"Marvin Hagler never gave me credit. I beat him fair and square. He made allegations that some of the officials in Nevada are corrupt. I think it's unprofessional . . . and I want to beat him up."
-Sugar Ray Leonard
So he told a talk show host in Chicago last week, and if his words didn't sound as if Leonard is ditching retirement again, then his language is cockeyed. Sugar Ray is gearing up again for one more of those wars that have fetched him all those precious millions.
This time, however, it's a different cause and Sugar Ray isn't entitled to all those pretty sentiments that backed him the last time he came out of retirement to fight Hagler. Back then he was the very model of bravura, the little former welterweight champ who was unfulfilled, with a passion to prove he could take on and lick a middleweight champion certified as the most ferocious of all active pugilists, a brawler who hadn't been beaten in 11 years.
It was last April in Las Vegas when they were told to come out fighting that Leonard was facing the hour of truth, his chances of winning scoffed at in the Vegas betting shops. He said he didn't need the money. He needed to satisfy a conviction that he could merit and beat a challenge that burned within him. One could believe his primal urge and also applaud his guts. Also fear for his well-being.
But what Leonard said to that talk show host the other day about not getting credit for beating Hagler -- among other things -- was vapid stuff in view of the wide acclaim that came to him. So is Sugar Ray's comic effort to defend the character of Nevada's boxing judges against Hagler's crybaby charges as if his defeat was other than Leonard-related, and as if Leonard truly weeps about the sullied honor of Nevada's boxing judges. What tripe.
No, Leonard this time is subject to other very high suspicion that he's in there wholly for the money, gobs of it, perhaps running to as much as $20 million for his end. There's no challenge this time, unless it is the unnecessary one of proving he can lick Hagler again and thus assure his (Sugar Ray's) inner peace. He gained the title he wanted, showed the world it could be done. His uncontrollable urge this time seems to have something to do with money.
Besides being the splendid fighter he is, Leonard is also the canny fellow. That they will fight again is believable with all that money out there, and with the unhappy Hagler hungering for a rematch. And, of course, it could be held in Las Vegas. That means Nevada judges again, and Sugar Ray has scored some lovely points with the folks who will score the fight. Good thinking.
There is another, unspoken urge that figures in Leonard's eagerness for the next fight: money. Sugar Ray and his feisty lawyer, Mike Trainer, are still much pained by the memory that in the last one, Leonard as the challenger had to take the short end. This was against all precedent in their dealing and broke their long streak of naming the conditions of splitting the loot. Sugar Ray was box office, and Trainer was always able to call all the shots and did.
This time, it's Trainer's turn to set the terms on which Sugar Ray will deign to give Hagler another fight, always aware that Hagler thirsts for the rematch and knows he must discount his take-home pay.
There is a disposition to regard Leonard's chances of licking Hagler as far better than they were last time. Against any argument that Sugar Ray has been out of the ring for going on a year is the counterclaim that so has Hagler; also that Leonard is never far out of shape while Hagler's condition in idleness is unknown.
It is a reasonable belief that some of the confidence Hagler always carried into the ring, plus his assumption that all opponents are scared of him, has leaked somewhat since his last encounter with Leonard. It is also remembered that Sugar Ray psyched him badly last time, taking the fight to Marvelous Marvin in the early rounds, thus spitting in the eye of the brawler known as the most ferocious of all champions in office.
It will also be troubling to Hagler and his ego that he is going back in there as the challenger, not the champ. In all of his fights, Sugar Ray has sought to capitalize on such forces exploiting the subliminal, as Jake LaMotta would say. What Hagler learned last time was to his discomfort. What Leonard learned about Hagler goes into Sugar Ray's computer.
When the fight comes off, as it almost surely will, Leonard will be the favorite, having proved he can deal with Hagler. The big difference will be Leonard's motivations, centered this time on big money instead of the hot urge to prove himself. It should be noted that the hot pursuit of more money is not always unethical nor is it ever unconstitutional, but in prizefighting there is an extreme risk factor. A guy could get very badly hurt, leaving him to wonder how bright he was to go for more.