Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a true boxing great in an era of giants

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a true boxing great in an era of giants
Roberto Duran and Marvelous Marvin Hagler fight for the WBA, WBC and IBF middleweight titles on 10 November 1983 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Hagler won the fight in 15 rounds in an unanimous decision. (Photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

Marvelous Marvin Hagler died at the age of 66 at the weekend. His name is synonymous with an era of boxing in the middleweight division that eclipsed the heavyweights for most of the 1980s.

Marvin Hagler knew when to quit. That sounds like sacrilege in a sport where quitting is frowned upon. But Hagler, the former undisputed middleweight champion, walked away from the sport at the top. 

Marvin Hagler poses at the Mercedes Benz Building prior to the 2020 Laureus World Sports Awards on 16 February 2020 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo: Simon Hofmann/Getty Images for Laureus)

After losing a split points decision to Sugar Ray Leonard in April 1987, a decision Hagler believed (not unreasonably) was incorrect, he quit the sport after a year of inactivity. 

Hagler had not lost a fight for nearly 11 years when he took on Leonard at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, but Leonard, despite stepping up to middleweight for the first time, and after two years off due to a detached retina, used his hand speed and movement effectively. His style was more flamboyant and caught the eye, although Hagler landed some effective punches too. 

It was a close fight and as champion, Hagler believed he’d done enough to retain the title because quite simply Leonard had not done enough to take it away from him. The judges viewed it differently.

The Leonard defeat stung and the only fight that would lure Hagler into the ring again was a rematch with Leonard. The call never came.

“I feel in my heart I’m still the champ,” Hagler said after that fight. “I really hate the fact that they took it from me, and gave it to, of all people, Sugar Ray Leonard.” 

Wilford Scypion and Marvin Hagler fight for the WBA, WBC and IBF Middleweight titles on 27 May 1983 at the Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. Hagler won the fight with a fourth-round knockout. (Photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

Many thought it would only be a matter of time before Hagler succumbed to other huge money offers thrown his way. After spending the 1970s as a brutal up-and-coming fighter out of Brockton, Massachusetts, Hagler became a bona fide box office hit in the 1980s. 

But he was never lured back into the ring and maintained his legacy and his health. He spent the last 13 years working with the Laureus Foundation helping children eradicate the scourge of “bullyism”, as he called it. 

“I still go around and help kids in poverty-stricken areas through boxing,” Hagler told me at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco in 2019. 

John Mugabi and Marvin Hagler fight for the WBA, WBC and IBF middleweight titles on 10 March 10, 1986 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

“What I look out for is where kids are being bullied in school. And not just in America, but all around the world. I encountered this in Naples recently too. It’s really sad to see the effect it has on kids. 

“I’m not advocating that kids should go and whack the bullies in return, but I’m teaching them some boxing skills to give them confidence. When they have that confidence, they can front up to the bully and make him back down because he will have cowardice in him. 

“It all starts young and in my opinion your best defence is a good offence. Learning boxing or any kind of self-defence is important for kids and their self-confidence. 

Marvin Hagler celebrates after defeating Roberto Duran for the WBA, WBC and IBF Middleweight titles on 10 November 1983 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hagler won the fight in 15 rounds on a unanimous decision. (Photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

“I was bullied as a kid and I remember that feeling of helplessness. I was just lucky that I went into the gym and found a trainer who told me not to take boxing out into the street and use it negatively.” 

The Four Kings

Hagler’s name will always stand for excellence, courage, skill and greatness because he fought in an era of some of the sport’s true greats and rose to the top.

Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Leonard are almost always mentioned in the same sentence as Hagler. The quartet became known as the “Four Kings” and staged some of the biggest and certainly best fights of the 1980s. 

Marvin Hagler in London for his middleweight title fight against Britain’s Alan Minter in 1980. (Photo: Central Press / Getty Images)

Hagler beat Duran in a tough points decision, then he massacred Hearns in 1985 in the most sensational three-round thriller in Las Vegas. It was eight minutes of pure boxing mayhem in a bout that was named fight of the year, and dubbed “The War” by promoter Bob Arum. 

It should’ve happened two years earlier, but Hearns broke his pinky finger in training and the bout was called off. It angered Hagler, who said, “I’d cut off my little finger for $2-million”, which was the agreed purse. 

When they finally did meet, it was as if the anger of that two-year wait and taunts poured out in a blur of punches. From the first bell, tactics were discarded and it became an eight-minute brawl that enhanced Hagler’s reputation as he wore some fearsome punches in the early exchanges before finishing Hearns.

“My mind was so focused that this was war. His punches didn’t even faze me. I wanted him to hit me,” Hagler told CBS Sports in 2015. “I saw the look on his face when I took his best shot. You don’t have time to think. You have to react. 

“The fight had so much feeling, so many emotions. I felt such intensity. If he got up I probably would have tried to kill him. Even today when we talk about that fight, Tommy still says he thinks we should do that again. And I say, ‘Why? Because you don’t remember the first time I knocked you out?’ 

“When I finished with Tommy he’s never been the same. Same with Leonard. You gotta kill Leonard to beat him. But no one is the same after I fought them – Hearns, Duran, Leonard. All of them.” 

Marvin Hagler during his fight with Alan Minter which was stopped in the third round due to Minter’s injuries, 27 September 1980. (Photo: Keystone / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

The rising 

Like all great boxers, Hagler rose from poverty to the pinnacle of the sport. He was a rare fighter who was equally comfortable fighting as a southpaw or orthodox. His bald head, brooding demeanour and extreme physical conditioning were traits that never wavered in his superb career. 

He spent his early years in Newark, New Jersey, but during the 1967 race riots, in which 26 people died, the family’s apartment was destroyed and Hagler’s mother moved the family to Brockton in Massachusetts. It was the home of heavyweight great Rocky Marciano. 

In 1969, he found a gym owned by brothers Pat and Goody Petronelli and fell in love with boxing. They became his trainers and managers, and he embarked on his remarkable career. 

American middleweight boxer Marvin Hagler with arms raised in jubilation after his 1980 fight with Alan Minter was stopped in the third round in his favour. (Photo: Jim Bennett / Evening Standard / Hulton Archive / Getty Images)

In his early days Hagler worked part-time for the Petronellis’ construction firm, earning a reported $3 an hour and only eating when necessary. 

He trained for his fights with monk-like dedication in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where he used to run on steep sand dunes to build his stamina. He referred to those sessions as “jail”. 

Laureus Academy member Marvin Hagler attends the 2018 Laureus World Sports Awards at Salle des Etoiles, Sporting Monte-Carlo on 27 February 2018 in Monaco. (Photo: Alexander Koerner / Getty Images for Laureus)

Hagler was the undisputed world middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987. He retired with a career record of 62 wins, three losses and two draws, with 52 wins by knockout. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Hagler earned his first shot at the undisputed middleweight crown in November 1979, but earned a controversial draw with champion Vito Antuofermo. Ten months later, in September 1980, he beat the new champion, Britain’s Alan Minter, in three rounds to win the title, which he held for seven years. 

Hagler made 12 successful title defences.  Among his victims were Antuofermo, Mustafa Hamsho, Duran, Juan Roldán, John Mugabi and Hearns. 

Marvin Hagler celebrates after he defeated John Mugabi for the WBA, WBC and IBF Middleweight titles on 10 March 1986 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo: Focus on Sport / Getty Images)

Following his retirement, he moved to Italy and began a career in Italian action films. He split his time between Italy and the US.

Hagler’s wife, Kay G Hagler, announced his death on the Marvelous Marvin Hagler Fan Club Facebook page. She said he had died unexpectedly at his home in New Hampshire. DM


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