April 6, 1987

 

By Wallace Matthews

Three decades later, it is the fight that will not end.

The epic middleweight title bout between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard turns 30 years old today, the same age Leonard was when he was awarded the decision fight fans still argue about.

To this day, Leonard seems awed by what he was able to accomplish against a fighter who was widely considered unbeatable, in particular doing so after having fought just once in the previous five years. And Hagler, who walked away from his first loss in more than 11 years and never fought again, continues to look back in anger and bitterness, convinced that a combination of corruption and incompetence robbed him of the one fight in his 67-bout career he simply could not bear to lose.

In addition, the Hagler-Leonard fight marked a tipping point in the way professional boxing was presented and consumed, being not only the highest-grossing fight to that point, but representing the high-water mark of boxing’s closed-circuit television era, when those unlucky – or unwealthy – enough to afford a ticket to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas could recreate the fight night experience among thousands of like-minded individuals in movie theaters across the country.

There had never been a night like April 6, 1987 in boxing history – the first Ali-Frazier fight, on March 8, 1971, while its equal in terms of buildup and anticipation could not approach its ability to generate revenue – and considering the way the sport, its fan base, and its means of delivery have changed in the ensuing three decades, there probably never will be again.

Leonard, of course, loves to talk about that night. Hagler has rarely spoken about it publicly – he did reflect on the fight in a 2015 SiriusXM radio interview – and refused an interview request for this story. He did, however, provide written answers to emailed questions submitted through a publicist.

“People love to ask me about Hagler-Hearns," he wrote. “Not many people ask me about Hagler-Leonard!"