Lee Groves

10: Greatest super middleweight title fights

6. November 7, 1988 – Ray Leonard KO 9 Don Lalonde, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

For nearly half a century, fighters were prohibited from holding two divisional championships simultaneously, ostensibly to prevent a repeat of Henry Armstrong’s feat of owning the featherweight, lightweight and welterweight titles in 1938. And yet, in the name of free enterprise and extreme hype, the WBC granted Leonard the chance not only to become its first 168-pound titlist but also to annex Lalonde’s light heavyweight belt, for both men scaled under both weight limits.

After weighing a career-high 165, Leonard refused to shake Lalonde’s hand. The 167-pound Canadian then stepped up to the microphone and delivered this gem of a jab: “I guess Ray weighed in at ’65. Not only am I fighting an old welterweight, I’m fighting an old, fat welterweight.”

Lalonde, nicknamed “The Golden Boy,” had more in store for Leonard once the bell sounded.

Lalonde fired his oft-maligned jab harder and straighter than ever before and his steady aggression combined with Leonard’s tepidness created a lead through three rounds. That lead exploded in the fourth when a right to the top of the head decked Leonard for only the second time in his career. Later in the session Lalonde opened a slice on the nose near the left eye.

Suddenly, the Leonard showcase had turned into a real fight.

Leonard shifted into a far higher gear starting in the fifth. He stuffed jackhammer jabs into Lalonde’s face and drove meaty hooks into his ribs. A stunning three-punch volley hurt Lalonde later in the stanza but the defending titlist proved he remained dangerous when a snappy right near the end of the sixth stopped Leonard in his tracks and forced him to back away.

Lalonde began the seventh by launching a full-frontal assault and seemed unconcerned that he ran headlong into Leonard’s lasers. Leonard was willing to brawl and his initiative eventually paid dividends. An overhand right turned Lalonde’s legs to jelly and Leonard’s confidence was such that he ducked several Lalonde punches with hands at his side, then whacked him with a flush combination.

Though he was blasted with tons of Leonard’s dynamite Lalonde continued to press ahead. A four-punch burst in the eighth forced Leonard to retreat and a mid-round explosion in the ninth finally caused the prime version of “Sugar Ray” to break through the 17 months of rust.

A comet-like 17-punch flurry capped by a scorching hook dropped Lalonde for a six-count. Once Lalonde arose, Leonard completed his masterpiece in vintage style – a monster right hand, an exaggerated bolo wind-up and a wicked right-left to the jaw that left Lalonde sprawled like a rag doll. Referee Richard Steele immediately – and most correctly – called an instant halt to the proceedings at the 2:30 mark, proving that a mighty dose of Sugar was enough to tarnish a Golden Boy.

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