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Feature Issue marvin hagler Premium roberto duran sugar ray leonard Thomas Hearns

Desert Island Fights: The 1980s

In last week’s Desert Island Fights the first Ali-Frazier contest was named as the best fight of the seventies, but what will your choice be for the eighties?
THE premise for Desert Island Fights is simple: You will soon be stranded on a desert island. To ease the boredom, you can take along one – and only one – fight from each of the last five decades (1970s, 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s) to watch while you’re there. Which five fights do you take?

If the 70s was the decade for heavyweight legends, the 1980s were dominated by four kings: Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran fought each other in several iconic blockbusters; various fights involving two of the four appeared in 80 per cent of votes from readers when naming their favourite contest of the decade.

It’s a shame, though, that some classics don’t figure as a consequence. For example, there is no room for the rematch between Matthew Saad Muhammad and Yaqui Lopez, nor the Evander Holyfield-Dwight Muhammad Qawi slugfest. Interesting, also, that bouts featuring a peak Mike Tyson only picked up a handful of votes. This may all speak of a flaw in the voting system (only one fight from each decade could be submitted) but what’s clear is – when it came to treasured fights – the eighties were about four men in particular.


A FIGHT that continues to split opinion in regard to whether the right man won. At the time, Boxing News scored Hagler a handy winner and that opinion (of then-editor, Harry Mullan, who unlike so many was actually ringside) deserves attention. So too does the view that Leonard, after winning the long and winding battle of mind games between the two beforehand then bamboozled Hagler for long periods in the contest. What can’t be debated is that this bout is worthy of regular reinvestigation and is thus the perfect companion for a boxing fan harpooned on a desert island.

WATCH OUT FOR:At about the midway point of the final round, you can see Leonard, as he dances away from Hagler, talking to his corner. According to ringside reporters, Sugar Ray – tiring but still firing – was asking them how much time was left in the round.

DID YOU KNOW:When the contest was formally announced in November 1986 it was widely criticised by the media because Leonard was inactive and had never before competed at middleweight. The IBF refused to sanction the fight and the WBA would later strip Hagler (for not fighting mandatory, Herol Graham). Only the WBC belt was on the line though they proudly announced that the sanctioning fee would go straight to their ‘new medicine fund’ – whatever that meant.

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A TRULY ferocious battle that, for some, remains tainted by whatever concoction was in the infamous bottle that Pryor’s trainer Panama Lewis asked for after the 13th round. If it was responsible for fuelling “The Hawk’s” final rally (a 2008 documentary suggested crushed amphetamines might have been added to water) it worked its magic quickly; Arguello was rescued at 1-06 of the 14th. Whatever the truth – which might be nothing untoward – this was arguably the most exciting bout of the entire decade.

WATCH OUT FOR:Pryor’s astonishing durability. In the 11th round, Arguello – the 12/5 favourite hoping to become the first fighter to win world belts in four weight classes – scores with a huge right hand that lumped Pryor’s eye. The American stands tall and within moments is smiling and talking to Arguello. “Yeah, this is the round,” he says, “let’s fight now.”

DID YOU KNOW:Pryor, the WBA 140lb champ, said beforehand that he was dedicating this fight to his brother, Lorenzo: “He’s doing 25 to 135 years just for some robberies to make sure we had something to eat. He really looked after me. If he ever saw me on the street between eight at night and three in the morning, there was no harder fighter in the world. He wanted me home.”


THOUGH Roberto Duran would fight for many more years this was perhaps the last time we saw the ferocious Duran untouched by age. In truth, a little bit of the Duran legend would fade forever in the ‘No Mas’ rematch. But here in Montreal, Duran was tireless and without equal; the manner in which he defeated Leonard – the enemy who Duran drew into a violent war – must be regarded as one the best performances of all-time. Sugar Ray’s part in Duran’s showing should never be downplayed, either.

WATCH OUT FOR:The constant shifts in supremacy are mesmerising. In the ninth, Leonard scores with two right uppercuts and makes Duran miss. The Panamanian sneers, takes a step back and mimics Leonard. Suddenly, the welterweight champion – keen to prove he’s the tougher man – allows himself to be suckered back into Duran’s fight. At the end of the round, the former lightweight boss scores with a huge right of his own but Leonard doesn’t fall.

DID YOU KNOW:The story of the undercard was a deeply upsetting one; seventeen days after being stopped by Gaeten Hart, lightweight Cleveland Denny died from injuries sustained in the bout. A year after Denny’s death – following a probe into the safety of Canadian boxing – his wife filed a $509,682 lawsuit. There was a suggestion that Hart had used illegal handwraps that hardened when mixed with perspiration.


OUT of all the fights involving two of the Four Kings, this was the only one where both could rightfully claim to be at their absolute peak: Thomas Hearns, the rangy bone-breaking “Motor City Cobra”, was unbeaten and fearless whereas Leonard had learned lessons from the Duran rivalry that made him one of the greatest all-rounders in boxing history. Hearns boxed beautifully, finding second and third winds along the way, to build up a commanding lead going into the 13th. Leonard then went up a gear himself and, for the first time, Hearns simply could not keep up.

WATCH OUT FOR:Angelo Dundee’s famous address to Leonard between rounds 12 and 13 – “You’re blowing it, son” – remains spine-tingling, even after seeing and hearing it countless times. But just as revealing, perhaps, was Hearns allowing himself to get over-confident between rounds 11 and 12. As the crowd scream “Tomm-eee! Tomm-eee!” Hearns gets to his feet and throws his arms into the air in somewhat premature celebration.

DID YOU KNOW:In his report in Sports Illustrated, the great Pat Putnam pinpointed flaws in the 10-point-must system that remain valid today. He argued that rounds six and seven – big Leonard rounds but only scored 10-9 in his favour – should have been wider than rounds one and two which Hearns won by the same margin, despite them being much closer sessions.


THE runaway leader as your choice for the Desert Island Fight of the 1980s is the epic three-round slugfest between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. After being made to wait for this clash with Hearns (it was originally scheduled for 1982) and having missed out on a fight with Leonard (for the time being, at least), Hagler fought with incredible intensity in his signature outing. The three-round bout, which only lasted 11 minutes, mirrors the narrative of several great boxing trilogies: The opener is insanely exciting; the second captivating but markedly slower than the first; before the rivalry is decided in the brutal third act.

WATCH OUT FOR:How quickly this catches fire. Hagler is the first to let loose and Hearns quickly follows. The opening minute is intoxicating as neither man holds back; the pace set in such a significant bout is rare. With hindsight, Hearns is a beaten man by the time the bell sounds to end the first round. Watch his legs bend and wobble, even when not under attack, in the second.

DID YOU KNOW:Before the days of Michael Buffer and Jimmy Lennon Jnr, Chuck Hall – who is behind the mic here – was the king of ring announcers. A pit boss in several Las Vegas casinos, including the MGM Grand, Hall grew up in orphanges after losing both of his parents and served in the Navy. He announced his first fight in 1960 and would often do so for no pay, such was his love for the job and the sport. He passed away in 2000, aged 75.

Other fights receiving votesEvander Holyfield w rsf 10 Michael Dokes; Evander Holyfield w pts 15 Dwight Muhammad Qawi; Mike Tyson w rsf 5 Frank Bruno; Mike Tyson w rsf 2 Trevor Berbick; Roberto Duran w pts 12 Iran Barkley; Barry McGuigan w pts 15 Eusebio Pedroza; Mark Kaylor w ko 8 Errol Christie; Jeff Harding w rsf 12 Dennis Andries; Don Lee w rsf 8 Tony Sibson; Salvador Sanchez w rsf 8 Wilfredo Gomez; Bobby Chacon w pts 15 Rafael Limon.

EDITOR’S CHOICEMy personal Top 5 for the 1980s:5) Marvin Hagler w rsf 11 John Mugabi4) Fidel Bassa w rsf 13 Dave McAuley3) Bobby Chacon w pts 15 Rafael Limon2) Lee Roy Murphy w ko 12 Chisanda Mutti1) EVANDER HOLYFIELD w pts 15 DWIGHT MUHAMMAD QAWIFirstly, I adore all the fights involving the Four Kings (bar Leonard-Duran III) but I’ve seen them so many times I could do with something different for my trip to the island. Atop my list, then, is the ferocious Holyfield-Qawi slugfest which was fought at an astonishing pace throughout. But any fight on this list would provide me with welcome company.

THE HIPSTERS’ CHOICEYou know the type. They know more about boxing than you…SHIGEO NAKAJIMA w pts 15 SUNG JUN KIMThere were numerous battles in the 1980s that didn’t get the attention they deserved in the year-end awards. This ferocious tussle for the WBC flyweight title, fought inside Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall in January 1980, was one of them. Challenger Nakajima started at an incredible pace, Kim quickly followed, and neither let up. After 15 bloody and exciting rounds, Nakajima was the new champion.


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