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The Day in Sports | Countdown to 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: APRIL 6, 1987

A Sweet Strategy Works Perfectly for Leonard


Hours later, in the early hours of the following day, Sports Illustrated boxing writer Pat Putnam summed up Sugar Ray Leonard's amazing upset victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler this way:

"I think you could cut Ray Leonard's heart up into little pieces and have enough to supply the entire Third Marine Division," he said.

The quip seemed to accurately characterize that special gift, courage, that set Leonard apart from his opponents so many times in his major fights.

His challenge, 12 years ago tonight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, was to wrest the middleweight title from a formidable champion, Hagler, after what amounted to a five-year layoff. Leonard was a 5-1 underdog.

How could he possibly have the legs, the hand speed, the reactions of his younger days, in his great victories over Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns?

Leonard was now 30. The relentless Hagler was 32, but undefeated for 11 years, a winner of 37 in a row, a champion seemingly at the peak of his career.

Leonard's plan was clear at the opening bell--hit and run, go inside on Hagler for just a punch or two then get out, circle and wait, stalk him. . . and throughout, never stop moving.

In the middle of the fifth round, Leonard needed his deep reservoir of courage.

In a clinch, Hagler tagged him flush under his chin with a crushing uppercut. For an instant, Leonard's body sagged and his knees buckled. To that point in the fight, he had fought remarkably well. Surely a little voice now told him: "That's it, it's over--get him in the rematch. . . "

If there was, Leonard didn't listen. He backed up, cleared his head, danced around Hagler for the rest of the round and survived the round. And he went on from there to win the fight on a split decision.

Hagler fumed.

"I stayed aggressive--c'mon, I won the fight," he barked.

Also on this date: On the same night, Dodger General Manager Al Campanis, in a nationally televised interview, said that blacks lacked "some of the necessities" to manage major league baseball teams. Two days later, Campanis, a Dodger for 44 years, was fired by owner Peter O'Malley. . . In 1958, Arnold Palmer shot a final-round 73 but still won the Masters by two strokes and earned an $11,250 check. . . . In 1970, Maurice Stokes, former NBA all-star with the Cincinnati Royals, died of a heart attack at 36.

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