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A Look Back at Hagler Vs Leonard

Feb 21, 2004  Joe Trabucco
The phrase Sour Grapes is defined as, "acting meanly after a disappointment". Some claim that it stems from The Old Testament, Ezekial xviii. 2- 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'. Seeing I have no idea what that means, I believe the phrase found it's origins in Aesop's fable, The Fox and The Grapes. In it, the fox isn't able to reach the grapes and declares them to be sour to stop anyone else from having the pleasure of eating them.  This would pretty much sum up my conversations with Sugar Ray Leonard fans since, April 6th, 1987.

I have heard the phrase, "sour grapes", thrown at me 347 times since Marvin Hagler was robbed of his Middleweight Title. Well, give or take a grape or two. Typically, my brothers and I, would record a fight, and watch it over and over. Hagler-Hearns, Tyson-Douglas, Taylor-Chavez, the list goes on and on. We also had Hagler-Leonard. After the decision, I vowed never to watch the fight again. And as long as we occupied the same house, my brothers were forbidden ever to play it as well. They felt that Leonard won the fight, and I was determined never to allow them to prove their point. They would not get the pleasure.

Recently, my brother asked me to watch the fight over again. Watch it again, and try to look at it objectively. I was young when I saw it the first time, and perhaps he was right. Maybe my idolization of The Marvelous One, skewed my judgment.

With an open mind, I did what I swore I would never do again. It's even difficult to talk about it now.

Going into the fight, Hagler was a 3-1, odds-on favorite to defeat Leonard, and for good reason. Hagler had not lost a fight in 11 years, and Leonard was coming out of a 3 year retirement. This fight was always a dream matchup for everyone, but after Leonard's first retirement, few thought it would ever happen. As we know, in the end, money talks.
Both fighters were in great shape that night, even if they were past their prime. Their legends were already cemented, however, they approached this night as if it meant everything to their careers.

The first 4 rounds of the fight were identical. It was Leonard, using his speed to circle the ring and stay out of harms way, that had the clear edge. Hagler seemed to be sizing up the surprisingly sharp Leonard. Probably, like everyone else, Hagler assumed Leonard lost a step from the 3 year layoff. He was wrong, and, subsequently, these first 4 rounds have been every Leonard fan's angle in any debate regarding the decision.
I would concede that Hagler was lucky to even get one of the first 4 rounds. However, beginning in Round 5, Leonard began to slow down a little bit. Each round, thereafter, became indistinguishable. Leonard would move along the ropes with his hands up, waiting for the last 30 seconds to throw a flurry, and, hopefully, steal the round. While doing this, Hagler was his typical workman-like self. He missed more than he landed, but he was landing. One thing I will definitely give Leonard credit for, was his ability to avoid getting caught with a bomb. However, not getting knocked out isn't one of the criteria in judging who won the round.

The 4 criteria are as follows:

1-Clean Punches
3-Ring Generalship
4-Effective Aggressiveness

In the final 8 rounds of the fight, Hagler had the clear edge in 1, 3, and 4, while both showed equally effective defense. After watching the fight again, my opinion hasn't changed. I still scored it 115-113 for Hagler. Two of the judges shared the same score, one for Hagler, and one for Leonard. One judge seeing it that close in Leonard's favor isn't completely shocking. The rounds were close enough that I can see how someone might have Leonard winning. However, the final judge ruled it 118-110 for Leonard 118-110. Someone should have told him before the fight, that drinking a whole bottle of Robitussen, might effect his judgment. He had to be hallucinating to see the fight 10 rounds to 2.

After the fight, Hagler retired and refused to ever step into the ring again. A career full of bad decisions had 'soured' him from ever returning.

In retrospect, I don't think there was any conspiracy that night to take Hagler's title away. However, Hagler was never a media darling, like Sugar Ray Leonard, during his boxing career, and there were plenty of people who would have liked to see him lose.

After winning the title, Hagler never gave them a chance to take it away. All but two of his title defenses would end inside the distance. He would go 1-1 in the fights that went to the scorecards, winning a decision against the equally unpopular Roberto Duran.

Sometimes in sports, when one team or individual is so dominant, a natural jealousy will arise. Fans will be shocked just to see an opponent be competitive, and this will sometimes influence their judgment on what they are actually seeing.

I truly feel this is what happened that night. So many expected Hagler to blow Leonard out, that when the fight became competitive, the underdog became the crowd favorite. This is an American epidemic called the Rocky Syndrome. Ok, I made that part up, but to deny it would be foolish. Americans love to root for the underdog, and any athlete that looks invincible should just put a big target on themselves.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler had a big target on himself his whole career, because he was that good. Regardless of what the judges said that night, Hagler defeated Sugar Ray Leonard.
But that just might be sour grapes....

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