Old foes Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler unite in fight for equality

The killing of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter marches, and the storming of the US Capitol have stirred the emotions in two of America’s ­greatest boxing legends.

With the 34th anniversary of their $100million SuperFight at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas fast approaching, ­Marvelous ­Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard see a lot of their young years in modern-day USA.

And although they are both in their mid-60s, they still feel the anger and frustration as acutely now as they did in their formative days.

Hagler, 66, witnessed notorious race riots in his youth in his home city of Newark, New Jersey, which left 26 people dead.

In Central Ward, the main black area where Hagler lived with his mother and five siblings, National Guardsmen described the situation as “a war zone”.

To Hagler, it felt “like the end of the world”.

The bullets which blasted into the family’s third-floor apartment and penetrated plasterboard above one of the beds left marks far deeper than those embedded in the walls of their ­tenement building.

“People being killed in the street, stores getting broken into and robbed, it was scary,” Hagler said. “I went through all of that growing up, the riots, a lot of poverty – I had to fight all my life.”

For Leonard, who grew up in inner-city Washington DC before his family moved to the outskirts, the insurrection at the Capitol last month stirred his own ­memories of first encountering white supremacy.

As a young boy, he visited the Washington Monument with four friends one day and walked into a restaurant to ask for a glass of water.

“N*****, get outta here,” he was told. Stunned and frightened, he ran all the way home.

“I was eight or nine years old and had never experienced such a volatile anger,” Leonard, 64, recalled.

“I told my mom, ‘This man called me a n***** and told me to get out’.

“She looked at me and said ‘Don’t worry about it, son, don’t worry.’ What she meant was ‘Keep it quiet, keep it to yourself and don’t say anything.’ That was her way of protecting me. She didn’t take the opportunity to ­explain to me about how ­society was.”

In his extraordinary career in the ring, Leonard won Olympic gold and world titles in five separate weight divisions from welterweight (10st 7lb) to light heavyweight (12st 7lb).

The pinnacle was his controversial split-decision victory over Hagler in Las Vegas in The SuperFight, boxing’s first $100m bout and one of the most astonishing comebacks in sport.

Leonard remains one of American sport’s superstars and the death of George Floyd last year persuaded him to speak out about race relations as he had rarely done before.

“Even though I was a ­boxing champion, I’m not confrontational outside the ring,” he said.

“But where we are today, I’m confrontational. George’s little girl said, ‘My daddy changed the world,’ but he’s done more than that. He's made everybody come alive and wake up. I'm not a racist at all but I’m not going to be silent any more. This is what is ­happening to our people, black people, and we can get better, we can change.”

It is a message in which he and his old ring rival Hagler stand united.

“We’re all on this earth together,” Hagler said. “I don’t look at people as black, white or whatever. I look at people for who and what they are.”

The SuperFight: Marvelous Marvin Hagler – Sugar Ray Leonard by Brian Doogan is available now in bookstores and online

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