Hagler Vs. Leonard
In March of 1986 he defended his title for the eleventh time, knocking out the undefeated junior middleweight champion John Mugabi in the eleventh round. On April 7, 1987, Hagler slipped on his gloves and entered the ring for the last time. After a five-year absence from boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard announced that he was coming out of retirement to challenge Hagler. For his part, Hagler was so excited about the opportunity to prove himself against one of the best in the world, he conceded numerous advantages to Leonard, including glove size, ring size, and number of rounds (12 rather than 15).
The purse for the fight, which took place at Cesar's Palace in Los Vegas, was $20 million ($19 million for Hagler, $11 million for Leonard), the largest for a fight up to that time. Hagler surprised many by working conservatively against Leonard in the first rounds. Perhaps realizing that he was playing into Leonard's strength of dancing and circling, Hagler stepped up in the middle rounds to move in on Leonard. The fight was very close, and after 12 rounds, the title was awarded to Leonard in a controversial split decision that is still debated today.
Hagler, who was convinced he won the bout, wanted a rematch and waited a year for Leonard to agree to fight him again. Frustrated when Leonard continued to avoid a rematch, Hagler retired in 1989. He later told CBS Sportsline, "I felt as though I had accomplished everything in my career and the only thing left for me to do was to have a rematch with [Leonard]."
Like many professional athletes, Hagler struggled after he retired from the ring. He told London's The Times, "When I stopped boxing it drove me nuts.… I started to feel like there weren't nothing else because boxing had been everything for too long." He divorced soon after his retirement and moved to Milan, Italy, to pursue a new career in acting. He starred in two action-adventure films, Indio and Indio 2, as well as several Italian-made movies and a television series. Hagler travels to the United States often and continues to pursue new opportunities in acting. He also has increasingly appeared ringside as a boxing commentator, receiving high marks from critics for his articulate, insightful remarks. However, after so many years out of the ring, Hagler still feels the pull in his heart. He admitted to The Boston Globe, "I don't go back to the gyms. I don't want to smell that smell and get that feeling again. I was born to be a fighter, I believe. Boxing was always my love, but that love is over. I moved on with my life.…"