by Bob Canobbio
This fight was real drama and surrealistic at the same time. Drama, because Leonard was a part of the HBO boxing team during his 35-month layoff prior to challenging Hagler. We worked together and became friends, sitting ringside, observing Hagler’s destruction of the middleweight division. Then, when Leonard signed to fight Hagler, he hired CompuBox to compile an analysis of Hagler’s previous fights as well as attend Ray’s sparring sessions in January of 1987 in Palmer Park, Maryland.
CompuBox data from Hagler’s five previous fights (excluding Hearns) showed he was a slow starter. He threw his lowest amount of punches in the early rounds, then, like a freight train gaining momentum, his output rose steadily as the fight wore on. CompuBox’s recommendation was Ray start fast, put the early rounds in the bank and make Marvin fight from behind – a scenario he’d been unfamiliar with probably since his last loss to Willie “The Worm” Monroe on March 9, 1976.
What was surreal was the notion that if you as a boxing fan could make “The Dream Fight,” it would be Hagler-Leonard. Now, here it’s happening, and it involved a friend and co-worker, one that we’ve help prepare, fighting at the Caesars Palace outdoor arena, the dream venue. And a 4-1 underdog as well, with many so-called experts fearing for his well being.
A hot early afternoon in the desert gave way to a perfect dusk setting. The comebacking Leonard entered the ring first, to Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal.” The champ entered to “War – What is it Good For? Marvin looked invincible. Ray appeared hypnotized.
The opening bell and Marvin comes out in an orthodox stance, following Ray around the ring, just throwing 16 total punches in the round and landing four. Was this the same Marvin that landed 50 of 82 punches in round one against Thomas Hearns? Ray threw just 19, but landed 10.
Hagler upped his output to 38 total punches in round two, but he missed 31 of them, while Ray landed 19 of 32 (59 percent). Marvin was not only fighting at a slower pace, Ray was making him miss, too.
Ray was more effective in rounds three and four, landing 36 of 67 total punches (54 percent) to 34 of 97 (35 percent) for Marvin.
As forecasted, Marvin got it into gear by round five, landing 35 of 87 total punches (40 percent), including 31 of 77 power shots – by far his best round of the fight. Round six was a crucial round in the fight; could Marvin capitalize on the momentum gained in the previous round? Was the inactivity and overall weight of the moment catching up with Leonard? Ray responded by landing 32 of 71 total punches, including 24 of 48 power shots in the sixth. Marvin went 23 of 66 in total punches, good numbers, but it was Ray’s round. Hagler’s attack was briefly blunted.
As Leonard searched for his second wind, Marvelous dominated rounds seven and eight by landing 27 of 79 total punches in round seven and 31 of 78 in round eight to 23 of 57 and 24 of 52 for Leonard. Hagler landed 14 jabs in round eight versus the now-flatfooted Leonard, double his total from any previous round.
The ninth was another pivotal round. Would Hagler now begin to steamroll Leonard? Well, Hagler’s numbers sure were impressive. He landed 51 of 102 (50 percent) in total punches in that round – fight-high totals in both categories. Leonard responded by landing 45 of 88 (54 percent) of his total punches. Leonard was 42 of 78 in power shots (54 percent) to Hagler’s 36 of 78 (46 percent). They fought on near-even terms in the 10th, with Leonard more efficient and Hagler busier. As he did in round six, Leonard had again answered the call, deflating Hagler somewhat in the process.
That pattern continued into rounds 11 and 12. Leonard landed 65 of 128 total punches (51 percent) to 51 of 151 (34 percent) for Hagler. Leonard had a 58-35 edge in connected power shots (non-jabs) over the last two rounds.
The final CompuBox stats showed Leonard landing 306 of 629 total punches (49%-52 per round) to 291 of 792 (37%-66 per round) for Hagler . Leonard landed 258 of 490 power punches (53%) to 213 of 581 (37%) for Hagler.
The decision was controversial, but, the bottom line is, these guys fought! They landed a combined average of 50 punches per round – 14 more than the middleweight average. They also landed a combined 39 power shots per round, 33 percent more than the combined middleweight average of 26 per round.
Hagler, who just one hour earlier appeared bigger than life upon his ring entrance, now seemed a shrunken man as he dejectedly stood on the Caesars Palace ring apron, exiting the squared circle for what would be the last time in his 67-fight career.