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.

Remembering Famous Trainers Angelo Dundee and Goody Petronelli

By Kieran Mulvaney

The principal focus of last Saturday’s World Championship Boxing broadcast was, of course, on the televised bouts, which in Nonito Donaire and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. featured two of the most popular of the current generation of pugilists.

But between the two contests, the emphasis shifted, and sadly so; because even as a young wave of fighters – the likes of Donaire, Adrien Broner, Gary Russell Jr, and others – prepares to assume its role in the spotlight, the past several months have seen one member after another of one of boxing’s golden ages leave the stage.

Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, died in November in the same week that one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters of all time, Manny Pacquiao, prepared to meet his nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. Smokin’ Joe was joined shortly afterward by another of the great crop of 1970s heavyweights, Ron Lyle, whose slugfest with George Foreman was the first fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and remains one of the best.

And now, we have lost two heavyweights among trainers, with the passing of Goody Petronelli and Angelo Dundee.

Petronelli helped steer, at various times, the careers of fighters such as former middleweight and super middleweight Steve Collins, and unlikely Mike Tyson conqueror Kevin McBride. But, with his brother Pat he was best known for managing and training Marvelous Marvin Hagler, one of the very best middleweights ever to lace up the gloves (and one of the best southpaws to do so, which was directly attributable to Petronelli, who took the naturally right-handed fighter and turned him lefty). Hagler earned a middleweight shot later than he should have done – as Petronelli lamented, Hagler’s problem was that he was left-handed, black and good – and when his opportunity finally arrived, against Vito Antuofermo in November 1979, he had to be content with a draw. Ten months later, his turn came again, against new champion Alan Minter, and this time he would not leave his fate in the hands of the judges. Hagler bloodied Minter’s face over three rounds to annex the middleweight crown, a title he kept until he lost it in the final contest of his career, on April 6 1987.

His opponent in that fight was Sugar Ray Leonard, and Leonard’s trainer on that night, as throughout his career, was Angelo Dundee. If Petronelli was especially famed for his involvement with one great fighter, Dundee was forever celebrated for training two – Leonard and, before him, Muhammad Ali. When both had retired, he steered the second career of George Foreman, and was in his corner when Foreman shocked Michael Moorer and the world in 1994.

Hagler described Petronelli, a gentle and universally-loved figure, as an “unbelievably great human being”; much the same has been said repeatedly of Dundee, and with good reason. To speak with Dundee, even as he approached 90, was to speak with a man of genuine humility who seemed forever surprised and grateful that anybody would want to hear what he had to say. He loved boxing and everyone associated with it, and would not hesitate to help anybody – fighter, writer, trainer or spit-bucket carrier – who needed or wanted assistance or advice.

Twenty-five years after working in opposite corners, Petronelli and Dundee were united again, Petronelli leaving us on January 29 and Dundee passing away three days later. The world of boxing mourns their departure, but their achievements and their gentle personalities shall not soon be forgotten.