Waiting for the Day: From Leonard-Hagler to Mayweather-Cotto

By Kieran Mulvaney

Floyd Maywether, Miguel Cotto - Photo Credit: Hogan PhotosWhen Floyd Mayweather and Miguel Cotto clash on HBO pay-per-view from Las Vegas on May 5, it will be the culmination of years of on-again, off-again discussion about the two men meeting in the ring. Extenuating circumstances and alternative dance partners have kept them on separate paths since the concept was first discussed, but in that time each man has won titles at 147 and 154 pounds, Mayweather has exploded into a crossover sensation, Cotto has become arguably the biggest pay-per-view star not named Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao, and their fight is likely all the more anticipated than it might have been in 2006.

If that's the case, it would not be the first time something like this has happened. In fact, 25 years ago today, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler met at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas long after it seemed that particular ship had sailed. By the time the bell eventually rang, it was not just a fight, but a phenomenon.

In 1982, Leonard, the welterweight champ, rented a Baltimore ballroom to make a major announcement, to which he invited middleweight champion Hagler. The prevailing assumption was that he would express his desire to make what was the biggest potential matchup in the sport, an assumption that was only strengthened when Leonard extolled Hagler's virtues and the potential significance of a fight between the two. But then Leonard pulled a swerve. It was "too bad," he said, that the fight wouldn't happen. Because of concerns following surgery for a detached retina, he would be retiring from boxing instead.

Humiliated, Hagler focused his energies on a succession of title defenses, capped by a three-round war with Thomas Hearns that continues to amaze even after repeated viewings. Leonard came back for one fight and promptly hung up his gloves again. But all along, even as he commentated ringside for HBO, he yearned to test himself inside the ropes anew, and eventually, in 1987, he laid down the challenge that the middleweight king had long awaited.

Few gave Leonard a chance. The prevailing opinion was that Hagler was too strong, and Leonard too inactive. In a poll of 67 boxing writers, 60 picked the defending champ, including Leonard’s HBO broadcast partner Larry Merchant, who observed that, "I wouldn't go onto an operating table if I knew the surgeon hadn't been practicing regularly for five years."

But Hagler was over-confident; content to look for one explosive punch, he allowed Leonard to build up a big lead over the first third of the fight. In the fifth, the champion began to land heavy blows; over the rest of the fight, Hagler pursued while Leonard sought to steal rounds with flurries in the final 30 seconds. At the bout's conclusion, Hagler was convinced he had prevailed, but the split decision win was awarded, in a shocking result, to Leonard.

Although one judge scored the fight ludicrously widely, 10 rounds to 2, for Leonard, the two others split seven rounds to five in either direction. Had Hagler not thrown away the first few rounds, he would have won. Even today, he still insists he did. And he is not alone: a quarter-century later, the result continues to raise hackles, split opinion and spark arguments among fight fans – evidence that it doesn’t necessarily matter how long it takes a fight to happen, as long as, eventually, it does happen.

A Writer Looks Back

By Kieran Mulvaney

I first met Bert Sugar sometime during the week of the first fight for which I was credentialed, the rematch between Oscar De La Hoya and Sugar Shane Mosley in 2003. I asked if I could speak with him because I was planning to write a book on boxing and Las Vegas, and if there were anyone with whom an aspiring boxing writer needed to talk, it was of course Bert.

As it happens, I don’t remember any of the details of that conversation, what I asked him or what he answered. The significance of the discussion was more in the fact that we realized soon that we enjoyed each other’s company; the formal interview in the media room segued swiftly to an informal conversation in the bar, an environment in which he was altogether more comfortable.

Bert Sugar, Kieran Mulvaney - Photo Credit: Will Hart

The bar was Bert’s milieu, but not because of alcohol per se. Bars are meeting areas and gathering grounds, and so for Bert they were the ideal stage, the perfect places to enjoy the company of friends and strangers, to share the many experiences he had gathered over the decades and to learn many more. For those who met Bert for the first or only time, this was perhaps the most striking aspect: he did not use company solely as a means to talk about himself, but instead genuinely enjoyed meeting and listening to people. He was a collector – of souvenirs and trinkets but also of anecdotes and conversations. He loved boxing, he loved baseball, he loved sport, he loved words, he loved people – he loved life. For Bert, it was all great fun. One story he enjoyed telling was about when his son was asked when Bert was going to retire, to which his son retorted: “Retire from what? He drinks, he smokes, he bullshits and he gets paid for it. What’s he going to do? Drink, smoke, bullshit and not get paid for it?”

Conversations with Bert became my favorite part of fight week; I would learn and I would laugh, and he would laugh even if he likely learned less than I did. In due course, our double act became public – first as a podcast, and then in the form of the videos we shot for HBO.com, “The Sweet Science with Bert Sugar.” I was proud of the fact that I was a part of the production; my chest puffed just a little when Bert first introduced me as his “HBO broadcast partner.” The best part of that experience, though, was that it was fun—not necessarily for the production crew, who had to sweat through the filming in the hope Bert would keep his mischievous and playful nature sufficiently under control to provide enough usable minutes of semi-serious analysis, but certainly for Bert and myself. We would joke back and forth as the cameras rolled; and when, out of the corners of our eyes, we saw everyone else start to sweat just a little bit, we would bring the conversation back to where they wanted it, dissecting an upcoming fight and answering viewers’ questions before venturing anew into our own joke-fest.

When we filmed our last edition, however, prior to Floyd Mayweather’s fight with Victor Ortiz, Bert seemed ever-so-slightly less affable, less ready with lighthearted quips, than usual. There were still jokes, of course, but he quietly admitted that was feeling tired. He later confessed that he had fallen a couple of times that week, and did so again shortly after we had packed up and left; the falls were the first symptoms that something was amiss. Filming that episode would be the last time I saw him, although I called him several times as he fought his illness. During those phone calls, he displayed his characteristic optimism, insisting he had licked the cancer that threatened him even while revealing that the treatment had weakened and depleted him. Last week, during what would be our final conversation, he said he hoped that he would be ready soon for us to sit down and resume our on-camera double act.

Alas, it is not to be. Fortunately, I can look back on the episodes we did record and remember the unique and enjoyable experience of doing so. I have, also, the books he gave me and the inscriptions inside them, which were almost always the same: “To Kieran Mulvaney, who wishes he could buy back his introduction to … Bert Sugar.”

He was joking, of course, as was his wont. I’m glad I introduced myself to him almost ten years ago. I’m proud that I was able to call myself his colleague. Most of all, I’m immensely grateful that I was able to call myself his friend.

Friends and Colleagues Remember Bert Sugar

Bert was a friend and colleague of boxing writers, commentators, analysts and fans at HBO and around the world. We asked some of them to share their thoughts, memories and recollections of the one-of-a-kind historian and writer.  Their responses are reproduced below:

Jim Lampley, HBO commentator: 
I have called fights on TV for 26 years, and though I have from the beginning been an avid fan and lover of boxing, my credentials as a historian are pretty badly frayed for any material prior to the mid-50s-the moment my mother sat me down to watch Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Bobo Olsen II and I began to learn something about a sport she particularly liked.  Over the years I often checked with Bert for his interpretive knowledge of boxing lore, getting clarifications on questions I might also ask from time to time of Larry Merchant and Harold Lederman. As any ring scribe knows, Bert was unfailingly generous, helpful, and enthusiastic about my enthusiasm.

Most of all Bert was fun.  He seemed to have the world pretty much the way he wanted it for a long time, the flourish never vanished from the fedora and the cigar and the brass buttons and madras pants, no socks. He was both an up-to-date thinker and a throwback to another colorful era, and there was only one of him.  Only one.  I suspect I will think of him at some point in every big fight weekend for quite a while now, and nothing could be more appropriate.  For all of us who knew him, he'll be there.

Harold Lederman, HBO's unofficial ringside judge:
I spent a lot of time with Bert. I guess I'm a good listener, because Bert liked to tell his jokes to someone like me who would understand their meaning and laugh at them. We'd sit around telling boxing stories at big fights he'd attend, and invariably Bert would come up with a one liner that would leave me hysterical.

See Lampley and Lederman’s full responses, as well as those of Emanuel Steward, Larry Merchant, Mark Taffet and more at HBO.com.

Eras & Icons: From Ali to Pacquaio/Mayweather

By Eric Raskin

Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson - Photo Credits: Will HartSports fans always want to know who's next. But it's important not to lose sight of who was last.

Through almost the entirety of the existence of HBO Boxing, there has been a clearly defined superstar carrying the sport, a man (or, sometimes, "men") who served as the face of the fight game. Here's a look at the fighters who ruled their eras, in the ring and at the box office, since the first boxing broadcasts on HBO in the early 1970s:

(RELATED: Eric Raskin examines the next generation of up-and-coming superstar hopefuls.)

Muhammad Ali: Arguably the most famous sports figure of all-time, Ali's inclusion on this list should require no explanation, even to the uninitiated. He was never the same as a fighter after 1975's "Thrilla in Manila," but Ali's star status remained unsurpassed up through his final bout.

Sugar Ray Leonard: While Ali was losing three of his last four fights between '78-'81, the Olympic gold medalist Leonard turned welterweight into boxing's glamour division. Undefeated heavyweight champ Larry Holmes played second fiddle to Sugar Ray throughout the first half of the '80s – even when Leonard was largely inactive.

Mike Tyson: There was some overlap with the Leonard era thanks to Sugar Ray's legendary comeback win over Marvin Hagler, but from the moment he won a piece of the heavyweight crown in '86, "Iron Mike" brought the worlds of tabloid journalism and sports journalism together like no one before.

Oscar De La Hoya: "The Golden Boy" began to emerge when Tyson was in jail, and broke through as the man to put boxing on his shoulders around the time Tyson's teeth replaced his fists as his weapons of choice. It's safe to say there's never been a fighter with a bigger female fan base than Oscar. But he also fought every great fighter of an exceptional era.

Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather: Together—but very much separately—the last two fighters to defeat De La Hoya have replaced him. Pacquiao drives pay-per-view sales with charm and dynamic offense; Mayweather does the same with a persona that many love to hate and a defense that few can penetrate.

Revisiting the Work of Bert Sugar on HBO.com

The boxing world lost a legend when Bert Sugar passed away at the age of 75. Here at HBO.com, we lost a valued contributor and friend. Bert was the ultimate old-school writer. He'd hammer out copy on the typewriter in his cluttered den and then fax it to us on stationery with his unmistakable visage chomping a cigar in the letterhead. Once, when a writer at a fight showed him the Twitter hashtag #ThingsBertSugarSays, Bert enjoyed it so much that he asked someone to print it out for him, and then he sent it to us in the mail. His mind was our institutional boxing memory; he could take a current fight and compare its circumstances to a dozen others from a century of boxing. More importantly, Bert was someone who never carried himself above anyone, and he would take the time to talk to – or fax – any aspiring boxing writer or fan who reached out to him. He will be missed.

Bert's storied career extends very far beyond HBO.com, but here are some of the pieces we've had the privilege of working on with him over the past several years:

 

The Sweet Science with Bert Sugar: Mayweather vs. Ortiz

Last year, Bert wondered whether this lay-off would show us "an old Floyd, or an older Floyd."

Bert Sugar on Thrilla in Manila

Bert recalls one of the game's biggest fights:

"The sweltering heat in the arena and Frazier's relentless pressure and thunderous hooks to the body and head were showing an effect on the 33-year-old champion. At this point, Ali was neither floating nor stinging but merely surviving, as bereft of motion as a rail without wind."

"In the thirteenth, Ali demonstrated his ability to finish a hurt foe. A solid left seemed to freeze Frazier in his place, then a right hand staggered him. Frazer did a funny three-step in retreat to keep from failing. But with Frazier's sight and stamina now obviously limited the outcome no longer seemed in doubt."

 

The Sweet Science with Bert Sugar: Pacquiao vs. Cotto

Bert and Kieran take a moment from the poker tables to talk Manny Pacquiao. Bert says, "His one punch knockout of Ricky Hatton was the most devastating I've seen since Marciano knocked out Walcott in 1952."

 

Post-Fight Recap: Pacquiao vs. Clottey:

Bert was struck by the event's grandeur, even while he was disappointed in the actual fight action:

"With an enormous crowd of 51,000 acting like youngsters suffering from a severe case of green-apple colic, hollering and screaming every at every image shown on the giant overhead screen and even participating in the first  'Wave' ever seen at a boxing event, the fight lived up to its billing as 'The Event.'"

 

The Sweet Science with Bert Sugar: Mayweather vs. Mosley

Bert and writer Kieran Mulvaney sit poolside and sip Bloody Marys as they break down Floyd's unique skill set. Bert says: "I love this fight for all the imponderables."


Post-Fight Analysis: Barrera vs. Marquez

In regard to the hard-fought Super Featherweight title bout, Bert writes, "This wasn't a fight, it was a war, one of those old-fashion if-you-hit-me-again-and-I-find-out-about-it-you're-in-trouble fights that makes for great boxing."

Remembering Bert Sugar

By Kieran Mulvaney

Bert Sugar - Photo Credit: Will Hart

Bert Sugar, boxing historian and good friend of HBO Boxing, died on Sunday following a battle with cancer. He was 75.

Renowned as much for his bon mots, trademark cigar and fedora as for his boxing knowledge, Sugar was one of the sport's most iconic and recognizable figures. Born in Washington, DC, he briefly flirted with life as a lawyer ("I passed the bar," he would quip of his legal training, "and it was the only bar I ever passed") and as an advertising executive ("We were the original Mad Men") before finding his niche in boxing, a sport for which-with his gift for colorful, expressive writing and his larger-than-life personality-he was perfectly suited.

He sparred with Muhammad Ali, co-wrote the authorized biography of Ali's trainer Angelo Dundee, edited The Ring and Boxing Digest, and penned more than 80 books, many of them on boxing but also on, among other subjects, baseball. (Sugar wrote the official guide to the Baseball Hall of Fame, and even had his own Topps baseball card.) He hosted and pontificated on countless broadcasts, including Ringside on ESPN Classic and, most recently, The Sweet Science with Bert Sugar here on HBO.com.

Sugar was also widely appreciated within the boxing community for the readiness with which he encouraged and supported many up-and-coming writers, including the author of this piece. He liked few things more than to pull up a bar stool and regale friends and strangers alike with tall tales and recollections, frequently convulsing in laughter as he did so.

Often, during such sessions, he would pause, look at the drink in front of him and observe, "I have always said: I would rather be a good liver than have one." And that he certainly was. His was a life well-lived, and his was a presence that will be much missed.

 

See highlights of the work Bert Sugar contributed to HBO.com

Who will become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao?

By Eric Raskin

Manny Pacquiao, Floyd Mayweather

It is wonderfully symbolic that the last two fighters to whom Oscar De La Hoya lost, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, now occupy the position held for so long by "The Golden Boy." For years, De La Hoya was the crossover superstar who served as the face of boxing to the mainstream public. Mayweather and Pacquiao, together, have done the same in the three-plus years since Oscar's retirement from the ring.

The torch is not always passed so directly, but it is always passed eventually. Mayweather and Pacquiao will not rule boxing forever. Given Mayweather's periodic retirement announcements and Pacquiao's frequent talk of being just a handful of bouts from the end, their two-headed reign could actually end relatively soon. And who will be the face of the sport then? At the moment, eight young stars are showing the kind of potential needed to lead the next generation. Who do you think is likely to step up?

Read More at HBO.com

HBO Boxing Schedule Packed with Action Through June

By Kieran Mulvaney

HBO’s boxing lineup for 2012 is picking up steam, with a host of big fights scheduled for the next several months. Take a look at what’s on the cards and let us know which fights you’re looking forward to the most, and why. 

Erik Morales vs Danny Garcia

March 24 in Houston

Erik Morales vs Danny Garcia - Photo Credits: Will HartAfter multiple world titles and 54 professional fights, Morales called it quits in 2007, only to return in 2010 and show he can still compete at a high level. But the undefeated Garcia, who was 5 years old when Morales turned pro, is a rising star. Is this one final step too far for the veteran?

 

 

 

 

Bernard Hopkins vs Chad Dawson

April 28 in Atlantic City

Bernard Hopkins vs Chad Dawson - Photo Credit: Will HartCan 47-year-old Hopkins reach into his bag of tricks one more time and turn back the challenge of Dawson? Their first encounter, last year, was ruled a no-contest after Hopkins injured his shoulder in the second round; fans will be hoping for a longer and more definitive battle this time.

 

 

 

 

Floyd Mayweather vs Miguel Cotto

May 5 in Las Vegas

Floyd Mayweather vs Miguel Cotto - Photo Credit: Hogan PhotosCotto looked as good as he has in years while securing revenge over Antonio Margarito last year, but Mayweather is an altogether different challenge. Following his 2007 victory over Oscar De La Hoya, this will be ‘Money’ Mayweather’s second assault on a 154-pound crown.

 

 

 

 

Lamont Peterson vs Amir Khan

May 19 in Las Vegas

Lamont Peterson vs Amir Khan - Photo Credit: Will HartPeterson took Khan’s junior lightweight belt late last year in an exciting fight that was overshadowed by controversy surrounding point deductions and a mysterious ringside ‘man in a hat.’ Khan looks to gain his revenge, while Peterson aims to prove his win in the first fight was no fluke.

 

 

 

 

Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley

June 9 in Las Vegas

Manny Pacquiao vs Timothy Bradley - Photo Credit: Hogan PhotosFormer 140-pound kingpin Bradley gets the superfight he’s been waiting for, against the Fighting Congressman from the Philippines. Will Pacman gobble up this latest challenge or will Bradley pull of the upset and emerge as a star?

 

 

 

 

 

So what do you think? How do you see these fights going, and which have you the most excited? Leave a comment on the HBO Boxing Facebook page or tweet us at @HBOBoxing, and we may feature your answers in a future post right here on InsideHBOBoxing.