I went against history, and now they'll have to rewrite the books. They talked about logic, that the fight was not supposed to be. Someone said before the fight, "Two things will not happen this year: Oliver North will not be back in the White House, and Sugar Ray Leonard will not beat Marvin Hagler."
I think they better check the White House.
—SUGAR RAY LEONARD
They were ensconced at a back table in Jameson's Restaurant in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., early on Friday afternoon. The two men were swapping tales from that twilight zone that falls somewhere between nightmare and dream. Just four days earlier, Sugar Ray Leonard had beaten Marvelous Marvin Hagler to pull off the most extraordinary comeback in recent sports history. Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney, financial adviser and close friend since the fighter turned pro 10 years ago, recalled how he had awakened in his Maryland home on Wednesday morning, a couple of days after the fight, thinking he was still at Caesars Palace.
"I thought, Was the fight postponed, or what?" Trainer recounted to Leonard at Jameson's. "Did this fight really happen yet?" Trainer then recalled that he had looked over and had seen his wife, Jill, who had traveled to Las Vegas with him, asleep. "I thought, Am I still at Caesars?" Trainer said. After he had sat in bed, befuddled for a moment, Trainer spotted the family cat, Gigi, and the sight of that familiar animal jogged him back to Maryland and the real world. "I said, 'It's over,' " Trainer recalled. " 'We're home.' "
April 19, 1987
Leonard looked at Trainer with a wondering expression. "Is that right?" he said. Leonard shook his head. That same Wednesday morning Leonard had been walking through his father-in-law's suburban Washington home when he had suddenly lapsed into his own trancelike world. "I didn't feel nothing," Leonard said, "and I didn't hear nothing." He had been sore after the fight—his sides, his neck, his biceps, even the back of his head—but when he had felt himself that morning, the aches were nonexistent.
Like Trainer, momentarily disoriented, Leonard had begun to wonder whether the fight had really happened. He had gone to a mirror to check his face. It was unmarked. Seeing his old friend Joe Broddie, who was an overnight guest in the house, Leonard asked him, earnestly, "Is the fight over?"
"Yeah, it's over, Ray," Broddie said. "It's all over." The next night, Broddie says, he found the fighter at 10 o'clock in the driveway of Leonard's Potomac, Md., home. He was shadowboxing his dog, a chow chow named Caesar.
"Ray, you O.K.?" Broddie asked.
Leonard was just fine, parachuting slowly down from the heights he had attained, but still so restlessly hyper that on Friday he rolled out of bed at 6 a.m. and told his wife, Juanita, that he was going running. "Lay your butt down!" she said to him.
What Leonard had passed through was so physically and emotionally draining that it left him groping to fathom what he had done. What he had done, of course, was emerge out of a virtual five-year retirement and lift the title from Hagler, a man who had held it for nearly seven years, since Sept. 27, 1980, and through 12 defenses, a man regarded as one of the finest middleweight champions of all time.
"It was like a revelation," Leonard said on Friday afternoon. "I wish I could really describe it. My head is so clogged up now. Sometimes, during the day, I'm so tired I just lie down. I say, 'What the hell's wrong? I'm O.K. now.' We'll sit here and have a few beers, and I'll try to reminisce and think about it and create the vivid scenario to see it. But it's not clear enough, not clear enough to say, 'That's it!' I know what I accomplished, but I don't feel anything yet. I'm mentally exhausted. I busted my chops in training. People don't know what I went through."
Although he says he felt numb last week, Leonard was animated in Trainer's law office on Friday as he watched a tape of the bout on a small black-and-white screen. Looking at the third round, as Hagler chased him and swung and missed, Leonard cried out, "Look at that! He can't catch me."
To be sure, his speed and his ability to move frustrated Hagler. "I was so fast, man!" said the 30-year-old former welterweight and junior middleweight champion of the world. "He couldn't hit me for nothing! When he finally did hit me, it was like, 'This is it?' He was more of a pusher than a puncher. I couldn't believe he was that slow, that vulnerable, that susceptible to punches. It was my speed that upset him, my movement that threw him off. People said I lost the zip, but my hands are just as fast as they were when I was 20 years old!"
Looking at the fifth round, Leonard watched his opponent dogging him and throwing one punch at a time. "Look!" Leonard said. "He never threw combinations. He always threw, like, one punch and that was all."
"The only time he threw more than one punch was when you were on the ropes," said Trainer.
"Yeah, but never short combinations," said Leonard.
Here Hagler landed a solid uppercut that would win him the fifth round on all three judges' cards. "That was a good shot," Leonard admitted. "He stunned me. But he didn't know I was hurt. Watch this!" As the bell rang, ending the round, Hagler pushed Leonard away. "He was so mad!" said Leonard with a laugh.
Leonard went flat-footed in the sixth. "I'm a little tired here," he said. "Five years ago he couldn't have touched me!" That was when the two men had been expected to have their first joust, the one that never came off because Leonard suffered a detached retina in his left eye and retired.
As he viewed the seventh round, Leonard mused about what Thomas Hearns must have thought about the fight. Instead of boxing Hagler, as Leonard had done, Hearns had gone toe-to-toe with the champ two years ago, and he was knocked out in the third round. "You realize how Hearns must feel looking at this?" Leonard asked. "He must be sick. I was in a totally different world in this fight." Watching Hagler chase and miss once again, Leonard said, "Marvin's like an amateur."
"One of the greatest middleweights who ever lived," said Trainer.
"But I'm matching him, Mike!" said Leonard. "I told you what I would do—taunt him, frustrate him, cross his wires, make him mad. Didn't I? And I'm doing it! I was like radar out there. I could see all his punches coming."
No, said Leonard, he was not hurt in the wild ninth round, when it appeared that Hagler had Sugar Ray in trouble in his own corner. "I was just tired," he said. The camera zoomed in on Hagler measuring Leonard for each punch. Then the perspective suddenly widened as Leonard flurried his way out of trouble. Just seconds later, at mid-ring, Leonard caught Hagler with another flurry. "Oh, I love it!" said Leonard with a laugh.
What he loved most of all about watching the fight was listening to his trainer, Angelo Dundee, exhort him between rounds. Before the seventh, Dundee yelled, "Round number 7! Yeah, baby, Roooouuund 7!" Leonard howled as he heard that again. "Look at Angie! He's like a kid. I'm telling you, Angelo was great!" Before the last round Dundee screamed, "Three minutes, champ!"
"Boy, Angelo pumped me up there," said Leonard.
Moments after the fight ended, Leonard leaped on a ring rope. "I was on cloud nine," he said. "I gazed out at the audience and saw currency being exchanged [bets being paid off]. I knew I had it. I just knew."
What he had known, and what others at ringside had sensed, was that he had indeed achieved this most improbable of upsets. As Leonard watched ring announcer Chuck Hull declare it was a split decision and then begin to read off the third judge's card, he leaned forward in the office chair in Trainer's office. "Listen to this!" he said. "This is the greatest feeling in the world, to hear this."
Hull's voice then intoned, "The winner, and new...."
"Yeah!" Leonard said. "Jeez, God, I mean...." Trainer, clapping, burst out laughing.
When asked what he said to Hagler in the ring when he was seen tapping the former champion on the shoulder, Leonard said, "I was saying, 'Hey, we're still friends, right? Still friends?' " To which, according to Leonard, Hagler replied, "It's not fair." Leonard pressed: "No, we're still friends, right?"
Because of the commotion and noise around the ring, the new champion was not sure what Hagler then said. "I think he said, 'Yeah, good fight, good fight,' " Leonard said. He emphatically denied that he said to Hagler, as Hagler later insisted he had, "You beat me." Said Leonard, "I told Marvin, 'You're still the champ.' "
The tape then showed Hagler telling HBO commentator Larry Merchant, "That flurry stuff didn't mean nothing." Leonard leaned forward once more. This time he addressed Hagler's unhappy visage on the screen, "It meant points. Points!"
So what began almost a year ago, when Leonard issued his challenge to Hagler on a Washington, D.C., television broadcast, ended late last week with Leonard talking to a TV set outside that same city, trying to explain to a man who could not hear him what he had done to that man. It had been a long year for Leonard, the most difficult and agonizing in his professional life. He had worked his head and body into the kind of shape required for him to do what no fighter had ever done.
When Leonard went into serious training last fall, it seemed to the world at large to be the most quixotic of labors. But gathered about him was a coterie of believers who would prove instrumental in preparing him for the fight. Trainer tried to persuade him to spar in all-out wars, without headgear, against some toughs wearing 10-ounce gloves. Leonard resisted. "It's not necessary," Leonard told him. "What are you trying to tell me about boxing for?"
This was in late September, when Leonard was merely going through the motions in the gym, not doing any exercises and not even hitting the bag or skipping rope. He would spar six rounds, take a shower and go home. Trainer urged him to take on the toughs, and even Juanita criticized Leonard's lackadaisical regimen. Their critiques upset Leonard.
"You all stay out of my training," he told them both. "Mike represents me as far as law is concerned. You're my wife. Stay out of it." But Trainer wouldn't back down and continued to call for sparring wars. "I want to be sure that this is the way you remember it," Trainer said. "You've been away from it for five years, and I want to be sure you remember it the way it was. I want you to get the feel back."
Leonard ultimately acquiesced. "I held my own," Leonard says. "I needed to be hit. I needed to be hurt." Around this time, too, Leonard told Trainer he was "fed up" with those around him who did not think he could win. He gauged their faintness of heart by the looks on their faces. Trainer told him, "Ray, you don't understand. They know that Sugar Ray Leonard can win this fight, but they don't know if you're Sugar Ray again." This struck a chord with Leonard.
"It made a lot of sense," Leonard says. "Ray Leonard couldn't do it, but Sugar Ray Leonard could. It was whether I was willing to make that transformation. I went back and started exercising and running harder and training. It would hurt. God, it would hurt! But I went back in time."
Trainer even arranged for one of Leonard's entourage, J.D. Brown, to spy on Hagler's camp in Palm Springs, Calif. Trainer told Brown that he would not pay him unless he came back with a picture of him with Hagler as proof that he had actually infiltrated the camp. After watching Hagler spar for three days, Brown not only gave a full report of all that he had seen but also brought home the required color snapshot of himself, hair dyed partially gray for the assignment, posing with Hagler.
Finally, when Trainer sensed that Leonard's aides were tiptoeing instead of making their opinions known and enforcing their own instructions, he urged Dundee to come to Leonard's training camp in Hilton Head, S.C., five weeks before the fight instead of the customary two or three. "It's time to come in, pal," Trainer told the Miami-based Dundee. "If there was ever a time for you to step in and go one-on-one with Ray, this is it." Dundee arrived on Feb. 28, and he and Leonard immediately worked out a strategy and final training program.
"I can't give Angie enough credit," Trainer says. "Ray's talent was there. Angie helped choreograph it. He stepped in and filled a void."
Dundee knew that Hagler would often fight from a southpaw stance. As a rule, you never move to the right against a lefty, "because then you're moving into his left, his power hand," says Dundee. But Dundee also knew that Hagler is a converted southpaw and that his real power is on the right side. "You don't fight this guy the way you fight a regular southpaw," Dundee told Leonard. Instead he schooled Leonard on moving to Hagler's left.
"Move right, take a dip and nail him with a right hand," Dundee said. During the fight Leonard scored repeatedly with that very maneuver.
"That was the cleverest thing that Angie did," Trainer says. "Ray had his own theories on how to fight Hagler, but he needed Angie to reaffirm them."
Leonard and Dundee met at least once a day to discuss strategy. They worked on all the slipping and dipping and moving that Leonard displayed in the fight. "We worked on every movement to offset Hagler," Dundee says. "You know, feint one way and go the other. Head and hand feints, too. That's an art that's gone."
Dundee also entreated Leonard to lean on Hagler when he tied him up, and to push him and muscle him. "I told Ray, 'You're going to be able to move this guy. He's never been manhandled,' " says Dundee.
By the night of the fight, Leonard sensed he had stepped back in time, back to the old days. "It was like a transformation took place," Leonard says. "I had thought it all out before that first bell. It was as though my soul had left my body. Jeez, I was like Sugar Ray of 1981. Where was the ring rust? I was moving and I was sticking. Everything I did worked. This was not a tough fight. It was relatively easy. I felt like a kid again, rejuvenated. I was coasting. That was not me in the ring. Oh, it was me, but it was me of five years ago. How else could I have done that?"
Despite his momentous achievement, Leonard evinced a twinge of sadness in his final reflections on the greatest evening of his life. "My heart goes out to Hagler," he said. "I swear to God it does. As much as I wanted to beat him, I wish there was a way I could have beaten him and could have said, 'Here's your belt.' "
That belt was the symbol and center of Hagler's life. It represented all he had worked for and much of what he has ever had. Then along came Leonard, five years out of nowhere and in an impossible quest, to snatch it from him. "Where does he go now?" Leonard asked. "I feel sad for him. I really do."