In 1987, though, he made an error that would cost him his title and ultimately end his career. He agreed to fight Sugar Ray Leonard, darling of the boxing establishment, darling of the media and game player extraordinaire. In return for a larger share of the purse than Leonard, Hagler agreed to a set of conditions demanded by the Leonard camp for the fight. These included a larger than normal ring and a 12 round fight instead of the traditional 15 round title fight. The loss of those 3 rounds would prove costly because in several previous fights Hagler had needed those late rounds to put away troublesome opponents and he wouldn't have them here.
The fight was held in Vegas on April 6 and was an outstanding fight. On several occasions Hagler stunned Leonard with powerful shots but Leonard was able to pull himself together and stay off the canvas. Leonard, coming back from a 3 year layoff was sharper than most expected him to be and that helped create the illusion that he was doing better than he was. The fight went the distance and was close, no matter who you think ultimately won. When it was over Hagler rightly raised his arms in triumph while Leonard slumped to the canvas. Hagler knew the unwritten rule of boxing: you have to BEAT the champion to take his title, not just go the distance with him. But on this night business considerations ruled and the more photogenic Leonard was awarded a split decision victory.
Hagler justifiably felt robbed. He lobbied for a year or so to get a rematch but Leonard, despite not being as good a fighter as Hagler, was no dummy and refused Hagler's calls for another fight. Hagler retired in disgust shortly afterward stating "...since Leonard has been playing games, it would probably take another year to work things out."
|Ray Leonard scores with another one of his devastating glancing blows.|