Saturday, May 24, 2014

Marvin Hagler: The Marvelous One

By Peter Silkov

Marvin Hagler was one of the outstanding world champions of the 1980s, engaging in some of the era’s most famous and exciting contests. Yet, Hagler always felt that he didn’t receive the necessary respect due to him after he won the world title. His career ended amid controversy and bitterness, after he lost his world middleweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard, and never fought again.

At his best, Hagler was a brilliant box-fighter, who could adjust his style according to his opponent. He had speed, cleverness, a good punch, and one of the best chins ever seen in the division. He was also a southpaw who was adapt at switch hitting, and able to box as either a southpaw or orthodox fighter. Hagler was a boxer who made his southpaw jab a weapon and during his career, his razor-like jab would batter and cut up many.

Marvin Hagler turned professional in 1973, at the age of 19 years old, managed and trained by Goody and Pat Petronelli, and almost from the start, took an old school route to the top, fighting tough opposition, often in their own back yards. Hagler made a number of trips to the renowned fighting city of Philadelphia in the early years of his career, facing fighters such as Bobby Watts, Willie Monroe, Eugene Hart and Bennie Briscoe.  Hagler’s first professional career defeat came in Philadelphia, on January 13, 1976, when he was out-pointed over 10 rounds by the tricky Bobby ’Boogaloo’ Watts.  This was widely viewed as a bad decision against Hagler and would prove to be the first of several controversial decisions that Hagler would receive in his boxing career. Two months later, Hagler was defeated again in Philadelphia, this time via a fair decision, to the slick Willie Monroe.  

These setbacks proved to be the making of Hagler as a fighter; filling him with an even greater desire and urgency to succeed in the ring. He gained revenge over Monroe twice in 1977, knocking him out in the 12th round on February 15th and then stopping him in 2 rounds on August 23rd.  Hagler would avenge his controversial loss to Bobby Watts with a 2nd round stoppage on April 19, 1980. 

Hagler finally got a shot at the World middleweight title on November 30, 1979, but was held to a controversial draw by champion Vito Antuofermo, despite most people feeling he had done enough to win the title. Hagler had to wait ten months until he got another shot at the world title, eventually facing Alan Minter (who had won the title from Antuofermo) in London on September 27, 1980.  Minter was destroyed in 3 rounds, in what was one of the most clinical and brutal dethronements of a world champion in recent memory. Hagler’s victory celebrations were marred by the crowd who threw bottles and cups at the end of the fight, after Minter had been stopped in the 3rd round, a dazed and bloody wreck. 

Hagler’s reign was lengthy and dominating, he continued to develop and improve while world champion.  In his first defence of his middleweight crown, Hagler stopped the strong and awkward (and previously unbeaten) Fulgencio Obelmejias in 8 rounds on January 17, 1981, in his second world title defence Hagler gained his revenge over Vito Antuofermo with a bloody 4th round stoppage.  Hagler ended 1981 with his 3rd defence, stopping the rock-tough Mustapha Hamsho on cuts, after 11 brutal rounds. 

Hagler really entered into his athletic peak in 1982, with his performances reaching a clinical efficiency that fully lived up to his by now almost familiar motto of ‘Destruct and destroy’.  On March 7, 1982, Hagler wiped out heavy punching William ‘Caveman’ Lee in the first round of their fight and then a few weeks later had his name legally changed in court to Marvelous Marvin Hagler, after ABC-TV refused to introduce him as Marvelous Marvin Hagler before the Lee fight. Seven months later, Hagler granted Obelmejias a second shot at his title, and dispatched him this time in the 5th round. 1983 saw Hagler gaining recognition as one of the finest world champions, pound-for-pound in boxing.  ‘Marvelous’ started the year by dominating and stopping England’s bull-like Tony Sibson in 6 rounds on February 11th, then impressively knocking out Wilfred Scypion in 4 rounds in June. 

After beating Scypion, Hagler declared that he was still not getting the recognition due to him. What Marvelous Marvin really needed was a ‘super fight’ against a fighter with a similarly high profile and boxing ability, and on November 10, 1983, Hagler got his wish when he faced the already ‘legendary’ Roberto Duran in what was the first true ‘Superfight’ of Hagler’s career. Duran entered the match with Hagler after reigniting his career by winning the WBA world light-middleweight title from Davey Moore five months earlier. However, despite his win over Moore, few gave Duran a chance against Hagler, reasoning that he was a 32-year-old blown up lightweight, taking on one of the best fighters pound-for-pound in the world. Hagler was expected by most to stop Duran at sometime in their contest, but instead Duran gave Hagler one of the toughest fights of his career, and became the first of Hagler’s world title challengers to take him the distance. Although Hagler emerged victorious from his fight with Duran, it was only via a close points win, and caused some to question his ability and place amongst the elite champions.  With hindsight, Hagler’s win over Duran is more impressive than it seemed to be at the time, as Duran went on to be a force in boxing for almost two more decades and would win the World middleweight title from Iran Barkley in 1989, at the age of 37 years-old.

Despite the mixed reactions to his performance against Duran, the end of 1983 saw Hagler voted as ’Fighter of the year’ by the Ring magazine.  In his next defence of his world title, on March 30, 1984, against Argentine tough guy Juan Domingo Roldan, Hagler was put on the canvas for the first and only time of his career in the opening round, for a flash knockdown. Hagler came back from this annoyance to stop the strong Roldan in the 10th round. Seven months later, Hagler gave Mustafa Hamsho a second shot at his crown, and knocked him out in the 3rd round.

On April 15, 1985 Hagler got the second super-fight of his career, when he took on Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns, in what turned out to be one of the most exciting and explosive fights of modern times; a three round war that is still talked about fondly today. After his knockout of ‘The Hitman,’  Hagler seemed to have finally earned his ‘Marvelous’ name, and this was illustrated by him being voted ‘Fighter of the year‘ once more by Ring magazine, even though he did not fight again in 1985 after the Hearns fight.  Hagler did not enter the ring again for eleven months, and then when he did, it was against ’The Beast’ John Mugubi, who came closest of all Hagler’s world title challengers, so far, to dethroning him.  Although Hagler’s durability and experience finally saw him outlast and overcome Mugubi in 11 savage rounds, there were signs in this fight that ’Marvelous’ Marvin was slowing down.
It was just this vulnerability against Mugubi, which acted as the catalyst to tempt Sugar Ray Leonard out of retirement, to challenge Hagler in one of the biggest and most controversial fights of the 1980s.  Leonard had only fought once in five years, due to his eye problems, and had not fought at all since an aborted comeback (which was supposed to lead to a showdown with Hagler) ended after one fight, when Leonard was floored in his comeback win by Kevin Howard in 1984. Despite getting a larger purse for the fight than Leonard, Hagler made a number of concessions for the fight, including wearing 10 oz gloves, fighting 12 rounds rather than 15, and fighting in a 20-foot ring.  In the match, Leonard shocked everyone, including Hagler, by showing hardly any ring rust and out-boxing and frustrating a sluggish looking Hagler for much of the match.  When the decision was announced in favour of Leonard there was controversy amongst some who believed that Hagler’s more aggressive work should have gained him the decision, but Leonard’s out-boxing of Hagler in many of the rounds, especially early on, has sometimes seemingly been forgotten or overlooked.   

Marvin Hagler never fought again and still believes today that he was unjustly robbed of his World middleweight championship against Sugar Ray Leonard. Yet, his reputation has not been harmed by the loss to Leonard, with many recognising that the Hagler who fought Leonard was no longer the Hagler of the early to mid 1980s, when he was at his peak.  Marvelous Marvin Hagler is often named today as one of the all time great middleweight champions.  His final record was 62(52koes)-3-2.

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