A Boxing Memory: Marvelous Marvin Hagler
“I am sorry to make a very sad announcement. Today unfortunately my beloved husband Marvelous Marvin passed away unexpectedly at his home here in New Hampshire.” When these sad words were said in March 2021, the boxing world mourned the loss of a true great. Hagler was only 66 when he fought his last fight.
Legend is thrown around far too often. Very few fighters deserve that label, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, was one such fighter. Probably the finest middleweight of all time, trust me, Hagler was some fighter.
Before that final painful last dance in 1987 to his great nemesis, Hagler had cleaned out his entire division. After he demolished Thomas Hearns in 1985 on that unforgettable night, Hagler could have retired and ended his career on an unimaginable high. In just eight memorable, career-defining minutes, Hagler had finally got what he always wanted. Respect and acceptance. But it had been a long-time coming.
Hagler was born in 1954 in Newark, New Jersey. When the riots came in 1967 and the city burned a reported 26 people had lost their lives. Two years later there was more of the same, and the family relocated to Brockton, Massachusetts.
Hagler was 15 when he first got a taste for boxing and after 52 amateur fights, winning 50, he turned professional in 1973. Hagler walked into the gym of Pat and Goody Petronelli and stayed there. He remained loyal throughout his long career despite the thoughts of many that his career would be better served elsewhere.
Joe Frazier once said to Hagler: ‘There were three things going against me. One, I was black. Two, I was a southpaw, and three, I was good.’ Boxing has many a prejudice.
A survivor of the infamous Philly Wars. Make no mistake, survival is what it was. There were far easier ways to learn your craft. Hagler earned his stripes the hard way. The old-fashioned way. There were early setbacks, all avenged, but Hagler despite being a top-ranked contender for many years, still fought in the shadows until he could be avoided no longer.
The chance at world honours finally came in 1979, but despite many thinking he did more than enough to win, Vito Antuofermo kept his title on a bitterly disputed draw.
Britain’s Alan Minter relieved Antuofermo of his title, and Hagler came to London in 1980 to challenge Minter for his title. The fists of Hagler cut Minter’s face to pieces, and after three bloody rounds, Hagler had finally been crowned the world middleweight champion. But the new champion was denied his moment, drunken hooligans with a rancid smell of racism in the air threw bottles into the ring. Hagler had to flee the ring to avoid the flying debris. A night of shame for British boxing.
Hagler would defend his title twelve times, including a near perfection of a performance against Tony Sibson in 1983. Sibson met Hagler on perhaps his finest ever night, a fighter at the peak of his powers.
Despite not losing a fight since 1976, Hagler was still struggling to get the respect and the financial rewards he felt he deserved. The big fights with a true equal, failed to materialise, especially one with Sugar Ray Leonard. A fight with Leonard was the fight he always craved. There was always a touch of resentment from Hagler towards the former Olympic champion. But fate and the many retirements of Leonard had seemingly resulted in it being a case of the fight that got away. Hagler eventually landed a major fight with Roberto Duran and nearly blew it. Only a late rally saved him in a fight that failed to convince in many ways.
But in 1985, everything changed. Thomas Hearns was coming off a stunning demolition of Duran and challenged Hagler in one of the most anticipated fights of that incredible era. Hagler and Hearns went to war in Las Vegas in a truly breathtaking fight. The opening round is one of the greatest rounds in boxing history. Three minutes of absolute mayhem as one commentator described it. The fight with Hearns gave Hagler what he needed. But it came too late in his career, Hagler deserved better.
A tougher than expected fight with John Mugabi in 1986 showed clear signs of a fighter slipping to mere normality. A great fighter suddenly became a good one. And a beatable one.
Leonard was ringside when Hagler struggled with Mugabi, and saw enough signs of decay to announce that he would end his latest hiatus, and said he wanted to finally share a ring with Hagler. The Marvelous one made him wait, but Hagler was always unlikely to resist the call.
Leonard beat Hagler via split-decision in 1987, and Hagler left the sport angry and frustrated, he felt he beat Leonard, many agreed. There was always a mistrust with the Las Vegas judging. They denied him against Antuofermo, they tried in his fight with Roberto Duran in 1983, and Hagler felt they did again against Leonard. The chip on his shoulder never left him. Probably with good reason.
Hagler found life after Leonard hard. A defeat that ran deep, convinced he was robbed, many parts of his life fell apart. But eventually, Hagler found his peace.
A final resume of 62-3-2 fails to tell the whole story. Hagler stayed hungry despite his success and frustrations with a sport that often failed him. The spartan existence he lived, served him well. The destruct and destroy mantra the perfect fit.
When retirement finally came after the bitterly disputed loss to Leonard, it was final. While his bitter rival tried to cling on to what had long since gone, Hagler just let the past go. History will be kind to Hagler, a formidable fighter at his peak, and practically an unbeatable one.
“If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That’s all I am. I live it.”