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The Life and Times of The Great “Marvellous Marvin Hagler”

Tracey Langley

Tracey lives in England, UK. She travels to the big fight nights in Las Vegas and has been attending Floyd Mayweather fights for the best part of 20 years – that’s a lot of air miles. She watches boxing from the United States live and she follows the UK Scene.

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“Marvellous” Marvin Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey on the 23rd May 1954. He is a former American professional boxer who competed from 1973 to 1987 in the Middleweight division. Marvin reigned as the Undisputed Middleweight Champion from 1980 to 1987 where he made 12 defences of that title and currently holds the highest knockout percentage of all undisputed middleweight champions at 78% while also holding the second-longest unified championship reign in boxing history at 12 consecutive defences. At six years and seven months his reign as undisputed Middleweight Champion is the second longest of the last century, just behind Tony Zale whose reign included several years of inactivity during his service in World War II.

In 1982 Marvin got annoyed that network announcers often never referred to him by his nickname “Marvelous” so Hagler legally changed his name to “Marvelous Marvin Hagler”.

Marvin is an inductee of the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing Illustrated named him as Fighter of the Decade (1980s) and he was twice named Fight of the Year by The Ring Magazine and the Boxers Writers Association of America in 2001 and 2004. The Ring Magazine named him the fourth greatest middleweight of all time and in 2002 named him the 17th greatest fighter of the past 80 years. The International Boxing Research Organization rates Hagler as the 6th greatest middleweight of all time. Many fans, analysts and boxing writers consider Hagler to have one of the most durable chins in boxing history.

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Marvin Hagler

In Marvin’s early life he spent his early years in Newark, New Jersey’s Central Ward but following the Newark riots between 12th and 17th July 1987 where 28 people were killed and $1.1 million in property damage was caused including the destruction of the Hagler’s tenement, his family moved to Brockton, Massachusetts.

Marvin took up the sport of boxing in 1969 after being roughed up on the street by a local boxer, one whom he later defeated with his friends watching. The next day and with the determination to become a boxer Marvin walked into a gym owned by brothers Pat and Goody Patronelli who became his trainers and managers. In 1973 Marvin won the National AAU 165-pound title after defeating a US Marine Terry Dobbs from Atlanta, GA. Hagler completed his amateur career with a 55-1 record.

In his early career as a professional Hagler was a top-ranked middleweight boxer for many years before he fought for the title. He struggled to find high-profile opponents wiling to face him in his early years. Joe Frazier told Hagler “you have three strikes against you, you’re black, you’re a southpaw and you’re good”. Marvin often had to travel to his opponent’s hometowns to get the fights. His first break came when he was offered at two weeks-notice a chance against Willie “the Worm” Monroe who was being trained by Frazier. The fight was close and Hagler lost the decision, so Monroe gave him a rematch. In their rematch Hagler knocked out Monroe in 12 rounds, a trilogy was had and Hagler defeated Monroe in just two rounds.

Boston promoter Rip Valenti took an interest in Marvin Hagler and he began bringing in top ranked opponents for Hagler to face. Marvin fought the 1972 Olympic gold medallist Sugar Ray Seales, Hagler won the first fight, the second was a draw and Hagler knocked out Seales in the third fight.

Marvin Hagler

Mike Colbert who was ranked number 1 was knocked out in the twelfth round and also had his jaw broken by Hagler. Briton Kevin Finnegan was stopped in eight and Finnegan needed 40 stitches in his face!!

He dropped a controversial decision to Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts but knocked out Watts in two rounds in a rematch. Hagler won a ten-round decision over “Bad” Bennie Briscoe and it was at that point promoter Bob Arum took noticed and signed him.

Marvin Hagler’s first title shot came in November 1979 where he fought World Middleweight Champion Vito Antuofermo at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. After fifteen rounds most people thought that Hagler had won. Hagler claimed the referee said he won but the referee denied saying that. Hagler claimed he and many others were surprised when the decision was announced as a draw and Antuofermo retained his title. This added to Hagler’s frustrations, he had the boxing skills and killer instinct to knock Vito out but instead he played it safe and it cost him the title.

Antuofermo lost his title to British boxer Alan Minter who then gave Marvin his second title shot. He made the trip across the pond to Wembley Arena to face Minter and the tense atmosphere was stoked further when Minter was quoted as saying that “no black man is going to take my title”. Minter would later insist he meant “that black man”. Hagler took command and his slashing punches soon opened-up the cut-proned Minter and with Hagler dominating the action, referee Carlos Berrocal halted the fight during the third round to have the four glaring cuts on Minter’s face examined. Minter’s manager Doug Bidwell almost immediately conceded defeat. Once the referee waved the bout off a riot broke out among the spectators. Clive Gammon of Sports Illustrated described the scene as “a horrifying ululation of howls and boos”. Marvin and his trainers had to be escorted to their locker room by a group of policemen while enduring a steady rain of beer bottles and glasses. After 7 years and 50 fights Marvin Hagler was the World Middleweight Champion.

Hagler proved to be a busy world champion, he defeated world champion Fulgencio Obelmejias of Venezuela by a knock-out in eight rounds and then former world champion Antuofermo in a rematch by TKO in four rounds. Both matches were fought at the Boston Garden near Marvin’s hometown, endearing him to Boston fight fans. Syrian born Mustafa Harnsho who won his shot in an eliminator with Wilfred Benitez and would later defeat future world champion Bobby Czyz became Hagler’s next challenger, he put up a lot of resistance but was finally beaten in 11 tough rounds. Michigan fighter William “Caveman” Lee lasted only one round and in a rematch in Italy Obelmejias lasted 5 rounds. British champion (and mutual Alan Minter conqueror) Tony Sibson followed in Hagler’s ever-growing list of unsuccessful challengers. Sibson provided one of the most entertaining (to this point) fights of Marvelous Marvin’s career but he ultimately fell short lasting six rounds. Next up came Wilford Scypion who only lasted until the fourth round. By then Hagler was a staple on HBO, the Pay Per View of it’s time.

Hagler’s next fight that followed was against the great Roberto Duran. Duran was the first challenger to last the distance with Hagler in a world championship bout. Duran was the WBA Light Middleweight Champion and he went up in weight to challenge for Hagler’s middleweight crown. Hagler won a unanimous 15 round decision although after 13 rounds Duran was ahead by one point on two scorecards and even on the third Hagler with his left eye swollen and cut, came on strong in the last two rounds to win the fight.

Sugar Ray Leonard vs Marvin Hagler

Leonard v Hagler is still a subject of controversy today.

There were more title defences with Juan Roldan of Argentina who became the only man to be credited with a knockdown of Marvin, scoring one knockdown seconds into the fight which was clearly a slip to anyone who saw it. Marvin protested bitterly that he had been pulled/pushed to the canvas. Marvin cut Roldan’s left eye then brutalized him over ten rounds and stopping him in the middle of round ten. Sugar Ray Leonard was ringside calling the fight with HBO analyst Barry Tompkins. He noted between rounds to Tompkins that Hagler looked older and slower. “Marvin might finally be slowing down Barry” Leonard remarked. Many people believe this is the fight that gave Sugar Ray Leonard the idea that he could actually win a fight with the aging Hagler. Hamsho was given a rematch but the Syrian was again TKO’d in only three rounds. Hamsho angered Hagler with a trio of intentional headbutts in the second round and a fourth one early in the third round, goading the normally patient and cautious Hagler into a full out attack that left Hamsho battered and defenceless in a matter of seconds.

On the 15th April 1985 Marvin Hagler fought Thomas Hearns, they met in what was billed as “The Fight” but later it would become known as “The War”. Round one and three minutes of blistering violence, within the first fifteen seconds Hearns landed his best punch, a straight right onto Hagler’s chin. The champ stepped back and then came forward, at this point Hagler began to walk through Hearn’s power punches. In round two Hagler was cut on his head from an unintentional elbow or headbutt and despite the blood the champion continued to push the fight forward. Hearns was fighting hurt as well having suffered a broken right hand in the last minute of the first round. The pace continued as before but now Hearns was backing up and trying to move around the ring. Hearn’s trainer Emanuel Steward would later reveal that Hearn’s had a leg massage much to his dismay before the fight and Hearn’s legs by the end of the round were weakening. Into round three and the pace slowed until referee Richard Steele called a time out to have the ringside doctor examine the cut on Hagler’s head. The crowd were on their feet for the next ten seconds before the doctor allowed the fight to continue. Hagler charged at the much taller Hearn’s drilling in an overhand right behind Hearn’s ear, Hearn’s legs wobbled and Hagler was on him quickly. Hearn’s topples to the canvas and rising at the count of eight but then collapses into referee Steele’s arms and the fight was halted. The fight only lasted eight minutes and one second but it was rightly regarded as a classic. Commentator Al Michaels uttered the now-immortal line “It didn’t go very far but it was a beauty!”. The fight was named “Fight of the Year” by The Ring.

Next up to face Marvin was Olympic silver medallist John Mugabi of Uganda who was 25-0 with 25 knockouts and was ranked the number one contender by all three major bodies. The fight took place on the 10th Match 1986 as Hagler had hurt his back and could not fight on the first date booked in 1985. Hagler stopped Mugabi in the eleventh round of a brutal fight. Many ringside observers including analyst Gil Clancy noticed that Hagler was showing signs of advanced ring wear and age. He was much slower of hand and foot and seemed much easier to hit. He had also completely morphed his ring style from a slick, quick fisted, boxer/puncher to a strictly flat-footed, stalking, slugger to compensate for his loss of speed and reflexes. Hagler was now said to be seriously considering retirement and his promoter Bob Arum was quoted as saying he was expecting Hagler to retire in the face of being challenged by Sugar Ray Leonard.

Hagler’s next challenger was Sugar Ray Leonard who was returning to the ring after a three-year retirement (having fought just once in the previous five years). During the pre-fight negotiations, in return for granting Hagler a larger share of the purse, Leonard obtained several conditions which would be crucial to his strategy. A 22 x 22 ft ring instead of a smaller ring. 10-ounce gloves instead of 8-ounce gloves and the fight was to be over 12 rounds instead of the 15 rounds favoured by Hagler. Leonard was two years younger, had half as many fights and unbeknown to Hagler had engaged in several “real” fights behind closed doors (i.e. gloves, rounds, a referee, judges and no head gear) in order to shake off his ring rust. The fight took place at Ceasars Palace in Las Vegas on the 6th April 1987. Hagler was the clear betting favourite and after a dominant six and a half years as the reigning undisputed middleweight champion of the world, having knocked out all opponents as champion except in winning a very close unanimous decision over 15 rounds against Roberto Duran. It was Leonard’s first fight at middleweight (160 lbs weight limit). The fight was to be for Hagler’s WBC, lineal and Ring middleweight titles only as the WBA stripped Hagler of their belt for choosing to face Leonard instead of the WBA mandatory challenger Herol Graham. The IBF while keeping Hagler as their champion, refused to sanction his fight against Leonard and said that the IBF middleweight title would be declared vacant if Hagler lost to Leonard.

Hagler, a natural southpaw opened the fight boxing out of an orthodox stance and after the quick and slick Leonard won the first two rounds on all three scorecards Hagler started the third round as a southpaw. Hagler did much better then although Leonard’s superior speed and quick flurries kept him in the fight but by the fifth Leonard who was moving a lot began to fire and Hagler started to get closer. As he tired Leonard began to clinch with more frequency and the referee Richard Steele gave him over 30 warnings for holding however, never deducted a point. Hagler buckled Leonard’s knees with a right uppercut near the end of the round which finished with Leonard on the ropes. Hagler continued to score effectively in round six and Leonard, having slowed down was obliged to fight more and run less. Into rounds seven and eight and Hagler’s southpaw jab was landing solidly and Leonard’s counter flurries were less frequent. Round nine was the most exciting round of the fight where Hagler hurt Leonard with a left cross and pinned him in a corner. Leonard was in trouble and then furiously tried to fight his wayout of the corner. The action see-sawed back and forth for the rest of the round with each man having his moments. Round ten was calmer even as Hagler continued to press forward and Leonard slowly got a second wind as the pace slowed after the furious action of the previous round. It was clear that Leonard was tiring but despite this he boxed well in the eleventh round and every time Hagler scored, Leonard came back with something flashier if not as effective. Into the final round and Hagler continued to chase Leonard. He hit Leonard with a big left hand and backed him into a corner, Leonard responded with a flurry and danced away with Hagler in pursuit. The fight ended with Hagler and Leonard exchanging along the ropes and Hagler began dancing in celebration of his performance while Leonard alternatively collapsed to the canvas and raised both of his arms in triumph. Leonard threw 629 punches and landed 306 while Hagler threw 792 punches and landed 291.

As the fighters embraced in the ring after the fight, Hagler later said that Leonard had said to him “you beat me man” however, Leonard denied making that statement and claimed he only told Hagler “you’re a great champion”. HBO camera’s and microphones supported Hagler’s version of events.

Leonard was announced as the winner ad new middleweight champion of the world by split decision. The score cards read 118-110, 115-113, 113-115 a result that remains hotly disputed to this day. The Hagler v Leonard fight divides fans, pundits, press and ringside observers arguably more than any other fight in boxing history, with scorecards varying as widely as 117-111 Hagler to 116-110 Leonard and everything in between. The only near universally agreed views about the fight are that Hagler was foolish for starting the fight in an orthodox stance, that Leonard won the first two rounds and that Hagler won the fifth round. Every other round in the fight divides people as to who actually won or if the rounds were even.

Hagler requested a rematch but Leonard chose to retire again (the third of five high-profile retirements announced by Leonard during his professional boxing career) having said he would do so beforehand 14 months after their fight. Hagler retired from boxing in June 1988 declaring that he was “tired of waiting” for Leonard to grant him a rematch. Then just a month after Hagler’s retirement, Leonard announced another boxing comeback to fight the WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde at 168 lbs super middleweight limit. In 1990 Leonard finally offered Hagler the rematch which reportedly would have earned him $15 million dollars but he decined. By then Hagler had settled down into a new life as an actor in Italy and was now uninterested in his boxing life. Hagler said “a while ago, yeah, I wanted him so bad, but I’m over that”. At the 1994 Consumers Electronics Show Hagler and Leonard had a mock rematch by playing against each other in the video game Boxing, Legends of the Ring and claimed that an actual rematch was being planned.

Marvin had a unique training regime in which he would turn up to motels in Cape Cod that had closed for the winter. For his road work he would take to the pavement in army boots declaring running shoes as “sissy shoes”. He would run much of his route backwards to prepare for movements in the boxing ring.

After the loss to Leonard Hagler moved to Italy where he became a well-known star of action films. His roles include a US Marine in the films Indio and Indio 2 and in 1996 he starred alongside Giselle Blondet in Virtual Weapon. Hagler has provided boxing commentary for British television and another foray into the entertainment field includes work in the video game Fight Night Round 3.

Marvin’s brother Robbie Sims is the former middleweight southpaw boxer. Marvin has five children with his first wife Bertha namely, Charelle, Celeste, James, Marvin Jnr and Gentry. Although he owns a home in Bartlett, New Hampshire he currently lives in Milan with his second wife Kay, an Italian woman who he married in May 2000 in Pioltello, Italy.

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