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Q&A: Leonard says Duran told him he could beat Hagler
Sugar Ray Leonard on Marvin Hagler, who he upset 25 years ago: "Roberto Duran came over and he leaned toward the ropes, and he told me, at my table: 'Ray, you box him, you beat him.'"
Many theories have circulated over the years as to the origin of Sugar Ray Leonard's decision to challenge -- and ultimately dethrone -- undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler by improbable split-decision victory on April 6, 1987.
Leonard's incredible move to take the fight represented a career-high in weight, ended a three-year retirement and led to a verdict that continues to be debated to this today.
Leonard spoke to RingTV.com on Friday, the 25th anniversary of his achievement, clarifying exactly what led him to return to the ring to face the man nicknamed "Marvelous."
Although many have pointed to Hagler's previous matchup, an 11th-round knockout against then-unbeaten John "The Beast" Mugabi in March of 1986, Leonard said he made up his mind to challenge the middleweight champ four years earlier on the night of November 10, 1983.
That's when Hagler earned a unanimous decision over Roberto Duran, against whom Leonard split two bouts with at the time, including an eighth-round TKO in the rematch, the infamous "No Mas" fight.
It was Duran who first expressed Hagler's vulnerability to Leonard, convincing him that he was the better fighter of the two.
"Duran had told me that if I boxed Marvin Hagler, then I would beat him," said Leonard. "Right after his fight with Hagler. I was there working with HBO. After the fight, he came over to my table and he leaned toward the ropes, and he told me, 'Ray, you box him, you beat him...'
"The Mugabi fight had a bearing on my decision to fight Hagler. But it was when Duran said that, that's what kind of secured me in my thinking that I could beat Hagler."
RingTV.com: Have you had any conversations with anyone about the Hagler fight recently if not today?
I'm at the point where, what I accomplished on that day, April 6, 1987, was that I won that fight. I know what I did.
But the fact that it came to fruition, and the fact that Hagler didn't look the same as the Hagler who fought Tommy Hearns or whomever else, that may have been the difference.
But even Duran had told me that if I boxed Marvin Hagler, then I would beat him.
Duran came over and he leaned toward the ropes, and he told me, at my table: "Ray, you box him, you beat him." Whatever year that was that he fought Duran, when was it? In 1983?
The Mugabi fight had a bearing on my decision to fight Hagler. But it was when Duran said that, that's what kind of secured me in my thinking that I could beat Hagler.
RingTV.com: Do you think that you sort of painted a portrait by saying what you were going to do before the fight and that people were just surprised that you prognosticated what you actually accomplished?
But that didn't happen. I won the fight. So what would my closing statement be? You know what? Hell, I should change my name to Magic, because it was magic that night. That's exactly what it was. Magic.
Photo by Jeff Julian, Fightwireimages.com
Photo by Chris Cozzone, Fightwireimages.com
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com