round would see Hagler gain more momentum only to see it slip away over the next six minutes.
Round 9 was the best round of the fight, Leonard looked on the verge of exhaustion at times as he emptied the tank to fight off the champion who sensed the tide had finally turned. I gave Hagler the 9th, and the gap had closed to just a round on my card. The challenger looked as though he was finally about to break, the body finally starting to fail him. Hagler must have felt the end was coming.
But again Leonard found something from the memory bank and rallied to edge the next two rounds. The 9th round looked to have taken more out of Hagler with the challenger getting his much-needed second wind.
After 11 rounds, I had Leonard in an unassailable lead, 7-4 in rounds. If he remained standing, he would win. Leonard gave away the final round, showboating his way to the finish, fighting off exhaustion. Hagler won the final round, but he needed more, much more to save his title.
JoJo Guerra scored it 118-110 for Leonard, although he later admitted he scored two rounds mistakenly for Leonard. Lou Filippo saw it 115-113 for Hagler, Dave Moretti matched my card with a 115-113 card in favour of Leonard. The cards of Filippo and Moretti were much nearer the truth than how Guerra saw it. Even Leonard agreed he didn’t win ten rounds.
Robbery it certainly wasn’t, controversial, still a push on reality. Rounds two, three, seven and eight were swing rounds that could have been scored either way. A close fight with some rounds that are hard to score isn’t controversial and certainly is no robbery.
Fights like that often end with a difference of opinion, but that’s all it was. If Leonard had lost, I think he would have had a far bigger argument than Hagler.