The fight that crowned Sugar Ray Leonard the middleweight champion over Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987 is still being contested today, twenty one years later. Many believe that Hagler was the rightful winner of that match, that Sugar Ray stole the title from him. Steve Marantz’s new book Sorcery At Caesars: Sugar Ray’s Marvelous Fight brings readers back to the night of that fight, and examines just what went down during that match.
A prize fight that happened more than twenty years ago might not seem an especially promising subject for a book. But Steve Marantz makes a fine case for Sugar Ray Leonard v Marvelous Marvin Hagler as worthy of reconsideration.
Marantz writes as if he’s still disturbed by the outcome of the contest, after which two of the three judges scored the fight for Leonard, making him the middleweight champion. This encourages the reader to consider the event unfinished, even now. Marantz quotes Richard Steele, who refereed the fight, acknowledging that he sometimes reviews the video of Leonard v Hagler. “Every time I watch it,” Steele says, “it gets closer.”
Happily, doubts about the decision aren’t all that’s driving Marantz. He sees in the fight and the long road that led both boxers to the parking lot behind Caesars in Las Vegas twenty one years ago an opportunity to say a good deal about the strengths and vulnerabilities of each man. Both achieved wealth and celebrity, though it came earlier and more easily to Leonard. Having tasted success, both fouled up their lives and their families with drugs or alcohol. Each recovered, at least sufficiently to climb into the ring against the other. One, Hagler, recognized much earlier than most boxers do that there could be more to life than hitting people and getting hit. He retired with money in the bank, walking away from the opportunity to make a lot more.
The author also has plenty to say about boxing itself. Having mentioned the fate of Cleveland Denny, a lightweight who died seventeen days after being knocked unconscious in 1980, Marantz points out that between the end of World War II and Denny’s death due to ruptured blood vessels in his brain, “the sport had averaged 12.4 deaths per year.”
As Marantz writes, in 1982, “the British Medical Association called for boxing to be outlawed in England, where the sport was spawned in the 18th century.” About the only good thing to be said about the fact that boxing has not been ended there, here, and everywhere is that over many years a lot of people, Steve Marantz among them, have written very well about the alleged “sweet science.”