Could Marvin Hagler defeated Leonard if he was in the prime of his career?

‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler (62-3-2) is arguably the best middleweight boxer the sport has ever seen. There are not many people, if any, that would disagree.

In 67 professional bouts Marvin Hagler was rarely hurt. The only memorable time he may have appeared dazed was in his fight with Thomas Hearns. In round one there was a brief moment when Hearns had landed some good shots on the champ and backed him up. It appeared in that moment that Hearns had actually shook Hagler. Marvin quickly rebounded however and took over the rest of the round and match, defeating Hearns in the third round by TKO.

Hagler, tough as nails

One of the things they can’t be overlooked is how damn tough Marvin was. Consider the following numbers below, its quite astonishing.

  • Hagler was never knocked out or stopped.
  • Hagler was knocked down only once in 67 pro fights. On replay however, it was clearly a slip.
  • Marvin Hagler only lost 3 times but he was never hurt in any of these fights, losing only on points. Two of those losses were very early on in his career, and both he avenged in memorable fashion. His third and final loss was to Ray Leonard in the infamous ‘Super Fight’. At the end of that fight, Hagler barley looked like he was in a sparring session, never mind a world title boxing match.

Hagler vs. Mugabi

Despite his ability to not get hurt, it’s not like Hagler did not have tough fights or face stiff competition. He also never dodged an opponent. He fought many great champions such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Vito Antifurmo. He also fought many other great fighters of his era that were not champions.

Among the many great fighters Marvin Hagler met in the ring, his toughest opponent may have been John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi. In order to really appreciate this fight you must watch it in its entirety. Click here to watch Hagler vs. Mugabi.

Mugabi was young, hungry, undefeated, had dynamite knock out power (71% for his career) and was unafraid. At the time he fought Hagler, Mugabi was 25 – 0 with all 25 fights being won by knockout. Marvin had to fight at his very best the entire match in order to win. The bout lasted into the eleventh round when Hagler let lose on Mugabi again (after doing so in the 6th round also) and finally stopped him. It was Hagler’s 12th record setting title defense.

”I thought I had him K.O.’d in the sixth round when the referee stepped in. It’s tough to K.O. a guy when he’s in good condition. I had to change my strategy, work inside, wear him down, use my jab, combinations, go to the body.” – Marvin Hagler (March 10th, 1986)

Marvin Hagler vs. John Mugabi on March 10th, 1986 at Caesars Palace
Marvin Hagler vs. John Mugabi on March 10th, 1986 at Caesars Palace, Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.

Hagler vs. Ray Leonard

Hagler’s match against Leonard happened an entire year after the Mugabi fight on April 4th, 1987 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Deemed the ‘Super Fight’, many felt the match did not live up to the hype as Ray Leonard spent the majority of the fight dancing and moving away from Hagler, only throwing punches at the end of rounds to score points and impress the judges.

In the end, Leonard won on points, but the fight was highly controversial. Many felt that Marvin had clearly beat Ray by landing more power punches. The judges did not see it that way however. One judge even scoring the fight 118 -110 for Leonard. No one knew what fight was he watching.

Summary

There are many who feel that the Mugabi fight was the last match Hagler had left in him and if he had fought Leonard before that, or earlier in his career, he would have most likely won. Of course we will never know if that would have been the outcome, .

It is certainly evident that Hagler had lost some quickness in his feet and snap in his punches by the time he fought Mugabi, let alone afterwards. So to say Hagler was as good as ever when he fought Leonard is simply not the truth.

It should be noted that Sugar Ray Leonard had his own set of circumstances. He was making a comeback after a very long layoff (actually retirement) and he had a suspect eye. A lot of people thought Hagler would easily beat Ray. Leonard however, was still younger than Hagler, had a lot less less wear and tear on his body (having fought less fights than Hagler and having a safer boxing style), and the judges were practically rooting for him.

Would Marvin Hagler been able to defeat Ray Leonard if he had fought him before John Mugabi, or while in his prime? We will never know, but I say yes.