Lee Groves

Ten notable U.S. vs. U.K. welterweight title fights

March 31, 1980 – Sugar Ray Leonard KO 4 Dave “Boy” Green, Capital Centre, Landover, Maryland

Like Stracey against Lewis, Leonard was returning to the ring as a conquering hero. Four months earlier in Las Vegas, Leonard captured the WBC title by dropping and stopping Wilfred Benitez in the 15th round and his fight with Green before 14,000 adoring fans was the third of ABC’s four-fight, three-city, prime time spectacular dubbed “The Night of Champions.” Although Leonard admitted in his autobiography that he was less than keyed up to fight Green, the new champion received three reminders that anything can happen inside the ring.

The first: two hours before his own match, a relaxed Leonard sat in the audience to watch brother Roger fight Johnny Gant. To the shock of both Leonards, Roger was dropped by a rifle-shot right in the fifth. The older Leonard regained his feet and went on to win the eight-round decision, but it still produced an unwelcome jolt to the champion’s psyche.

The second: the first two matches of the ABC quadruple-header yielded two upsets. In Knoxville, Eddie Gregory (now Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) became the new WBA light heavyweight titlist by stopping Marvin Johnson in the 11th while WBA heavyweight king John Tate, leading big on all scorecards, was knocked unconscious by Mike Weaver’s Hail Mary left hook with 45 seconds remaining in the 15th and final round.

The third: as Leonard and Green met mid-ring for the final instructions, the challenger tried to rattle the champion’s cage. Looking disdainfully at the tassels on Leonard’s shoes, Green then bumped the American’s chest with his own. Leonard responded in kind, prompting ABC blow-by-blow man to describe the scene thusly: “They started butting each other with their chests like two big Hereford bulls out in the pasture.”

“I got pumped up in a hurry thanks to Green’s worse move of the night,” Leonard wrote in his autobiography, “The Big Fight.” He then recreated a conversation that took place years later.

“Davey, what was all that about?” Leonard asked.

“I was trying to intimidate you,” Green replied.

Intimidate me?” Leonard said. “All you did, Davey, was piss me off.”

Leonard waited a while before pulling the trigger. The two men mostly probed with jabs in round one but while Green’s poked at the target, Leonard’s were delivered with sizzling crispness. A right lead late in the round reddened the area around Green’s left eye and moments later, a confident Leonard broke into a mini-Ali Shuffle.

Leonard began to flash his incredible hand and foot speed in round two. At one point, Leonard ducked inside Green’s jab, landed a short hook to the body and darted out before the challenger could even react. With a little more than a minute remaining in the session, Green landed his first significant blow of the night as a hook caught a ducking Leonard on the forehead. Leonard instantly responded with a scorching double hook to the body and head, a right/left/right to the body followed by a hook to the jaw and a left uppercut/right cross to the face. Another five-punch salvo sliced through Green’s guard and as the round closed, a shotgun jab caused Green’s knees to dip.

Green enjoyed his best round in the third as he increased his pressure somewhat while Leonard mostly concentrated on defense. That respite ended emphatically in the fourth.

Chief second Angelo Dundee told Leonard between rounds that if he wanted to stop Green, he had to make him stand still and nail him with the coup de grace. The champion couldn’t have followed instructions any better. A lead right uppercut to the face stopped Green’s advance long enough for the champion to uncork the most devastating four-punch combination of his boxing life – a right uppercut to the chin, a hook to the face, a right that just missed the target but also positioned him perfectly for the final blow, a full-leveraged hook that wrenched Green’s neck and anesthetized the rest of his body. Green’s handlers charged into the ring even before referee Arthur Mercante Sr. could complete his count and soon, a team of physicians were tending to the stricken fighter.

“It was perhaps the most beautiful punch I ever threw,” Leonard wrote years later. “Whenever I connected with such power and precision, a tingling sensation similar to an electric shock traveled directly from my hand to my shoulder. It was a tremendous feeling and one every fighter experiences when he lands the perfect shot. The world has no choice but to stop and acknowledge his work. I raised my hands and stood in admiration as any artist would. Davey ‘Boy’ Green was not going to get up before the count reached ten. No one would.”

The moment of triumph quickly turned to a moment of terror, for Leonard believed the damage he had inflicted was more than temporary. A concerned Dundee and Leonard briefly watched the doctors work over Green, who soon regained consciousness and accepted congratulations from Leonard before being placed on a stool.

“In my whole career of 10 years, this is the first time I really was scared,” Leonard told Schenkel at ringside. “I hit the guy with a dynamite left hook and he was laid out. I really was scared for him.”

Thankfully, Green was able to fight on. He notched four more victories, three by KO, before a fifth round corner retirement against Reggie Ford ended his career in November 1981. Leonard, of course, went on to craft a Hall of Fame career by beating the likes of Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler before a pair of losses to Terry Norris in February 1991 and Hector Camacho in March 1997 brought the curtain down on a majestic, athletic life.

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