During the 1980s, a quartet of boxers reignited a sport that was dying. As the world crossed the borders between the 70s and the 80s, interest was waning in boxing. Muhammad Ali, whilst still an active boxer until the end of 1981, was a far cry from the man who shone the brightest in a golden era of heavyweight boxing and there was no heir apparent to the throne.
Then came the Four Kings; Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns. The four men couldn’t have been any more different from one another but when they fought they always brought the best out of each other. In total, they would face each other nine times, two of those (Hearns vs Hagler, Leonard vs Hearns I) are considered among the greatest fights ever, and between them they won 16 world titles in an era when the best had to fight the best.
Fast forward four decades and we could be on the brink of our own Four Kings (or should that be princes?) Last week, one quarter of that exalted foursome, Sugar Ray Leonard, was asked about four exceptionally talented Americans plying their trade in and around the lightweight division right now; Teofimo Lopez, Devin Haney, Gervonta Davis and Ryan Garcia. Like the four men who came before them, they couldn’t be any more different from one another, and while one has yet to face another yet, the prospect is one that should get any fight fan giddy.
"That division is spectacular. I wanna see them fight each other, that's when you bring out talent,” Leonard told Sirius XM Boxing. “They say, 'Boxing is dead.' Boxing is not dead, we've got so much talent."
In an era in which the best very much do not fight the best, it’s understandable to approach any boasts of a new golden era with caution, but the hostilities among these would-be kings is palpable. Each has expressed an extreme willingness to fight one or the other, and should any unfold this year it would likely be a bona fide Fight of the Year contender. Lopez, our 2020 Fighter of the Year, in particular has called on promoters to ensure the best fights are made.
Even in the 1980s, messrs Leonard, Hearns, Duran and Hagler still had plenty of other world-class fighters biting at their heels, and 2020 is no different. In fact, it might be conceived as an injustice that Vasyl Lomachenko, one of the greatest ever amateurs and a three-weight world champion, isn’t being mentioned alongside these young guns.
As Leonard says, the future is very bright throughout boxing right now, but down at 135lbs we might just be witnessing the dawn of a once-in-a-generation era of prizefighting.