Hagler vs Duran: Redemption & Acceptance

Hagler vs Duran: Redemption & Acceptance

By Dan Carroll

In 1951, a child was born in El Chorrillo, Panama to a Mexican-American soldier and a poor Panamanian woman. After the father abandoned his newborn son, the child and his mother had to scrape by however they could. The child shined shoes, sold newspapers, and even danced in the street for money. His name was Roberto Duran, and one day he would become one of the greatest boxers in the history of the sport.

Three years later, Marvin Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey, the oldest of five kids. Like Duran, Hagler lived with his mother in less-than-ideal circumstances. Hagler and his family moved to Brockton, Massachusetts after their house was destroyed. After losing a street fight to a local boxer, Hagler determined that he would never lose a fight again.

Roberto Duran went pro at the bright young age of 16 and began tearing through opponents en route to winning his first world title in 1972 when he was only 21 against the pride of Scotland Ken Buchanan, albeit in highly controversial circumstances. Duran picked up his first loss by decision later that same year to Esteban De Jesus, which he later avenged, and from 1973 to 1980, Duran went undefeated.

The same year that Duran began his revenge tour, Hagler fought his first professional bout in his hometown high school’s gymnasium. Hagler lost twice during his quest to become a world champion, but both losses were more than questionable and Hagler would later avenge the defeats to Willie Monroe and Bobby Watts. By 1980, Hagler was the unified WBC and WBA world middleweight champion of the world by virtue of a three-round stoppage over Alan Minter on a disappointing night for British boxing in many ways.

From 1980 to 1983, Hagler kept busy defending his titles and would also add the IBF version to his resume along the way, but with opponents that didn’t please the masses. Or Hagler himself. Hagler struggled for acceptance. Duran had kept winning before giving up his world lightweight title and had two historic fights with Sugar Ray Leonard at welterweight. After winning a decision in their classic first encounter, Duran inexplicably quit in the 8th round of their now infamous ‘No Mas’ rematch. and it seemed that Duran’s career might be on a permanent decline. 

Back-to-back losses in 1982 left Duran with few options and a dwindling window of opportunity for his career. But Duran fought on and found redemption in wins over Pipino Cuevas and more so when he obliterated Davey Moore to claim the WBA light-middleweight title on an emotional night in the iconic boxing theatre that is Madison Square Garden.

Hagler, a world champion eager to earn the millions he felt he deserved and have a marquee name on his resume, and Duran, desperate to restore his legacy, realised that a matchup between them would be mutually beneficial. In 1983, Hagler would finally get the money and platform he deserved and Duran had a chance to push ‘No Mas’ further away from public consciousness. 

A combined total of 859 rounds fought between the pair had made both fighters masters of their craft. But Hagler and Duran were not fighting; they were playing chess with their fists. Any time one man seemed to be taking over, the other would land a hard shot to back them up. The fight wasn’t the thriller it promised beforehand, Hagler perhaps showing too much respect to the fighter that was in front of him. Hagler came very close to blowing it, only a strong finish down the championship rounds saved his night. The scores were close, too close for Hagler. 144-142, 146-145 and 144-143. Hagler needed the last round to win the fight.

Hagler’s victory felt bittersweet, however. Although he claimed the decision over Duran, the fight was close and only that late rally saved him. After waiting years for a fight of this magnitude, Hagler had underperformed.

Hagler knocked out his next four opponents, including his famous stoppage of Thomas Hearns in 1985. A fight where all the frustrations came out, and Hagler finally had what he had been chasing all those years in the boxing shadows. Hagler retired after that painful disputed decision loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. 

For Duran, the loss to Hagler signalled the beginning of the end of his prime. In his next fight, he was swiftly knocked out by Tommy Hearns in the second round. Any time it seemed that Duran was down and out, however, he would return once again to the top of the mountain. He fought for another 14 years after the Hagler fight and even claimed a world title again when he beat Iran Barkley in 1989 and he became a four-weight world champion in the process. He finally retired when he was 50 after his 119th professional fight.

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