On this day in 1987, Sugar Ray Leonard beat Marvelous Marvin Hagler by split decision to win the middleweight championship of the world. The first fight of Leonard’s comeback after a 1984 retirement would prove to be the last of Hagler’s career.
This classic battle was one of the pillars of the Four Kings era of boxing. The 1980s hosted an incredible series of fights among four of the finest boxers of all time. Across welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight and super middleweight these men battled in astonishing bouts. Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler all rocketed to superstardom. Overshadowing the traditional heavyweight monopoly, they earned the moniker ‘The Four Kings’.
The Sportsman have decided to rank every fight in which two of these men faced each other, in order of greatness. Disagree with our choices? Have your own list? Sound off in the comments about this most special of boxing eras.
1. Marvin Hagler TKO3 Thomas Hearns, 15/04/1985
Not just the finest fight offered up by the ‘Four Kings’, this three-round war is in the argument for the greatest bout of all time. The savagery these men packed into just eight minutes of action is astonishing. Both fought back from the brink of being stopped, before Hagler took the initiative and ended matters. The only minus point to this titanic collision is that there was never a rematch.
2. Sugar Ray Leonard TKO14 Thomas Hearns, 16/09/1981
‘The Showdown’ was a mouthwatering match-up on paper. A combined record of 62-1 between the two men. Leonard was the WBC champion while Hearns was the WBA, at a time when holding those two titles was all it took to be undisputed. The fight delivered on this promise, as Sugar Ray went behind early only to rally for a 14th round TKO. This spectacular comeback against the then-unbeaten ‘Hitman’ might be the best win of Leonard’s incredible career.
3. Sugar Ray Leonard SD12 Marvin Hagler 06/04/1987
The most controversial bout on this list, ‘The Super Fight’ saw Leonard get on his bike to outpoint an aggressive Hagler. Marvelous always argued he’d done enough to win, feeling his rival had simply come to run and citing the 12-round distance as a hindrance, with 15 having been the standard. Hagler asked for a rematch but Leonard retired once again. To Marvin’s eternal frustration, Ray would return after his own retirement.
4. Roberto Duran UD15 Sugar Ray Leonard, 20/06/1980
‘Hands of Stone’ had proven himself to be the best lightweight to ever do it, but in the summer of 1980 he was considered a huge underdog. Sugar Ray had been flawless since turning pro, going unbeaten in 27 fights. Duran tore up the form-book, entering the performance of his career. One of the greatest pressure-fighting displays of all-time, Leonard had no answer for the Panamanian.
5. Sugar Ray Leonard TKO8 Roberto Duran 25/11/1980
Few fight endings are as infamous as this, as Duran said ‘No Mas’ at the end of an eight-round humbling. Having lived life to the fullest in the five months since winning the first fight, Duran was ill-prepared for Leonard’s genius. A punch-perfect display made the great Panama City warrior quit, an ignominy it would take him years to live down.
6. Thomas Hearns KO2 Roberto Duran, 15/06/1984
Arguably the best performance anywhere on this list. Duran had taken Hagler to the limit over 15 rounds in his last fight. But Hearns would put himself in Marvin’s sights by shattering their shared rival in two brutal rounds. An astonishingly dominant display from the Kronk gym mainstay.
7. Thomas Hearns DRAW12 Sugar Ray Leonard 12/06/1989
An underrated battle that has long lived in the shadow of their stunning first encounter. Both men were older and wiser, but when the fists flew you were reminded of their youth. An unsatisfying ending hasn’t helped this fight’s standing, with a split draw being declared. There would be no third fight to settle the score.
8. Marvin Hagler UD15 Roberto Duran, 10/11/1983
Most observers predicted a war when these two violence artists met in 1983. What followed was a tactical battle, showing that these two were skilled technicians as well as being brutal warriors. Duran abandoned his usual come-forward aggression to box on the outside. On reflection it might have been ill-advised, but he ran Hagler close with this bold strategy.
9. Sugar Ray Leonard UD12 Roberto Duran, 07/12/1989
The last ‘Four Kings’ battle was also the weakest, as advancing age robbed Leonard and Duran of the magic they had shared earlier in the decade. There was nothing here as enduring as Duran’s stunning performance in the first fight or as epoch-defining as ‘No Mas’. Leonard rarely looked troubled as he eased to a unanimous decision nod.
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