Three years ago, Madison Square Garden rescheduled a New York Knicks-Philadelphia 76ers basketball game from night to day to carry the closed-circuit telecast of the Sugar Ray Leonard-Marvelous Marvin Hagler middleweight championship fight.
"A fight involving Sugar Ray was the only thing big enough to force the Knicks to move," said Garden boxing director Bobby Goodman.
On Feb. 9, six-time world champion Leonard will fight at the Garden for the first time in his career, when he challenges Terry Norris of Sacramento, Calif., for his World Boxing Council super welterweight (154 pounds) title.
"This time, Sugar Ray replaced a salsa dance festival," said Goodman, who completed the deal yesterday with Leonard's attorney-manager, Mike Trainer.
Madison Square Garden gained the fight in active bidding against Caesars World sports director Rich Rose, who offered Atlantic City and Las Vegas as possible sites.
This marks the first time since 1984 that Leonard has fought somewhere other than Las Vegas, and only the second time since 1981 a Leonard match was not staged in Nevada.
In the past six months, Trainer had entertained offers to stage a Leonard match in Australia, Japan, England, Italy, France and even the Soviet Union. But problems with promoters over accommodating American television viewers quashed most of these proposals.
"Ray really wants to fight in the Garden," said Trainer. "He realizes he isn't going to have many more fights and that a lot of great fighters over the years have fought in the Garden ring. He wants to add his name to that list."
Trainer, as head of Victory Promotions Inc., will promote the event in conjunction with Madison Square Garden. The fight will be aired on cable by Showtime. It will not be blacked out in the New York area.
"A lot of people really give Norris a chance of beating him," Goodman said. "It's a competitive match, just like when we matched Evander Holyfield and Michael Dokes here in a heavyweight match [March 1989]. We had almost 14,000 paid, and we figure Leonard should do even better."
For Leonard, 34, going against Norris, 23, will be a dramatic change from his recent skirmishes against no-longer-in-prime ring warriors Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.
As Leonard said recently, "This will be more about myself, testing myself against a younger fighter."