In November of 1988, Sugar Ray Leonard accomplished an unprecedented feat by winning the world titles of two seperate weight classes with the same fight by getting WBC light heavyweight titleholder Donny Lalonde to put his 175-pound belt on the line at a catchweight of 168 pounds, with the WBC’s newly created super middleweight title 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 before eventually stopping Lalonde the ninth round, taking both WBC 175-pound and 168-pound belts in the process.
On Sept. 14 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, THE RING’s No. 1-rated pound-for-pound boxer, Floyd Mayweather Jr. (44-0, 26 knockouts) will face a junior middleweight for only the third time in his career when he challenges THE RING 154-pound champion Saul “Canelo” Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KOs) at a contracted catchweight of 152 pounds. Alvarez’s RING title and WBC belt will be on the line.
Mayweather, who turned 36 in February, is asking a larger rival to meet him at catchweight for the first time in his career, having vanquished both Oscar De La Hoya and Miguel Cotto for junior middleweight titles in bouts that both defending beltholders were able to weigh in at the division limit of 154 pounds.
In this Q&A, Leonard recounts his famous catchweight bout with Lalonde before offering his thoughts on the Mayweather-Alvarez fight:
RingTV.com: Can you discuss the climate of your situation with Lalonde?
Sugar Ray Leonard: Well, there was a vacant 168-pound title available and on the line. Donny Lalonde wanted that belt, and I wanted that belt. And although, at the time, Lalonde was not a household name, he was a world champion, a light heavyweight world champion.
The way that this thing came to fruition is that it was a great deal, from both both perspectives — from my perspective and from his perspective.
From my perspective, there was a title on the line that was vacant. For Lalonde, he had a chance and an opportunity to beat a fighter of great (fame), but a fighter that was considered to be past his prime.
That’s what his people thought, and, in fact, they were pretty sure that Lalonde would wear me down because of the size difference.
RingTV.com: What do you recall was the difference in size?
SRL: Oh, there was a major difference in size. My walking around weight fluctuated, depending on how good I was. It could be in the high 160s. But it was never like 167 or 168.
I never carried more than 163, 164. Maybe, if that. But he was a big boy. I’m sure that he was up in the 170s. Lalonde’s walking round weight, who knows what that could have been? It could have been in the 180s. I mean, he was the light heavyweight champion.
So we tried to neutralize that or balance it out or make it a little more fair. Even with experience and all of those things, one punch from a guy that size could just totally even the playing field.
RingTV.com: Are there similarities in your rationale for the Lalonde catchweight and that of Mayweather for the Alvarez fight?
SRL: For me, that was just to even the playing field, and it was taken from a business standpoint. But they felt so sure that they would win, that they were willing to risk that. Think about that.
The fact that if you have a chance to, first of all, win another title, and also, to beat a guy — whether it’s a Floyd Mayweather or myself — you know, you say “Well, s__t, man, he’s 32 years old.” All of those things were factors back then.
That’s what made it doable. It was an attractive deal. You know, I never dealt with the finances, but I would imagine that Lalonde made well over $5 million or $6 million. From a public standpoint, (the fight) was a sellout.
RingTV.com: What do you recall about being knocked down in the fourth round?
SRL: You know, I had a premonition that I would be knocked down in that fight. Not knocked out, but knocked down. It was the weirdest thing, man. I’m fighting him, and every punch hurt.
Every punch rocked me big time. I was like, “You know what, man? This is not going to be an easy night.” When he knocked me down, and I looked in his eyes, I heard some people at ringside say, “Get him.”
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.
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.
RingTV.com: What are your thoughts on the Mayweather-Alvarez fight?
SRL: I think that if there is any opportunity to beat Mayweather, it’s now. This fight is intriguing and it’s a can’t-miss fight. I feel that this is a very interesting fight, and this is a fight that I would watch.
I’d watch because of what can happen. This kid Alvarez is young, this kid is super strong, this kid hits like a ton of bricks. He’s aggressive and this kid can fight. But he doesn’t have the quality of experience of a Mayweather.
So he doesn’t have that. That’s is so vitally important. But Mayweather is 36, and Mayweather is really fighting, from a business perspective, as a business man.
But what separates Mayweather is that, whenever he walks into that ring, man, he’s always ready to go. That’s such an anomaly. That’s such a rarity.
Even with myself. I would walk into that ring sometimes and I wasn’t really that fighter, but I’ve never seen Mayweather not be a fighter in the ring yet.
RingTV.com: What do you make of Mayweather’s requesting a catchweight for the first time?
SRL: 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.
RingTV.com: Ultimately, what is your break down of Mayweather-Alvarez?
SRL: There’s a couple of scencarios that could happen. I think that Mayweather could expose this kid as not being as experienced as he was looked up to be. To break him down. To out-jab him. To make him flinch. To control this kid from Day One. To have him miss, which can be the case, because Mayweather is a very crafty, defensive fighter. He can counter this kid and make him pay for his misses.
That’s something that he can do. That’s great.
Or do we see Canelo coming out from his corner jabbing, jabbing, and all of a sudden you say, “Well, s__t, he’s knocking Mayweather’s head back.”
And then, maybe he catches Mayweather with one of those shots, because, you know, as we get older, not necessarily our hand speed, but as we get older, there’s some wear and tear. So I think that radar that we have and have relied upon and which has allowed us to slip punches, sometimes, that’s not as strong as it used to be. Maybe (Mayweather) gets hit on his chin.
Unlike when Sugar Shane Mosley hurt Mayweather in the second round, this kid knows what to do. Shane Mosley knew what to do, but for some reason, he just ran out of gas right away.
I do think that that if there is any opportunity to beat Mayweather, it’s now. But any way that you look at this, this fight is intriguing and it’s a can’t-miss fight.