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On This Date in Sports April 6, 1987: Hagler Can't Handle Sugar

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Fighting for the first time in three years, Sugar Ray Leonard wins a split decision over Marvelous Marvin Hagler to claim the WBC Middleweight title. The fight at Cesar’s Palace in Las Vegas was close as two judges split 115-113 decisions for each fighter, while JoJo Guerra had it 118-110 in favor of Sugar Ray Leonard, swinging the decision in his favor.

Sugar Ray Leonard was a star in the ring right away, capturing a Gold Medal in the Light Welterweight division at the Montreal Olympics in 1976. Born on May 17, 1956, in Wilmington, North Carolina, Ray Leonard was named after singer Ray Charles, his mother’s favorite performer. Leonard’s family moved to Washington DC when he was three, moving to nearby Palmer Park, Maryland, a few years later. When he was 12, Ray Leonard learned to box at the local recreational center, following in the footsteps of his older brother. 

 Turning professional six months after the Olympics, Sugar Ray Leonard quickly moved up the ladder in the Welterweight Division, winning the WBC title on November 30, 1979, with a unanimous decision win over Wilfred Benitez. On June 20, 1980, he lost his belt in a unanimous decision to Roberto Duran. Leonard beat Duran in a rematch five months later, making his opponent cry out “No Mas.” Sugar Ray Leonard ruled the Welterweight Division the next two years before he was forced to retire with detached retina from a fight with Thomas Hearns in 1981. 

Marvin Hagler was born on May 23, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey. Raised in Newark, Hagler moved to Brockton, Massachusetts, after the Newark riots destroyed his home in 1967. A few years later, he took up boxing after getting beaten up in a street fight. Winning the US Nationals as a Middleweight in 1973, Hagler quickly turned professional. Taking some early losses in his career, Marvin Hagler fell short in his first title shot with a draw against Vito Antuofermo in 1979. A year later, he won the WBC Middleweight belt against Alan Minter. Hagler would unify the Middleweight title beating Thomas Hearns in classic 1985 slugfest. 

Talks of a bout with Sugar Ray Leonard began in 1986 as he was considering retirement with one last big-money fight as he vacated the WBA and IBF titles. After retiring in 1982, Sugar Ray Leonard attempted a comeback in 1984 but retired again after a dissatisfying effort against Kevin Howard, which he won with a ninth-round TKO. After a year of negotiations, Hagler agreed to fight Sugar Ray Leonard for the Middleweight title. 

Marvin Hagler, with a 62-2-2 record, was a heavy favorite against Sugar Ray Leonard, who was 33-1 but moving up in weight after just one fight in five years. The fight was statistically even as Sugar Ray Leonard found a way to steal the fight by closing each round with a flourish. This strategy would serve to frustrate the champion, as Leonard, in the final 30 seconds of each of the 12 rounds, pummeled Hagler. The fight would go the distance, with it being decided by the judges at ringside. Lou Filippo scored the fight 115-113 in favor of Marvin Hagler. Dave Moretti scored it 115-113 in favor of Sugar Ray Leonard, with JoJo Guerra scoring it lopsided in favor of Leonard at 118-110. 

Marvin Hagler wanted a rematch, but Leonard retired again. Marvin Hagler would never fight again, while Sugar Ray Leonard, after vacating the middleweight title, came out of retirement again in 1988 and won the Super Middleweight title. He would fight sporadically over the next few years. He would lose fights to Terry Norris in 1991 and Hector Macho Camacho in 1997, finishing his career at 36-3-1.