Leonard-Nunn Matchup Appears to Be in the Cards

Share via
Times Staff Writer

Unless Frank Bruno shows up with Robin Givens on his arm in Las Vegas next month for his fight against Mike Tyson, boxing’s 1989 blockbuster show could be Sugar Ray Leonard against Michael Nunn.

That appears to be what promoter Bob Arum has in mind for the middleweight division.

In announcing at a New York news conference Tuesday that Nunn would fight Sumbu Kalambay in a middleweight unification bout March 25, Arum also said he was negotiating with Mike Trainer, Leonard’s attorney, and Manny Steward, Thomas Hearns’ manager, for a Leonard-Hearns bout in May or June.

If Leonard-Hearns II is set up, the following probably would occur:

--The Nunn-Kalambay winner would become the International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Assn. champion.


--That winner would meet the winner of the Feb. 24 bout between Roberto Duran and Iran Barkley, the World Boxing Council champion, with the winner becoming the undisputed middleweight champion.

--Leonard and Hearns would fight in May or June.

--Finally, late next summer, the undisputed middleweight champion would meet the winner of Leonard-Hearns.

Nunn would be a lopsided favorite all the way to a bout against Leonard or Hearns. And Leonard, off his impressive showing against Donny Lalonde in November, would be a big choice over Hearns.

Nunn, 25, possibly boxing’s hottest young property next to Tyson, won the IBF middleweight title convincingly last July when he stopped previously unbeaten Frank Tate, largely on the strength of one body punch. Nunn defended it easily against Juan Roldan Nov. 3, knocking out the more experienced Roldan in the eighth round.

The Kalambay bout will put Nunn into the million-dollar-purse class, and possibly on the way to a pay-per-view cable TV showdown with Leonard, should Arum bring Leonard and Hearns together.

If that happens, Nunn could leap to an 8-digit payday with Leonard.

Nunn (32-0) has boxed for the Ten Goose Boxing Club in North Hollywood since he turned pro in 1984. He grew up in Davenport, Iowa, where he was a nationally ranked amateur middleweight. Early in his pro career, the quick-footed Nunn was dismissed as a “runner” who was piling up decision victories over opponents who couldn’t catch him. But the victories over Tate and Roldan, both of which were achieved with firepower as well as finesse, left no doubt that Nunn was suddenly the sport’s dominant middleweight.


Meanwhile, in Leonard’s camp, Trainer confirmed this week that negotiations are under way for Leonard-Hearns II.

“Bob (Arum) came to see me Monday, put a proposal on my desk, and I’ve discussed it with Ray,” Trainer said.

“If we can reach an agreement with Bob that makes Ray happy, then, yes, Ray wants the fight. It’s better than 50-50 it’ll happen. . . . The level of interest among people who want to promote it is very high.”

What’s proposed by Arum and at least one other promotional group, TitanSports, is a rematch of the memorable Caesars Palace battle the two had in 1981, when Leonard rallied from certain defeat to stop Hearns in the 14th round, when both were welterweights.

TitanSports, parent company of the World Wrestling Federation, promoted Leonard-Lalonde. That promotion, according to sources, earned Leonard about $15 million and Lalonde $5 million. Leonard’s knockout of Lalonde in Las Vegas Nov. 7 was his first appearance in a ring since he defeated Marvelous Marvin Hagler in April, 1987. Leonard’s conditioning appeared to be superb, and if he had lost a significant measure of quickness or power from his prime, it wasn’t clearly visible.

Hearns, however, seems to have fallen far from his peak years, the late 1970s and early 1980s. Off his last two performances--a shocking knockout loss to Barkley and an unimpressive decision over James Kinchen--he would be a decided underdog against Leonard.


Hearns almost lost to Kinchen, and there were boos when he was awarded a split decision. Kinchen knocked Hearns on his wallet early in the fight and took Hearns’ once-feared right-hand shots for 12 rounds.

Hearns, 31, has a 46-3 record, and Leonard, 32, is 35-1. When they met in their classic 1981 battle, Leonard was 25 and Hearns nearly 23. At the time, it was the richest bout in history, generating between $30 million and $40 million.

With boxing economics now geared toward pay-per-view revenue instead of closed-circuit telecasts, the two conceivably could generate more money the second time around, even with neither holding a championship.

And so for two middleweights, at opposite ends of their careers, it seems that a beginning and an ending are at hand:

--Nunn, once dismissed as a quick-stepping slapper, seems on the verge of becoming one of boxing’s highest-paid stars.

--For Hearns, the painful 8-year wait may be over for a rematch with the man who broke his heart in a long-ago 14th round.