When Peter Manfredo, Jr. steps on the scales April 6th in Cardiff, his chief strategist will be looking forward but thinking backward.
The next night Manfredo will try to implement a fight plan constructed for him by one of boxing's greatest champions, Sugar Ray Leonard, a plan designed to pull off what would be the upset of the year if successful, the defeat of long-time super middleweight champion Joe Calzaghe at the Millennium Stadium in front of more than 30,000 of Calzaghe's Welsh countrymen. If the plan works it would surely shock the boxing world, which has seen Calzaghe successfully defend the title he holds 19 consecutive times and sees no reason for that streak not to continue. But it would not shock the plan's architect, for 20 years ago to the day that Manfredo will step on the sacle in Wales, Ray Leonard pulled off an even more stunning upset when he won a hotly disputed split decision from then middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
That victory remains Leonard's crowning moment and his greatest acheivement for it came so unexpectedly and against a man many felt was the finest fighting machine in the world. Hagler had not lost a fight in more than a decade. Leonard, meanwhile, had fought only once in the previous half decade. With those facts as background, the talk around ringside that night was not about how Ray Leonard might win. The talk was about how badly would Marvin Hagler hurt him. There seemed no other alternative, no way around what was about to happen, even for a fighter as great as Leonard once had been.
"I was the producer of that show," recalled HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. "Ray was already working broadcasts for us, so he was part of our family. I had always told him Hagler-Leonard would be my dream fight but by the time it was made everyone was very skeptical. I was concerned for him because all anyone was talking about or writing about was how badly Hagler would beat him. Not just beat him, but hurt him. Ray had been off for five years. He'd had a detatched retina. Hagler seemed unbeatable. So much stronger. Everyone had concerns.
"I went out to see Ray train a day or two before the fight with Barry Tompkins and Larry Merchant, who were broadcasting the fight. He looked okay but there was something about the tone of his answers to their questions. He was saying the right things but I wasn't sure he really felt that way. When we left I remember telling Barry and Larry, 'This is going to be a massacre.'"