Posted on November 15, 2018
by Steve Janowick
It was an April night in 1987.
We rented one of those big passenger vans and the group of about ten of us were half wacked by the time we arrived at Baltimore’s Civic Center. I was a teenager amongst a group of roughneck men. A bunch of dudes who were raging with testosterone and adrenaline. Ready to watch a good fight. Or maybe get in one. Inside, we bought a few more beers, made our way through the rowdy crowd and found our seats. The place was filled to capacity. The giant pay-per-view screen was more massive than any I’d ever seen in any movie theatre. Because I had never been to one of these events before, I was surprised by the amount of energy. The palpable, simmering, kinetic energy that hovered in a cloud of cigar/cigarette smoke and seemed like it could boil over and erupt into total pandemonium at any moment.
This was Rome. And the Coliseum was rocking with fevered anticipation for it’s two favorite gladiators to get it on.
When the fighters were finally introduced, the crowd leaped from their seats-and wouldn’t need them again. Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvelous Marvin Hagler was billed as the fight of the century at a time when boxing was still the preeminent combat sport. With over 300 million pay per views worldwide, it rivaled the days when Ali and Frazier were going at it in Manilla or when Sugar Ray Robinson was putting regular beatdowns (but never knockouts) on Jake LaMotta. The days when the mob ran the show behind the scenes. When the combatants enjoyed fame and celebrity that rivaled any movie star’s. Those were boxing’s glory days. When the sweet science was king.
1987 was at the tail end of that great era. It was still six years removed from the inception of a new sport that would challenge boxing in global appeal and popularity. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was founded right around the time when boxing promoters, like Don King, were running their sport into the ground with fractured sanctioning bodies, shady refereeing, disgruntled fighters, and waning star power. The UFC provided a new generation of fans a totally different take-the opportunity to watch their favorite fighting disciplines go at it. It was raw, real, violent, and filled the vacuum that boxing’s bloated reputation had created.
Fast forward to today and boxing has been significantly overtaken by the UFC-and MMA in general. Its marquee fighters are much more recognizable than boxing’s current stable, and it consistently churns out bigger gates and social media chatter. Sure, boxing still stays afloat with the likes of Mayweather, Pacquiao and Triple G, but they don’t create near the buzz that McGregor or Liddell/Anderson Silva (when they were on top). Like him or not, Dana White is a hell of a businessman/marketer and has, pretty much single-handedly, created a combat sports empire that has become the standard bearer today and, sadly, diminished the mystique that used to be attached to boxing.
But that mystique was at its zenith that night when the opening bell rang out! Leonard came out shucking and jiving, sticking and moving, trying to play defense and frustrate the much bigger and more aggressive Hagler. That strategy seemingly worked because when the final bell rang, and the decision was handed down, it was Leonard winning it in a split. I said seemingly because, even to this day, many still believe Hagler was robbed and should have won the fight and retained his belt. Regardless of the outcome, I got to witness one of boxing’s last great mega-fights during its swan song era.
And that makes me the ultimate victor.
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