Legendary welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard knows a thing or two about big time rematches. He fought epic rematches against Roberto Duran and Thomas “Hitman’’ Hearns.
Leonard believes that Manny Pacquiao may still be rattled by getting KO’ed by Juan Manuel Marquez when he climbs into the ring for the rematch against Timothy Bradley in Las Vegas on April 12. The first match between the two men ended with Bradley winning a controversial 12-round split decision and taking away Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight title in a fight that many fans thought Pacquiao clearly won.
In his next match, Pacquiao was knocked out cold by Juan Manuel Marquez and remained motionless on the canvas for several scary minutes.
“Pacquiao is still dealing with getting knockout against Marquez,’’ Leonard said. “Normally fighters who get knocked out that way don’t come back the right way. That knockout becomes an Achilles’s heel. The way he fought Brandon Rios, based on what happened in that fight it was impressive. I’m basing it on what happened prior. You never really get over that. It’s kind of something that lingers in the brain.’’
Leonard said that could play into Bradley’s favor on fight night, if the welterweight champion decides he wants to carry the fight to Pacquiao. But he’s still not sure whether Bradley has what it takes to decisively beat Pacquiao in the rematch.
“That fight is based on whose night it is,’’ Leonard said. “It depends upon which Bradley shows up. I thought that Pacquiao won the first fight with Bradley. But I wasn’t that big of a Bradley fan then. I became a big fan of Bradley when he fought (Ruslan) Provodnikov. He demonstrated the real heart of a champion in that fight. That was incredible.’’
Bradley was staggered throughout the fight, including nearly getting KO’ed in the 12th round, but rallied to win a tight 12-round unanimous decision in a battle of attrition. In his next match he fought smarter and boxed circles around Marquez.
Leonard stopped Hearns in the 14th round of their first fight. It was a tough battle. He believes Hearns entered the rematch with that knockout still lingering in his mind. There was also the belief that eight years after the first match that Hearns was now a shell of the version that Leonard fought in 1981.
“The general consensus was that I’d knock Tommy out in the second fight,’’ Leonard said. “When the fight was called a draw there were no outrageous comments coming from his corner. They were just relieved that he didn’t get knocked out. They accepted that draw. But I actually think Tommy won the fight and deserved to get the decision.’’
Does Leonard believe any of today’s welterweight champions like Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Bradley and Pacquiao could beat the welterweight champions of his generation?
“Sometimes that becomes such an unfair assessment, because things are different now than they were then,’’ he said. “If you ask Mayweather, Pacquiao and Bradley if they could handle the era in the 80s they would say yes. If they pause when you ask them that question, I have a problem with that, because I never hesitate when you ask me if I can beat any fighter from any era. I’ll tell you quickly that I can. I think I’m the best of any generation.’’