Will Canelo vs GGG Become Leonard vs Hagler 2?

    Tonight, we’ll finally witness the battle for boxing middleweight supremacy. The fight between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin has many comparing the two fighters to the boxers of yesteryear that had us all salivating at the matchup possibilities. 

    One fight, in general, has received the most comparison due to its controversial ending and the trajectory change of one fighter’s life after. It was the night of April 6th, 1987 at the hallowed Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. After a future Hall of Fame career as a pop culture icon and two weight class champion, Sugar Ray Leonard finally decided to give tough-as-nails Marvelous Mavin Hagler a shot. 

    Leonard moved up to middleweight and immediately, Hagler became the betting favorite. This was a Superfight, in part because no one actually believed Leonard would ever give Hagler a shot. After Hagler knocked out John Mugabe in 11 rounds, Leonard felt assured he could beat Hagler, who had switched his style from the quick-footed, slick fisted style to a stalking, flat-footed slugger. Still, the betting odds saw Hagler as the natural middleweight who would destroy the pretty boy Olympic gold medalist from Maryland.

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    Also, Hagler was a southpaw and notoriously difficult for most orthodox fighters to time and figure out. When the two finally met, Leonard used his natural speed and reflexes to take the first two rounds. Hagler started those rounds switching to orthodox but with no real effect. He went back to his natural southpaw stance, doing better than the first two rounds, but still lost the third. However, fatigue from avoiding the stalking Hagler became Leonard’s nemesis and he began to wane.

    Leonard began to hold Hagler, a veteran boxing move to kill the clock and rest. The veteran referee Richard Steele actually issued over 30 warnings throughout the night for the repetitious holding. By the fifth round, Leonard was feeling the effects and was the victim of a vicious right uppercut by Hagler that had him on the ropes until the end of the round. 

    It was a dogfight now because Leonard’s impaired speed forced him to trade blows. This continued into the later rounds, with Hagler’s jab nullifying Leonard’s flurries until the action-paced ninth round, which saw both men dig deep and give a show-stopping performance from both ends.

    Thomas Hearns vs Sugar Ray Leonard September 16 1981

    Thomas Hearns vs Sugar Ray Leonard September 16 1981

    Round 10 was lukewarm, but round 11 saw Leonard turn up the signature ring generalship, boxing well and counter punching flashily, finessing the judges effectively.  In the final round, Hagler continued to chase Leonard, landing a big left hand and backed him into a corner. 

    Leonard continued with a flurry and danced away from the big shots Hagler needed to land. The fight ended with Hagler and Leonard exchanging along the ropes and the infamous split decision victory for Leonard that followed.

    Whether you agree that Leonard out-finessed and outsmarted Hagler, or that Hagler was robbed, one thing is certain, it is the most polarizing decison in boxing history. 

    When you look at the steadfast concrete hands of Gennady “GGG” Golovkin, you must ask yourself, can Canelo Alvarez be Sugar Ray Leonard? Will he remember how Floyd Mayweather, Jr, gave him his only loss with a boxing clinic of epic proportions? 

    With everything on the line for Golovkin – his division, his belts and the right to claim the throne as the best boxer in the world – will he land that stiff Joe Luis like jab enough to eventually win or even stop Canelo with a right hand? Will Golovkin’s age be a factor against the younger and more professionally seasoned Alvarez?

    We will find out tonight and see if the sport has found its newest incarnation of the Leonard vs. Hagler.        

    Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.