It’s largely regarded as one of the greatest upsets in the last 50 years of boxing. 32 years ago, on April 6th, 1987, Sugar Ray Leonard came out of retirement and stunned World Middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler in a 12-round split decision in Las Vegas.
It’s not just that Leonard was able to get the decision, but the fact that, he controlled most of the fight and kept the menacing Hagler off balance for 12 rounds that still impresses even to this day.
Leonard came off of a three-year retirement without a tune-up fight and fought a champion, who had successfully defended his title 12 times over six and half years before that April, 6th, 1987 night.
That included, his dramatic short-lived, explosive third round knockout of Thomas Hearns two years earlier. The Hearns fight is still the standard of big punching/entertaining short fights in modern boxing history.
Leonard won several of the earlier rounds by scoring repeatedly with his left jab followed by a right cross behind it. Also, he continually mimicked a Muhammad Ali tactic from late in the “Greatest’s” career, where he repeatedly came on with flurries of punches in the final 30 seconds or less of a round in an attempt to sway the judges to give it to him.
Leonard landed more punches over the 12 rounds (306-291) and a higher connection rate (49-37%) according to Compubox, punch stats that night.
However, it was a split-decision with one of the judges, JoJo Guerra of Mexico, incredibly scoring the close fight 118-110 (or 10 rounds to two) for the challenger creating great controversy. Judge Lou Fillippo (yes, the referee in “Rocky II”) had it 115-113 Hagler. Meanwhile, judge Dave Moretti scored it 115-113 for Leonard.
Famed boxing media at ringside also disagreed with each other on the decision. Legendary TV analyst Al Bernstein thought 115-113 for Hagler, while THE Howard Cosell scored it 117-112 for Leonard. The AP had it 117-112 Hagler, but HBO’s famed “unofficial judge,” Harold Letterman also thought Leonard won 115-113.
Hagler made, at that time, an astounding $12 million guaranteed, which was a record for a non-Heavyweight. Leonard, the former 1976 Olympic gold medalist, was guaranteed $10 million.
There was no rematch, as Hagler, who was only 32, at the time of the fight, never fought again.
Leonard fought five more times after that 1987 night going 2-2-1. He defeated Roberto Duran in the third of their three fights, but fought the draw against Thomas Hearns eight years after their first fight. Leonard lost his final two fights to Terry Norris and Hector “Macho” Camacho, before retiring in for good in 1997.