What if? Mark Breland vs. Sugar Ray Leonard: An amateur showdown
Mark Anthony Breland, welterweight (141-152 pounds), 110-1
- Five-time New York Golden Gloves champion (1980–84)
- 1982 United States Amateur welterweight champion
- 1983 United States Amateur welterweight champion
- 1982 gold medal in World Championships, in Munich Germany
- 1984 gold medal in Olympic Games
Ray Charles Leonard, light welterweight (132-141 pounds), 145-5
- 1973 National Golden Gloves lightweight champion
- 1974 National Golden Gloves light welterweight champion
- 1974 National AAU light welterweight champion
- 1974 North American Championships gold medalist
- 1975 National AAU light welterweight champion
- 1975 North American Championships gold medalist
- 1975 Pan American Games Light Welterweight gold medalist
- 1976 Olympic light welterweight gold medalist
The one argument everyone brings up when comparing the Class of 1976 versus the Class of 1984 was that the 1984 Olympics were not attended by 13 Soviet Bloc countries and Cuba. It should be noted that Breland had plenty of international experience and this is NOT a matchup of teams. Breland beat international powerhouses like Russian Serik Konakbayev, who won a silver medal in the 1980 Olympics (that the US did not attend) among many others from Germany and Cuba as well. Leonard beat his share of International super powers like; Cuba’s Andrés Aldama Cabrera in the ’76 finals (Cabrera won the gold in 1980).
A little known fact is a young Ray Leonard came to Detroit and trained at the famous Kronk Gym as an amateur for a short period of time. Years later, prior to the ’84 Games, Breland along with Pernell Whitaker and others, came to the Kronk Gym in perhaps the greatest group of fighters training under one roof in the entire history of the sport! According to stories told to me by the late Emanuel Steward, Breland gave as good as he got from world champions Thomas Hearns and Milton McCrory. Steward would say, on many occasions, he felt that sparring is what prepared the team in ’84 to dominate the field. While Leonard may have had a tougher road to the gold in ’76, Breland, being able to hang with Hearns and McCrory in the Kronk heat prepares a man like nothing else. EDGE: EVEN
Both Leonard and Breland had great jabs and knew how to use them as amateurs. Leonard used his as a way to find his target while Breland used his to score points and keep opponents at the end of his powerful right hand. EDGE: BRELAND
Breland’s power was perhaps displayed most notably at the world famous New York Golden Gloves, in which he scored a record 19 stoppages in his 21 victories, with 14 coming in the first round! Leonard developed his killer instincts early on, as well, scoring 75 KOs in his 145 wins. The difference in power perhaps could be viewed in the ways the two fighters scored their KOs. Leonard’s power came from his blinding hand speed and ability to put flurries together with both hands that landed on target. Breland was a good combination puncher as well but when he landed a long right hand (I felt it once. That was enough!), it was like he had dynamite in his glove. I know the saying that speed kills; speed translates to power. I do believe that, based on firsthand experience, but I do believe Mark was naturally the harder puncher in the amateurs and, with the extra seven pounds over Leonard, he would have to be favored in this category. EDGE: BRELAND
Leonard is known for being a boxer but the truth is he fought like a predator, at times, stalking his opponents and going for the kill. Breland used every inch of the ring with his tall frame and long reach. Both Leonard and Breland were masters of using and utilizing every square inch of the ring in the amateurs. EGDE: EVEN
Boxing fans like to talk about fantasy matchups like Mike Tyson versus Muhammad Ali, and many others, but if you put this fight together between a ’76 Leonard versus an ’84 Breland, it would sell out Madison Square Garden faster than any fight that could be made in boxing today! Take that to the bank. They were superstars in the amateurs and Breland was the only amateur to ever be featured on the cover of THE RING magazine!
After re-watching a lot of amateur footage on both fighters over the last few days, I visualize Leonard stalking Breland, trying to close the distance between the two and, while not pretty, at times, Breland could move around the ring and be the matador to Leonard’s calculated bull-like attack. I think both fighters would get rocked. Leonard catching Breland on the end of a left hook that would look even more dramatic for the fans, due to Breland’s style of pulling out and Breland rocking Leonard with a hard right hand down the middle, as Leonard slipped past Breland’s jab.
One thing to consider is if Leonard could stick to his own strategy and not get caught up in going for a KO against the taller and bigger Breland. Make no mistake about it, they called Leonard “Sugar” but he was a blood man, a real finisher! On the flip side of the coin, one thing about Mark Breland: He was as cool as the other side of a pillow in the amateurs.
I imagine the fight would be an amazing display of boxing and power punching on display bringing the crowd to its feet. I see the fight going the distance. In my humble opinion, I see Mark Breland edging out Ray Leonard in a VERY close bout. Can anyone say rematch?