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Jim Murray

Sugar Ray Shows What Boxing Is All About

April 07, 1987|JIM MURRAY

LAS VEGAS — It wasn't even close . . .

Hey, maybe Jeffries couldn't do it. Maybe, Johnson, Dempsey, a half dozen other famous names from out of the past.

But, don't put Sugar Ray Leonard in there.

He did it. He came back. Did he ever.

Calling on skills you wouldn't think he could even remember, he put the hurt on Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the parking lot at Caesars Palace Monday night. But that was nothing to what he did to Father Time. He stopped that old impostor right in his tracks.

You imagine if Peter Pan were a fighter, this is how he would do it. It was pretty, dazzling, daring. He not only turned back the clock, he made the most fearsome pugilist in a ring today look like a clumsy old character in a gorilla suit.

He didn't just outpoint Hagler, he exposed him. He made him look like a guy chasing a bus. In snowshoes. Marvelous Marvin Hagler should have put stamps on his punches. He kept aiming them at places Sugar Ray had left much earlier in the evening. Sometimes, you expected Hagler to tap the referee on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, did you see a little fellow, about 5 foot 10 with dark hair and a nice smile go by here tonight? I was supposed to fight him but I guess he couldn't make it."

The moral of the story?

Well, it is this: Never underestimate a man with an obsession.

Captain Ahab had Moby Dick. Sugar Ray Leonard had Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

It might never have happened if Sugar Ray Leonard had retired to the French Riviera, got a yacht, a fleet of Ferraris and went around the world playing polo.

But, Sugar Ray became, of all things, a fight announcer.

It was cruel and unusual punishment. He had to sit there and ooh and aah and gush and exclaim over a fighter he knew wouldn't give him much more trouble than a heavy bag or his shadow.

It must be awful watching someone with your title, your money, your place in history swaggering around society, doing commercials, going on talk shows, taking bows. All time knowing that, if you tap the world on the shoulder and say, "By the way, I could lick this guy 12 rounds to none," they would turn on you and snarl "Sour grapes! Shame on you! Your day is gone, kid. Have the grace to forget it!"

Sugar Ray couldn't take it.

The world thought he was crazy. Obsessed people frequently are.

Captain Ahab, you will recall, had a wooden leg. Sugar Ray Leonard had a game eye. A torn retina.

He was Don Quixote. He had an impossible dream. He saw things that weren't there. He would never get away with it, they told him. He would go blind. He would get punchy. He would be selling pencils in arena lobbies.

Hagler was a certified killer, they warned him. Just look at that shaved head, that menacing glare, those muscles on muscles.

To Sugar Ray, he just looked slow. It would be like fighting a statue.

It tormented Sugar Ray to think an eye gouge had robbed him of his rightful place in history. He must have seen himself in his sleep throwing a shutout at the lunging, graceless Hagler.

You have to remember boxing is a speed sport. It's not a strength sport. It belongs to the Sugar Rays of the world (the original and Leonard), to the Muhammad Alis. Those big slow guys were duck soup (literally) to Ali. And the burly, muscular Hagler was to Leonard what George Foreman, Sonny Liston and all the George Chuvalos in the ring turned out to be. Instruments on which they can give a concert. Bells they can ring.

Leonard-Hagler was in that genre. It wasn't even a good fight. Leonard repeatedly beat Hagler to the punch. When he did, he hit harder. He hit more often. He made Hagler look like a guy sweeping snow off a windshield most of the night. Sugar Ray Leonard couldn't have ordered a fight that would have better suited his skills. He seduced his opponent into doing every awkward thing he had seen him do in his dreams. He made Hagler into what he had perceived him to be throughout his career--a brawler, a swarmer, a man who could club you to death only if you stood there and let him. If you moved, he was lost.

It is a landmark event in boxing history. This is not "Rocky V" or "Golden Boy" or Errol Flynn defeating John L. Sullivan. This was in a ring, not a sound stage. But, it was another affirmation that brute strength does not rule this sport no matter how cruel it becomes.

It belongs to a little bright-eyed, curly haired kid who conjures up images of Little Orphan Annie, Skippy, Bugs Bunny turning his opponent into an outline on a cement block fence. It is like a boy with a dog and a fishing pole outwitting the town bully, the outlaw gang.

Sugar Ray kept his eye on his obsession. He ignored the advice. He dismissed the notion that inactivity can overlay even genius.

He knew Hagler was his. He could see it in his dreams, he could see it in the ring. He could not rest until he proved it. To himself. He could gloat, now. But, it's not likely. The man he proved it to is the man who needed no proof. The one he had to show was not the world, it was himself. And, like all magnificent obsessions and magnificently obsessed, he knew it all along.

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