Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr.
By Allan Cerf
This is the final mythical matchup in 2020 – we hope you enjoyed the series. If you have suggestions for next year’s six mythical fights – let us know!
In the case of our sixth classic bout, we’re going back in time for one boxer, Floyd “Money” Mayweather. He’s meeting Sugar Ray Leonard in the respective primes; Ray’s retina is as good as it will get, and Floyd’s hands are solid, not brittle.
Date: Saturday, September 8, 1984. 15 rounds for a unified Junior Middleweight Championship of The World.
Site: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Prize money: Ray’s purse not disclosed, Mayweather’s, 33 million, a record. About 75 million in 2020 dollars.
Network: HBO PPV. Commentators are Barry Tompkins and Larry Merchant.
Referee: A young Richard Steele.
Round One: Both fighters know the first round is tactical. Neither will try to walk through the other’s punches, particularly Floyd! Floyd realizes that Ray’s jab is a bit longer and Ray realizes that Floyd’s stick is as quick as his own- that’s a first! The impatient crowd is restless with the chess match. But they’re not the ones in the ring.
Towards the end of the round, Leonard fires a five punch combination, but most are blocked by Floyd’s shoulder roll. On the bell, Floyd lands a jab. If ever there was an even round, this was it.
Round Two: Both men’s trainers had much to say between rounds and the chess resumes- both guys flicking out jabs. Leonard decides to try to cut the ring and briefly traps Mayweather, but Floyd was waiting and lands a lead-off right, then circles back to the center of the ring.
Both men talk to each other, Ray saying, “The fight is right here, man!” Floyd yells, “’F’ that” and dances away. Ray does pop Floyd with a couple jabs, but as the bell rings, this is another even round, period.
In his corner, Leonard sighs and is more upset than Floyd in his corner who is imperturbable. Roger Mayweather mumbles words of advice – hard to say if Floyd is listening. Angie Dundee tells his charge: “Son, this can play out a lot of ways. We’ve got a plan for all of them.” Ray gets it together and nods. Bell rings.
Round 3: The tactical fight continues and the fans don’t like it. Boos rain down on the fighters. Ray’s extended combinations are faster than Floyd’s by a nose, but Floyd’s lead-off right, jab, and two and three punch combinations are just as fast. The lead right in particular is the fastest punch Ray has ever witnessed. Like right now! Ray looked set to jab but Floyd got him with the straight right. And again! Ray throws himself forward and lands hard to Floyd’s body, but breaking Mayweather down with body shots is a tall order. And again! Mayweather lands a very hard straight right. On the bell, Floyd yells, “All night long you’re gonna get clipped with my right. All night long.” Between rounds, strains of Lionel Ritchie’s cheesy All Night Long ring out from the Caesars Palace PA. Strange coincidence.
Another close round, but the three straight rights took it for Mayweather. In his corner, Floyd’s
Team congratulate him for winning a round. The calm Dundee, meanwhile, has great advice for Leonard: “Man, who says you have to follow him around? That’s what he wants! Fight center-ring!” Leonard gets it. Bell rings.
Round 4: The fighters meet in the middle of the ring. Leonard has simply stopped pursuing Mayweather. Floyd backs up but – no dice, Ray won’t chase. Floyd looks at referee Steele who offers no help. Cursing, he meets Leonard center ring. The two cautiously exchange combinations and Ray is getting the better of it, barely. Floyd’s extraordinary radar picks up everything until…A Leonard spy had caught a Mayweather sparring session. He noticed Floyd had few flaws but occasionally misjudged punches from unusual angles. Same thing would happen to Floyd years later in his first fight with Marcos Maidana.
Ray remembers and throws what looks like a hard jab. At the last moment that jab turns into a smashing left hook on Floyd’s jaw. Floyd stumbles, tumbles but remains upright as Leonard follows him around the ring, flurrying. Floyd’s amazing defense allows him to avoid most of the fire and after 20 seconds the bell rings. Big Leonard round but not a 10-8.
Between rounds, Roger Mayweather tells Floyd the obvious; dance away from Leonard as Leonard did against Hagler. “Out Leonard, Leonard!” Roger says with so much gusto he is spitting. It’s good advice. In Leonard’s corner Angelo Dundee says, “Go get him - tear him up.” Bell rings.
Round 5: Ray roars out. Some say he’s a perfect fighter. One thing about Leonard – most of the time he likes full arm extension. Mayweather had trained for this look. Leonard’s blizzard of punches are super-fast – yes. But Mayweather has the amazing reflexes and eyesight to avoid them.
Leonard frustrated, knows that Mayweather can times his long punches, so he shoves him against the rope where he can throw the kind of very short inside punches that snapped Hagler’s head, east and west! But the ropes is a good place for Mayweather to fight from. Mayweather jabs Leonard’s body just long enough to surprise with a big right uppercut. He’s free to move off the ropes.
For the rest of the round, Leonard throws some powerful stuff which Mayweather mostly avoids. Meanwhile, Mayweather has found a home in Ray’s stomach for his “bee-sting” jab. Not his full force stick, this little jab is so quick it can’t be defended. It winds opponents a bit, including Ray. Mainly, it embarrasses him as there’s no way even the great Leonard can avoid it. All night long, he won’t avoid it. Bell rings.
Rounds 6-9: Incredibly for the shocked crowd, Mayweather has recovered and a strong case can be made either way for each of these rounds. Who took rounds 6-9? No one will ever really know – regardless of what the judges saw.
For the first time in his career, Ray has found a match for speed. Conversely, for Mayweather, the even speed means for the first time in his career all his elusiveness can’t get him out of the way of everything. When Leonard windmills, Floyd blocks 90% of the shots, but the ones that land are hurtful, including a beautiful straight right which opens a rare cut. In Mayweather’s corner, after round 9, Roger Mayweather is freaking out about the cut. Floyd looks at him and says “Dude, I’ll survive. Calm the _uck down. You’re not fighting him, Uncle Roger, I am.”
In the Leonard corner, Dundee gives attitude. He says Ray must get closer. Leonard snaps, “Angie, remember Zaire? When Ali said ‘shut up, I know what I’m doing?’ I know what I’m doing!” Bell rings.
Round 10: No fighter is perfect. Just as he did against Hagler, Ray is tiring and slowing slightly. Floyd is the best-condition fighter, save Marciano, in boxing history. And some say the best defensively.
Mayweather is now avoiding virtually all of the incoming, and continues to land his soft jab which is slowing taking air out of Leonard. Just NOW! Mayweather switches to his full-force jab to the head, and he’s making Leonard back up. The pro Leonard crowd is booing.
Mayweather yells at Leonard as he would in 2010 at Shane Mosely: “IF YOUR JAB IS FASTER THAN MINE, LET ME SEE IT!” He then hits Ray with a blizzard of jabs and lead rights, giving Leonard a mouse over both eyes. Bell rings. Huge Mayweather round. Boos cascade and ricochet around Caesar’s palace as well as shock and bad vibes. The fans are thinking, “What do I really know about boxing?” It’s like a death in the family, that tenth round for the rabidly pro-Leonard crowd.
In Leonard’s corner Dundee says, “Fire me, kid, but you’re blowing it!” Dundee thinks and then says, “Ali, wouldn’t give up!” knowing Ali is Leonard’s hero. That seems to do the trick! Bell rings.
Round 11: Ray Leonard storms out and while he’s been surprised throughout by Mayweather’s strength, Leonard is physically stronger, period. They fight on even terms in the middle of the ring. Leonard gets Mayweather to the ropes – somehow - and opens up. Mayweather can’t block them all and his cut is re-opened by a looping right that his radar misjudged. Mayweather’s pride kicks in and he jabs relentlessly at Leonard’s gut which slows the avalanche of punches. Leonard loves to steal rounds, and in the last 15 seconds nabs it by wind-milling until the bell.
Between rounds, both corners tell their men they must win all remaining rounds. In this case that cliché is true. The fight is too close to call. Bell rings, crowd roars.
Round 12: It’s a Mayweather round, as he employs some of his most effective-ever defense, timing Leonard’s onslaughts beautifully and either waiting until Ray is ‘done,’ or landing the lead off right hand. For good measure, Floyd keeps letting air “out the tire,” as Uncle Roger calls it- that bee sting jab to the solar plexus. Bell rings and Floyd raises his hand while Ray looks uncertain. BUT…
Mayweather’s manager, Leonard Ellerbe, had insisted on a 15 round fight. They’d seen what had happened to Marvin Hagler and they figure Floyd’s fitness is second to none. They’d also seen Leonard tire in the Hagler fight, one of the very few chinks in his armor.
“Three more to go!” Uncle Roger reminds Floyd who frowns as he sits on his stool. In the Leonard corner, Dundee says, “Ray, you’ve got to get that second wind. You’ve always found it before.” Leonard looks at Dundee like he’s crazy but remembers he’s Sugar Ray Leonard. Bell rings.
Rounds 13 is fought on the same old terms – Ray windmills, Floyd’s blocks most but not all and then lands his right and bee-sting jab. The judges give it to Leonard, which has evened the fight on the cards.
In round 14, an accidental head butt dazes Mayweather, who has to hold on. And hold on he does brilliantly, his shoulder roll and determination getting him through on instinct. All three judges reluctantly score an even round. The fight is a draw going into the final round. Both corners say little. It’s very clear what each fighter must do.
But as the 15th and final round starts, Mayweather’s head is still not clear. Ray’s windmills are beginning to get through. Floyd in turn opens up which means he is getting hit as never before. Still, his deadly lead off right finds its mark on the fading Ray Leonard. But it’s not quite enough. It’s a close but clear Leonard round on all three cards. Bell rings, both fighters celebrate – both know it can go either way. It’s that close.
And the winner is – Ray Leonard by a single point on all three cards! A dejected Mayweather hears Leonard praise him in the victor’s interview with Larry Merchant and when it’s his turn, Floyd says: “I won clearly, I made a home on his head with my right hand, and I avoided most of his punches.” “Yeah but you still lost on the cards, Floyd” Larry Merchant reminds him. Floyd tells Merchant he doesn’t know _hit about boxing.
A great tactical fight- but as the 80’s crowd leaves the arena as fast as possible, it’s clear it wasn’t the tremendous slugfest anyone hoped for. Mayweather will regret forever his decision to insist on fifteen rounds after he learns he was ahead at the end of twelve.