Donny Lalonde discusses his fateful catchweight bout with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1988 and how weight issues figured into the outcome, and offers his thoughts on the practice of inventing new weight limits for fights today.
Earlier this month, during an interview with RingTV.com, Sugar Ray Leonard discussed his ninth-round knockout victory over Donny Lalonde in 1988.
Leonard accomplished an unprecedented feat by winning the world titles of two seperate weight classes with the same fight by getting Lalonde to put his WBC light heavyweight title on the line at a catchweight of 168 pounds, with the WBC's newly created super middleweight belt also up for grabs.
Leonard, who had upset undisputed middleweight champ Marvin Hagler for the WBC's 160-pound title in his previous fight, was dropped in the fourth round by Lalonde before eventually stopping him.
Since retiring with a record of 41-5-1 and 33 knockouts following a unanimous decision loss to Virgil Hill in July of 2003, Lalonde has lived in Costa Rica, where he is a land developer who also manages, builds and sells vacation rental properties with his wife, Christi.
In this Q&A, Lalonde recounts his famous catchweight bout with Leonard, along the way, offering some rebuttals to assertions by his conqueror as well as his own thoughts on the Mayweather-Alvarez fight, which will be fought at a catchweight of 152 pounds:
RingTV.com: What is your take on the overall impact and the precedent that you feel was set by your fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, and your decision to accept the conditions mandated by the contract?
Donny Lalonde: I don’t feel there was a great impact. What it did do is have my camp -- my trainer -- concerned about me making weight, and I think it affected our training schedule and focus on weight verses strategy and preparation.
I think that in this day, and in an age where people can manipulate their weight by so many substances, and where there are so many weight classes, that to have a catchweight is a bit of a head trip more than a necessity.
When Ray and I did it, we did it at a new division weight limit, and not between two weight classes. I mean, the weight classes are no more than about seven pounds difference nowadays anyway, so why the need for more "catchweights?"
RingTV.com: Do you feel that the fight and the money you made for it was worth losing weight to 168 in retrospect?
DL: Making 168 for me was not the issue. I fought at 171-to-173 all the time, so 168 was not an issue for me, and I did not feel I was compromising my chances by agreeing to 168.
Was it an advantage for me? No. Was it something I regret doing? No. Over training, and coming in at 163 was a problem, and that, I would not do in retrospect.
I weighed 167 at the weigh-in with my clothes on, so no one could see how skinny I was, and so that Ray didn't realize how much weight I had lost. We over trained. That was my problem.
RingTV.com: Can you discuss the climate of your situation with Leonard?
DL: For me, it was a chance to win a World Championship in a second weight class. It was a class that I was focused on since 1984, when Chong Pal Park won the super middleweight title from Murray Sutherland.
After I beat Carlos Tite on ESPN in '84, I was in negotiations to fight for that belt, but it never came off. Plus, of course as a fighter, I wanted to fight what was considered to be the best out there, and Sugar Ray Leonard at the time was the god of the game.
I was honored to be given a chance to knock him out and win a second belt. When I was offered the fight, I thought, due to our weight and my punching power, it was a gimme. It was an historic opportunity, and I was all over it.
RingTV.com: What do you recall was the difference in size?
DL: Ray’s size is still his size. He was a welterweight. He is and always has been a natural welterweight. I am a natural light heavyweight. I am naturally 25 pounds heavier than him and three inches, or more, taller than him.
There was no logical way in my mind that I was not going to knock him out. I knew he had more experience, and I knew he was a "great" fighter. But when a bigger person who is naturally a big puncher fights a smaller person, it is just a matter of when I landed the big punch.
My weight loss was a factor, no doubt, but his resilience, capacity to adjust and experience as well as determination kept him in the fight in spite of the hard shots he was taking. Had I had another six to 10 pounds on me, like I could have, it would have ended early and differently.
RingTV.com: Are there similarities in your rationale for the Lalonde catchweight and that of Mayweather for the Alvarez fight?
DL: The difference to me is they are talking a couple of pounds between two weight classes. Ours was seven pounds, and it was at a weight class limit, so it made sense to do it for two belts.
Adjusting to make a new weight between two classes does not make as much sense per se, but hey, whatever it takes to make great fights with two great champions. Let’s get it on.
The similarity I see is the hope that the weight issue will affect something or someone in the camp. It worked for Ray. I don’t think it is similar as stated above in that sense.
Ours made more sense to me. There was a purpose for Ray to get two belts and exceed Tommy [Hearns'] four, and for me to win a second title and to make more money than could be imagined for a light heavyweight in those days.
RingTV.com: What do you recall about knocking down Leonard in the fourth round?
DL: I know that this question is directed toward Ray, but I thought I would reply to some comments he made within his answer.
[Leonard: I looked at him, and I looked into his eyes, and it was like (he was thinking): "S__t, I've got the chance to knockout Sugar Ray Leonard." And he went for broke, got a little careless.]
What I was actually thinking was "I didn’t connect cleanly. Next time I hit him cleanly, this fight is over." I, in fact, thought the opposite of what Ray said in his reply to this question.
I was over confident, and felt the fight would end as soon as I hit him cleanly again. The trick was to hit him cleanly. He was so skilled at being close, but with me not being able to hit him cleanly with that one punch.
I think, had I pushed harder and threw more punches instead of waiting, he wouldn't have gotten out of the fourth. But I waited to land that one more clean shot.
[Leonard: "Even though the commentators didn't say it, I hit him with a body shot, and that was what led him to the knockout. That body shot just paralyzed him."]
But the only body punch that I felt in the fight was a kidney shot in about the third or fourth round, or maybe it was the fifth. But you can see it clearly on the tape.
Ray couldn’t connect cleanly to my body, so he hooked a shot around my body to my back, right at the kidney. My legs went weak, my body flushed heat for a minute, then I felt weak.
I knew it was a kidney shot, and it was then that I knew the fight was on. But a body shot in the ninth having any impact near the end, I don’t recall that.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on the Mayweather-Alvarez fight?
DL: I think it is a great opportunity for a potential superstar to prove himself as beyond a big puncher with a lot of potential. If Alvarez is to reach greatness, he will have to beat Floyd at this stage of Floyd's game.
I am not sure Floyd will let him get close enough. Time will tell, but I say Floyd Mayweather in a decision. It's a bit too early for Alvarez.
RingTV.com: What do you make of Mayweather's requesting a catchweight for the first time?
[Sugar Ray Leonard's answer: It kind of neutralizes things and balances things out. I would have asked for it too. You try to get every advantage. Sometimes, it's not just a mental thing, but also, a psychological thing.
Put it this way. Could I have beaten Lalonde if he had been given two or three more pounds? Sure. It would have been the same result. Lalonde has never said, "Well, that weight killed me."
In fact, he was open to the weight reduction, the catchweight. He was like, "Hey, I'll make the weight, and I'll knock Ray out."
It's just what you do. I don't think it's major factor, but psychologically, it's a big factor, if that makes sense. You always wanted the psychological edge.]
DL: Now, this is where Ray and I differ. If you feel it is an advantage, I guess it is worth going for if you think that way. I always felt, "Okay, me verses Ray at 168 is still me verses Ray, me verses Bobby Czyz at 190 is still Czyz and me.
Me verses Virgil Hill at 200 is still me verses Hill, but what did Czyz or Hill do to be that weight? Was there enhanced weight gain from improper substance use? That makes things different.
I don’t think you have that here. I know that we didn't have that in the fight with Ray. What we did have was an edge that was created by impacting everyone around me to worry about and focus on the weight.
Within the minds of those in my camp, weight was an issue. Not for me, but I am only part of my camp, so it did have a positive outcome for Ray in that way.
Straight up, at 168, as Gill Clancy said to me before the fight, 'At 168 Ray wins eight out of 10 times. At 175, you win nine out of 10 times.' I still feel that I was fine at 168.
At 163? No. At 168 yes, and when Ray says herein that if I had a few more pounds, things would have been the same, that is fundamentally wrong.
With two or more pounds on me, Ray would never have gotten out of the fourth round. He may not have made it that far. I had half the power at 163 that I would have had at, say, 171. I was too ignorant to think that Ray had a chance at 168 or 175.
I do not think 168 was the factor. It was the 163 caused by our side agreement that any pound I came in over 168 at the weigh-in meant I had to forgo $1 million dollars per pound from my purse.
Tommy Gallagher and I gave our word on that, and I was confident that I had no problem with it. But Tommy, knowing we would honor our word, was making sure that I didn't come in over weight, so we did 10 rounds a day sparring for eight weeks.
That is around 400 rounds of sparring for the fight, wearing me down big time. That changed the outcome of this fight more than anything either of us did in the ring that night.
In that sense, the weight difference was beneficial to Ray. It changed history, actually, because, after winning, I would have fought Tommy [Hearns.]
And who knows who else and how much impact that would have had on the trilogy Ray had with Tommy and Roberto Duran for instance. Ray probably would have retired. I would have fought those guys, and well, we will never know.
Photos: THE RING
Lem Satterfield can be reached at email@example.com