The postfight fight to Leonard-Hearns also was a beaut. There were word flurries in this one, and the battlers -- Mike Trainer and one of the judges -- never saw each other during their scrap. The issue was the eternally fascinating way boxing is scored.
With perhaps two dozen punches for which Thomas Hearns had no reply save an increasing look of helplessness, Sugar Ray Leonard also knocked the subjectivity out of the world welterweight championship in the 14th round.
When Leonard's lawyer, Trainer, later saw that all three judges had Hearns ahead by margins of two to four points after the 13th round, he was incensed. His tirade included a good deal of what seems an increasing amount of paranoia from the Leonard camp, but he also asked some basic, penetrating questions.
After his early-morning jog today, judge Chuck Minker, whose scorecard was the most pro-Hearns, proved a worthy counterpuncher. Let's throw them at each other, let them verbally punch each other and then score it at the end.
"Just give Ray a fair shake. Don't treat him as the challenger all the time. We can't have any close fights. Janks (Morton) always says: 'Ray, it can't be close. You have to win big.' Fortunately, we have somebody with heart who can go out and do it.
"The press ought to look into the background of judges, how they're selected, what they did in the past. Their names ought to be announced days in advance of the fight, like the officials in the Super Bowl are. We have no problem with Nevada or Caesars Palace. It just seems to me we should have the most qualified officials.
"Tonight, I don't think we did."
Specifically, Trainer was livid -- and more than a few of us baffled -- over why judges Minker, Duane Ford and Lou Tabat failed to give Leonard a larger margin of victory in rounds six and seven.
Some background: the scoring here demands that the winner of each round be given 10 points and the loser however many the judge feels were earned. But it is rare for a loser to get fewer than nine points.
This seems patently unfair at first glance, for it penalizes punishment. And even Minker admits: "The name of the game (in pro boxing) is knockout."
So why were rounds six and seven weighted the same as, say, one and two? Nearly everyone, from the judges to the ringsiders, to the most prejudiced eyes in both camps, had Hearns winning the first two rounds and Leonard rounds six and seven.
The how of victory sparks fury.
Those Hearns rounds were little more than a soft shoe, who wanted to lead this dance. Your Aunt Bessie throws a harder punch than anything that landed in those six minutes.
In rounds six and seven, Leonard was wicked. He hit Hearns with everything but his investment portfolio. Hearns' knees buckled; he was ready for a nap on his back, except Leonard was so drained he was unable to put him there.
What happened? The judges gave Hearns rounds one and two by 10-9 margins; they scored rounds six and seven the same way for Leonard. They equated hand grenades with bombs, a squirt gun with a .38. If this were baseball, a triple would be the same as a single.
Explain yourself, Mr. Minker.
"In the first half of the sixth round, Hearns was leading. I was saying to myself about then: 'When is Leonard going to do anything?' Then he opened up, hit him and hurt him. But it wasn't close to 10-8. For that, there'd have had to have been a knockdown.
"I thought about 10-8 in the seventh, without a knockdown. But at the end of the round Leonard let up. Hearns was okay. That was not a 10-8 round. And Sugar Ray never fought the first minute of any round except the 14th. You've got to remember what happened the first part of a round as well as the last.
"Let's look at the 13th round and make an assumption. Leonard's winning it big. But the first time the referee does not call a knockdown. Let's say after that Hearns scores a flash knockdown. Bam! Leonard goes down, but jumps right back up.
"How would you score it? Probably, we'd have scored it 10-10."
There was no flash knockdown, and every judge had Leonard the winner, 10-8.
Minker thought himself and his colleagues wise. They had been consistent, seen the same fight. Minker and Ford disagreed on just one round, the eighth. One round out of 13. The judges, each sitting at a different side of the ring, had the same opinion about 10 rounds.
"Sometimes you get the same final result, but by differing means," said Minker, 31, who works in the recreation department here. "Sometimes the judges will disagree on who won what rounds, but have the same winner. That's not good, not consistent. You may not agree with us (after Leonard-Hearns). That's boxing. But at least we watched the same fight. All three of us."
From where he sat, Minker thought the fight "good but not great." There were some terrific rounds, memorable drama: Hearns fighting back, seeming to outbox boxer Leonard at times; Leonard overcoming a left eye that seemed to get close to useless in the 12th round. For the first time, he looked like he belonged in his business instead of a choir.
"But for four or five rounds Leonard didn't do anything," Minker said.
Still, he left the fight thrilled by Leonard.
"After 12 rounds," he said, "I looked at him. His eye was closing; he was in big trouble. But he did the impossible, with guts. He came out of nowhere. What's so amazing is how fast he is. He gets in one good punch, and then follows with three or four before anyone can stop them."
To Trainer's charge that Leonard never wins the close fights, Minker immediately replies: "He won the (WBC welterweight) title here. He was ahead on all three cards when he knocked out (Wilfred) Benitez in the 15th."
The view here, from the second row of ringside, with a man holding a television camera bobbing up and down and some poles also sometimes blocking the ring, is that Hearns had won one more round going into the 14th, but that Leonard had one more point points, 123-122.
I'm glad Leonard's fists settled matters.
In Trainer versus Minker, the lawyer fought well; the judge won.