LAS VEGAS — Odds favoring Marvin Hagler over Sugar Ray Leonard in their fight on a Caesars Palace tennis court tonight hovered at 3-1 all last week.
However, if a poll of boxing people and accredited journalists by The Times means anything, something like 15-1 would be more like it. Either that, or a lot of cowards are wearing press badges in Las Vegas this week.
Of 50 people polled, only four picked Leonard. Sugar Ray, most seem to believe, can't possibly have retained sufficient sharpness after having only one fight in 62 months. The second-most-often cited reason for favoring Hagler is that Leonard is not a natural middleweight while Hagler is.
As Jerry Lisker of the New York Post put it: "Natural weight wins, always."
Hagler himself passed that tip along at a news conference this week when he said: "I've weighed 158 pounds since 1973. Leonard's a welterweight."
One thing's for sure. If Tunney-Dempsey II became the Long Count Fight, and Ali-Frazier II the Thrilla in Manila, this one might go down as the Media Monster.
Press officials here issued approximately 1,100 media credentials and denied them to 250 others. The previous high for a boxing show is believed to be 780, for Hagler-Hearns in 1985.
The Washington Post and Boston Globe each have seven reporters here. Only the Las Vegas Review-Journal (9) and the Las Vegas Sun (8) have more. About 300 reporters won't even be in the stadium tonight--they'll watch the bout on a big screen in the Caesars tennis pavilion.
There are reporters from 32 countries, including nine from England.
Irving Rudd, 69, a boxing publicist since the 1930s, put the media crunch in another perspective.
"When I was doing New York and New Jersey fight shows in the 1930s, 1,500 bucks was a huge gate," he said. "For this fight, for the eight weeks I spent in Hilton Head (at Sugar Ray Leonard's South Carolina training camp) and the last two weeks here--just returning writers' phone calls--my phone bill alone will be 1,500 bucks."
The Times poll:
MARIO BRUNO, Tuttosport Newspaper, Turin, Italy: Hagler, very, very easily. It is not possible for a man to lay off five years and come back and defeat a man like Hagler.
AL BERNSTEIN, ESPN boxing commentator: Hagler, in 6 or 8. He'll get inside, where Sugar Ray won't be able to handle him.
DAVE KINDRED, Atlanta Constitution: Hagler by decision. I'd like to see Ray win, but Hagler's too strong.
DICK YOUNG, New York Post: Hagler, quickly. It's a mismatch. One guy hasn't fought for years and has what I consider to be a physical impairment . . . and if it isn't a physical impairment, it's a mental impairment.
LACY BANKS, Chicago Sun-Times: Hagler in 5, with wit and grit. He'll grind Leonard down. You can't fool with Mother Nature.
JACK FISKE, San Francisco Chronicle: Hagler, inside 8. The other guy just hasn't fought.
GIULIANO BEVILACQUA, Guerin Sportivo magazine, Bologna, Italy: Hagler. He's been training and boxing the last five years, Leonard has done nothing. And he wasn't that sharp when he quit.
GIL CLANCY, CBS boxing commentator: Hagler will win. We'll see a different Leonard from what we remember. He won't move like the Leonard of old.
EDDIE FUTCH, boxing trainer: I favor Hagler. Marvin's a legitimate middleweight, Leonard is not. I can't see Ray winning, after that layoff and against a guy of Marvin's ability. There has to be some erosion.
ELMER SMITH, Philadelphia Daily News: The weight of time and the layoff is too much for Ray. There are too many things going against him. He hasn't fought in five years and he's never been hit by a strong middleweight.
SALLY JENKINS, Washington Post: Hagler, mainly because I don't believe anyone can come back from that long of a layoff without losing something.
JON SARACENO, USA Today: Hagler, KO 6. He'll overpower Leonard.
TIM DAHLBERG, Associated Press: Hagler, by a decision. The inactivity has taken away some of Leonard's skills and the added weight will slow him down. But he's still smart enough to go the distance.
BILL CENTER, San Diego Union: I thought Leonard would win until two days ago . . . now I think Hagler will cut off the ring on Ray and catch him.
DAVE ANDERSON, New York Times: Hagler in 8. Leonard has been out five years and he expects to beat Marvin Hagler the first time out? Maybe on a cut, but that's the only way.
CARLOS LOSAURO, La Nacion, Buenos Aires: Hagler, because he has more technique, more punch.
NEIL ALLEN, London Evening Standard: Hagler. The other guy is fooling himself.
GENE FULLMER, former middleweight champion: When I beat Carmen Basilio, I was much stronger than he was, because he was a welterweight. Sugar Ray will find that out, too.
GENNA TANAKA, Channel 12, Tokyo: Hagler by a decision. Sugar Ray will be able to go the distance at long range, but he will lose.
LEIGH MONTVILLE, Boston Globe: Hagler in 8. Too big, too strong.
JOE GERGEN, Newsday: Hagler in 8. He's stronger, more fit. The only edge I give Leonard is his ego.