Another Look at Sugar Rays Victory Over Hagler and Mike Tysons Place in Histo


Published: April 26, 2006


By Brent Matteo Alderson

Today its trendy to take a look at past events and put another spin on them, which often times are in direct contrast with the original perspectives. The two contemporary revisionist perspectives that Im in complete disagreement with are that 1) Mike Tyson wasnt a great heavyweight and 2) Sugar Ray Leonards victory over Marvin Hagler wasnt astonishing due to the fact that all the factors revolving around the fight were in Leonards favor.

qualm I have about a recent perception of boxing history is that it
seems of late that a lot of writers have drastically diminished Mike
Tysons place in history by describing him as an over-rated heavyweight
that used his reputation to decimate a sub-par group of
heavyweights. They point to his losses to Buster Douglas, Lennox
Lewis, and Evander Holyfield to validate this belief and they also
downgrade the length of his reign as well as the quality of his

Lets get a couple of things straight.

First the Mike Tyson that fought Lewis and Holyfield was a shell of his
former self. Tyson hasnt been remotely close to being a prime
Tyson since before his incarceration in 1991 and counting those wins
against Iron Mike would be like counting Sugar Ray Leonards loss to
Terry Norris or Wilfredo Benitezs loss to Matthew Hilton. Ray
was only 34 at the time of the Norris fight and Benitez was still in
his twenties.

So do you consider Matthew Hilton and Terry
Norris to be greater than Sugar Ray and Benitez? No, of course
not because even though age is often times the primary factor that
diminishes fighters abilities, sometimes their skill level just fades
away whether its from drinking, women, or just plain fate.

More quotes available in the extended section of this post (click ‘Read More‘ below).

theres no denying that a near prime Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas
by knockout in indisputably the biggest upset in boxing history.
At the time Buster was a mediocre 29-4-1 and had been stopped by such
ordinary fighters as Mike the Giant White and David Bey. Without
a doubt the loss does irreparable damage to Tysons place among the
heavyweight greats, especially those in the first tier. Ali or
Louis never lost to a journeyman when they were young champions and
they never would have, but you also have to put that loss into

We all know that Mike, like most fighters
came from a rough background. He grew up on the streets of
Brooklyn and was arrested on 38 different occasions by the time he was
13. Imagine coming from that type of background and then becoming
one of the worlds premiere athletes with millions at your
disposal. I grew up in a nuclear family with a supportive
environment and I might not have been able to handle the situation that
Mike Tyson found himself in.

Another facet of his loss to Douglas
that many boxing aficionados fail to recognize is that on the night
that James Douglas fought Tyson, he was one of the greatest
heavyweights in history. Ive seen the tape countless times, take
a look at it. Douglas was a 64 230-pound man bouncing on his
toes, doubling up on the jab, and throwing perfectly timed combinations
with the precision of a marksman from the United States Marine
Core. I truly believe that with the exception of Ali or a couple
of other heavyweight greats on their best nights that on that night in
Tokyo that Buster Douglas would have beaten almost any heavyweight in

Another qualm that historians have against Mike
is his level of competition. Yes, Tysons reign does not compare
to Muhammad Alis in that regard. He didnt beat Liston, Foreman,
and Frazier but what Heavyweight champ besides the Greatest has that
many-quality wins. As great as Louis was, the most impressive
thing about his reign was its longevity unless you think that a come
from behind win against the 174-pound Billy Conn or his first round
knock out over a past his prime Max Schmeling are quality. And
really Mike had some good wins. Hes the only man ever to knock
out Larry Holmes who four years later went twelve fairly competitive
rounds with Holyfield and he almost decapitated a slew of other top
contenders that held their own with guys that are still around

He took out Tubbs in two rounds and three years
later a lot of observers thought that Tony deserved the decision in his
fight with Riddick Bowe. Even though historians devalue Tysons
win over Michael Spinks, nobody else ever beat Spinks who was 62 and
had been fighting as a heavyweight for almost three years when the two
finally met in June of 1988.

So when it comes down to it
how can you belittle Mikes place in history without scrutinizing the
careers of other heavyweight greats? Come on, my favorite
heavyweight of all time, Jack Dempsey, drew the color line and only
defended the title 6 times in seven years. Marciano may have
retired undefeated, but he beat Jersey Joe Walcott for the title who at
the time was the oldest man to ever win the title. And the Rock
went life and death with Charles, who was already past his prime, and
the great Archie Moore who was a Light-Heavyweight.

I can
go on and on criticizing the careers of every single champ in history,
but Im not going to, I just want the boxing fraternity to allocate the
same type of treatment to Tyson that they have afforded to all the
other champs. All Im saying is look what Mike Tyson did; he came
and restored the prestige to the heavyweight championship.

He cleaned out the division, captivated the public, and took on all
challengers during the course of a three-year period.

one point he was considered unbeatable and was categorized as the best
pound for pound fighter in the world for almost a two-year
period. When was the last time a Heavyweight was almost
universally recognized as being the best pound for pound fighter in the
world? Down below Ive listed Ring Magazines Heavyweight
rankings from the month when Tyson knocked out Berbick for the WBC
title and look at what Mike did! He almost cleaned out the entire
division. Plain and simple, Tyson is a heavyweight great in the
tradition of his idol Jack Dempsey and deserves to be recognized as

The Rings Heavyweight Rankings/March 1987
(Tyson defeated all the men whose names are underlined)
Linear Champ: Michael Spinks
1. Mike Tyson
2. Tim Witherspoon
3. Pinklon Thomas (Beaten)
4. Tony Tubbs (Beaten)
5. Trevor Berbick (Beaten)
6. James Smith (Beaten)
7. James Douglas
8. Tony Tucker (Beaten)
9. Frank Bruno (Beaten
10. Tyrell Biggs (Beaten)

its been kind of shtick to downgrade Sugar Rays victory over
Hagler. A lot of guys that havent seen or dont remember the
fight still claim that the Marvelous one was robbed, a victim of boxing
politics. Other more informed individuals agree that Leonard
deserved the decision, but feel that the victory was cheapened not by
Leonards inside the ring movements, but by his outside the ring

You see Leonard knew that Hagler really needed
the fight so that he could finally break out from Rays shadow all the
while cementing his legacy as well as his bank account. So in
order to make the fight come to fruition Hagler conceded to a number of
demands. He let Leonards people decide on the size of the ring
and he conceded to making it a 12-rounder instead of a 15-rounder,
which were still being sanctioned at the time, but were in the process
of being phased out.

Mike Trainer, Rays advisor and
lawyer through out his career stated, Hagler gave us everything we
wanted, he was just worried about the money, but we didnt care about
the money, we wanted to win the fight, so we gave him the money and he
gave us everything else.? Instead of trying to gain an edge by
negotiating about the fights particulars, Hagler bickered about the
money and conceded certain advantages that may have changed the final
outcome of the bout. Its those very advantages along with the
fact that Hagler looked like he had slowed down a bit coming into the
fight that people point to when they downplay Leonards win over Marvin.

have a question for those people. Why wasnt Hagler worried about
the fights particulars? Why did he give all those concessions to
Leonard? You know why, because Marvin Hagler along with the vast
majority of the fight press thought that Marvin was going to kick
Leonards butt back to Maryland.

When the fight was first
rumored, boxing writers came out in droves to criticize the possible
dream match and many of them openly feared for Sugar Rays health as
well for the sport of boxing because they though that if Leonard was
seriously hurt that it would really damage the sports reputation since
Sugar Ray was a genuine American hero. Dick Young, a columnist
for the New York Post wrote, A Leonard-Hagler fight would supply
powerful ammunition to the American Medical Association and other
lobbyist who have campaigns for the abolition of boxing.? And Tom
Crushman, a recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award wrote that the idea of
Leonard even taking the fight without a tune up was madness.?

was some validity to those perspectives. First off Leonard had
never fought as a middleweight through out his entire career and he had
only fought once in a five year period in a bout that took place three
years earlier when he was unceremoniously knocked down by fringe
contender Kevin Howard.

To make matters worse he was
going to face Marvin Hagler, a man considered to be the best pound for
pound fighter in the world, the undisputed middleweight champion who
had knocked out and ruined the undefeated knock out artist John the
Beast Mugabi in his very last fight. Even if Leonard had a couple
of minor advantages such as a slightly bigger ring and the 12
round-distance, he was still facing almost insurmountable odds.

Hagler knew it. The public knew it. Even the boxing fraternity
knew it.

The only one that didnt know it was the Sugar
Man himself who went into the ring and implemented his strategy to win
the most important fight of his career. That night, Sugar Ray
didnt only defy boxing history, he defied logic. Thus dont
diminish Sugar Rays victory over Hagler because if he had been
viciously knocked out that night like he was supposed to have been, it
would have been a lot easier for you to demean Haglers


beat Duran, Hearns, Benitez, and Halger. Sugar Ray may only have
36 victories to his credit but those men had a combined record of
204-3-2 coming into their fights with Leonard.

written it before and Ill write it again. Leonard would have
beaten De La Hoya, Trinidad, Sugar Shane Mosley, and Pernell Whitaker
in their primes.

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