Just recently, I was watching a rebroadcast of the historic World Middleweight Title fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler from 1987. I’m watching this fight and all of a sudden, all these memories came pouring back to me. As I watch the fight, it just hits me, Sugar Ray Leonard was fighting Marvin Hagler exactly how Joe Lewis taught me how to fight a pressure fighter all those many years ago. At the time, April 1987, Joe Lewis was preparing me for the WAKO World Kickboxing Championships in Munich, Germany, later that year. But this memory was about three years before that, when I first started training with the Great Joe Lewis. One of the first of many drills I did with Joe is called a limited sparring drill. Joe was big on, “limited sparring.” Limited sparring is where you limit the techniques you can throw, in this case jab only, so you can better focus on the strategy of fighting. This drill was two, two-minute rounds where you can only jab. The first round, Joe just basically ran me over with pressure offense. Backing me up with his jab, always getting off first and just overwhelming me. The second round was the exact opposite. He laid back and worked on countering my jab. Letting me get off first and set the pace. After the drill, I will never forget, Joe asked me these two questions. First question: If you are fighting a pressure fighter, like the first round, should you move first and than fire or fire first and than move? Second question: If you are fighting a counter fighter, like the second round, should you move first and than fire or fire first and than move? Now you would think, because nether round went particularly well for me, I would choose the exact opposite of what I did. In the first round I basically ran from Joe as he pressured me, jabbing as I moved backwards, if jabbing at all. The second round I basically stood in front of him and tried to hit him with my jab, since he wouldn’t fire until I did. Now this was in the early stages of my training with Joe Lewis, so my jab looked more like a back fist. Like most karate fighters I would pull my elbow up first, to throw the technique, completely telegraphing the strike. Many times, in the second round, I would get hit just as I was starting to execute my jab/back fist. This was one of my first of many strategy lessons that I had with Joe Lewis. Joe taught me to categorize an opponent. We would watch boxing and kickboxing fights together and he would teach and talk about each fighters tendencies and how to counter them. Does he like to lead off? Is he a slugger or a sharp shooter? Now rarely do you find a complete pressure fighter or counter fighter. But almost everyone leans one way or the other. So you then have a strategy to counter their style. This is also one of the first things Joe taught me. To not have a set style of fighting, that my style should be dictated by the tendencies of my opponent. So this brings me back to the Leonard, Hagler fight. As I was watching the fight, it was as if I was watching a Joe Lewis drill in action. If you watch the fight, and I highly recommend you do. Sugar Ray Leonard is in constant motion, moving side to side and avoiding Hagler. But when they end up on each other’s firing line, (in front of each other) Sugar Ray would always get off first with a flurry of punches and then immediately move or tie Hagler up. He let Hagler step to him and step right into his lead off jab or straight right hand. Knowing that Hagler, like most pressure fighters are willing to take a shot to give three or four. Sugar Ray Just made sure he was not around for the three or four. Hagler was the textbook pressure fighter in this fight, never going backwards and applying constant pressure. Sugar Ray went on to win a unanimous decision to take the title away form Hagler. A huge upset since Leonard had come out of retirement after a 5-year layoff. I’m watching this fight and realizing just how lucky I was to train with Joe Lewis, he knew so much more than anyone else in martial arts, about the strategy of fighting. Because of Joe I can recognize the strategy Sugar Ray Leonard used and can teach it, and still do, to this day. You can ask any Green Belt or higher in my World Champion Martial Arts System the two questions Joe asked me after our
limited sparring drill. They can give you the answer or you ask me if you don’t know the answer: Jimgradenmartialarts@gmail.com I was also so impressed by Sugar Ray Leonard, that he had executed such a great game plan against arguably one the greatest middleweights ever. But than I saw, and remembered, who Sugar Rays trainer was, the great Angelo Dundee, the trainer of Muhammad Ali. I just smiled because it brought back another great memory. A memory of when I was able to do something very special for Joe, to thank him for all he had done for me. When I was able to get Joe Lewis and Angelo Dundee together at my martial arts school. But that is a story for another time.