LAS VEGAS — All right, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, step right up, right this way to the fight of the century number hundred and five, the battle of the ages number forty.
What we have here is more than just a fist fight, it's a good old-fashioned morality play. Good guys against the bad guys. Good vs. evil. Black hats against the white hats. John Wayne against the Indians. Tom Mix after the rustlers. Errol Flynn and the Nazis.
Look at the principals. Sugar Ray Leonard, the nearest thing to Shirley Temple in 10-ounce gloves. He's going to tap dance right into your hearts.
Why, it's Little Red Ridinghood and the wolf. "America's Sweetheart," his opponent calls him.
And look at his opponent. A hundred and sixty pounds of menace. Shaven-headed, glowering, terror in the streets. Something that's been out in the moon.
You look at Sugar Ray and you want to take him to lost-and-found and buy him an ice cream cone until you can find his mother and father. You look at Marvelous Marvin Hagler and you wonder where the police are when you need them. If you got in an elevator with him, you'd empty your pockets and plead with him not to hurt you.
Sugar Ray is the fistic version of Goldilocks. Hansel and Gretel in the Black Forest.
This is Frank Merriwell against the bully. Harvard against Ohio State.
One guy looks out of place without a halo, the other looks out of place without a knife in his teeth. You imagine Captain Kidd's pirates looked like this. You see Sugar Ray in a room, you want to mother him. You see Marvin Hagler and you wonder how they let him in. You figure Sugar Ray is going to tap dance. The other guy is going to steal the silver. Sugar Ray you'd want in the family. Marvin Hagler you'd want in handcuffs.
Most people are convinced they're going to an execution Monday night. If this is a contest, so is a train wreck. Sugar Ray doesn't need a second, he needs a priest. Compared to him, Custer was even money. You only hope Hagler isn't hungry.
This, at least, is the superficial view. Baby Face against My God, Doctor, What Is It!? Goldilocks against the Papa Bear.
But is it that way? Is Sugar Ray all that sweet? Did they find him in a manger? The bulrushes? Is this Little Lord Fauntleroy in trunks? Joan of Arc at the stake?
Or is Marvin Hagler the one who should wake up screaming?
The first proposition to remember is, Sugar Ray Leonard fought 34 guys in his career and beat 33 of them--and knocked 24 of them kicking.
The next thing to remember is, he took the nearest thing you will see to a jaguar that talks, Roberto Duran, and made him quit in his corner, so to speak. You would have thought you shouldn't fight Roberto Duran with anything less than an elephant gun, but Sugar Ray pounded him into a house cat in eight rounds.
If Sugar Ray Leonard loses to Marvin Hagler, it won't be because he's too kind-hearted or soft-headed. It won't be because he'd stand back if he saw his opponent was hurt. Sugar Ray Leonard might put splints on a wounded canary, he might brake for kittens crossing the road, he might cry at sad movies. But when a bell rings, he's like one of those choirboys who turns out to have taken a hatchet to a Girl Scout troop. Those big innocent eyes can glitter, that mouth can get hard and pitiless.
They have had to pull Sugar Ray off stricken opponents. He has bloodied his gloves with the best of them.
It is well to remember Jack the Ripper probably looked like somebody on his way to early Mass, too. Until he got the knife out.
A lot of people will remember a sad scene in a Garden dressing room the night Joe Louis got knocked out by Rocky Marciano. The room was full of sobs and soaked handkerchiefs and the wails of people choked up with emotion. Suddenly, Louis looked up from the rubbing table at this weepy scene. "Hey!" he said reproachfully. "I knocked out lots of guys!" English translation: Knock it off.
Sugar Ray Leonard has knocked out lots of guys, too. He's seen them led cut and bleeding to a corner, half-carried out of a locker room. He is not the tragic figure of history a Zola might fictionalize. He has been waspish, churlish, sometimes unaccommodating this week in a pre-fight hoopla he, as a commentator-journalist himself in recent fights, should have more appreciation for.
There is a school of thought which holds that Sugar Ray is a wholly created work of fiction, that they took this innocent-in-arms from the Montreal Olympics and dressed him in Muhammad Ali's persona and proceeded to make millions with him.
In other words, this is just a nice kid in a gorilla suit, carefully displayed in poor light.
The trouble with that is, they may have it inside-out. There may be a bloodthirsty gorilla lurking inside those blue knee breeches and ruffled shirt fronts. Little Boy Blue may turn out to have more in common with the kid with the switch-blade knife than you would think.
The moral of the story: Don't weep for him. If Hagler starts to bleed, you might do well to start worrying for him.