Legends of Yesteryear (part 2 of 10) :Marvin Hagler
By Daniel Ciminera: Marvin Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey, 1954 at a time of extreme social deprivation. He will have had to contend with extreme poverty, poor housing, high unemployment and high crime rates, coupled with police brutality and hatred from the the diminishing Irish/Italian white community which eventually led to the Newark Riots in 1967 when Hagler’s own home as destroyed and forced a move to Brockton, Massachusetts. All of these things probably contributed to the hard character of Hagler the dedicated athlete and electrifying fighter most of us agree, was one of the greats of all time.
Shortly after the move to Brockton, Hagler found himself drawn in by boxing because in his own words, he was “too small to play basketball”. He began training at the Petronelli brothers’ gym in 1969 and within 4 years was crowned the American Athletic Union’s 165lb champion and was named “outstanding boxer of the tournament”.
Despite such a promising amateur career, Hagler was gifted absolutely nothing in his career. Even early on, he found it difficult to get fights and was forced to travel to the great boxing city of Philadelphia on many occasions to fight against fighters in front of hostile away crowds. This, no doubt added to his somewhat stony character and immense mental toughness.
Hagler began his professional career winning 25 of his first 26 bouts and drawing just one against a former Olympic gold medal winner in Ray Seales in 1974 and didn’t incur a professional loss until 1976 when he lost out to the judges cards over 10 rounds twice, against home-town fighters Bobby Watts and Willie Monroe in Philadelphia.
Following these two defeats, Hagler went twenty fights on the trot unbeaten, including vengeful knockout victories against both Watts and Monroe, all the time developing one of the most successful and awkward styles in boxing, though in spite of the fact that he was a physically imposing man with physical conditioning second to nobody, Hagler wasn’t a bully in the ring.
Hagler could be made to look amateurish when forced to chase a fight, swinging wildly and missing a lot, highlighted against Duran and Leonard. Hagler was at his best when his opponent tried to dominate him, setting them up for his devastating right hook with clever jabs while back-pedalling. He even adapted his training to enhance this tactic, running most of his roadwork backwards to simulate his ring work.
Perhaps the awkward style and his ability to switch between southpaw and orthodox was the reason nobody would give him a chance at a world title. Coupled with his decent knockout percentage, it’s hardly surprising he was passed over for so long.
By now, Hagler had built a considerable fan-base and his frustration at being passed over for title fights in favour of inferior fighters was plain for all to see. It was then that he signed with promoter Bob Arum, who pulled strings and got Hagler his first opportunity at the very top, in November 1979 he was given the chance he had been waiting for against world middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo, which turned out to be a classic, with Antuofermo’s aggressive bullying style matching perfectly with Hagler’s own best-when-moving-backwards style. For much of the fifteen rounds, Hagler out-boxed the champion only for it to be controversially announced a draw with Antuofermo retaining his title.
In 1980, between February and May, Hagler fought 3 times, winning comfortably each time, with two coming by second round stoppages. He was then given his second chance, by newly crowned middleweight king, Alan Minter at London’s Wembley Arena. Hagler went all out to make sure there could be no controversial decision this time, and beat Minter bloody over two and a half rounds with the fight being stopped in the third round because of Minter’s cuts. The home crowd were so incensed, they proceeded to pelt the new champion with glasses and bottles at which point Hagler was escorted hurriedly from the ring by a considerable police escort. Hagler has since said of this incident “I believe I’m still the only champion in the world who never received the belt inside the ring once you’ve won the title.” and ” I held that against the English fans for a long time but I felt that also motivated me.”
Marvellous Marvin would not discriminate against opponents in the manner he’d been kept away from the titles, he was a busy champion fighting all pretenders without question making 12 successful defences over the next 6 years including stoppages over Antuofermo and Hamsho. The closest he was run as champion was when Roberto Duran stepped up a weight to challenge him and used a tactic Leonard would later employ in not trying to bully the bigger stronger man. Duran’s tactics almost paid off too, only narrowly losing out to a fifteen round judges decision.
Hagler then went on to suffer the only knock-down of his career against Roldan, getting off the canvas to win by stoppage in the tenth round. He then fought Hamsho again, knocking him out once more and then proved his granite chin yet again in arguably his best fight and one of the greatest fights of all time, against Tommy Hearns.
As I said previously, Marvin Hagler vs Tommy Hearns was undoubtedly one of the greatest boxing matches in history and it is agreed by most that the single greatest first round in a boxing match goes to Hagler v Hearns. Both fighters charged at each other from the first bell with Hagler uncharacteristically steaming forward from the off. With Hagler clearly hurt with a stunning right uppercut from Hearns, it was clear the fight could never go the distance at this pace. The second round was slightly more settled, but just as electric as the first, and it was Hagler’s turn to rock his opponent.
Come round three, Hearns looked to stay on the outside and box Hagler at range using his superior reach, but Hagler marched through Hearns’ punches seemingly unaffected and finished the fight with a right hook which sent Hearns stumbling with his back to Hagler, then as Hearns turned back around, Hagler caught him with a pole axe straight right to the temple followed by another which rocked Hearns against the ropes and put him pretty much to sleep before he hit the canvas. Hearns somehow managed to heroically get back to his feet, but was clearly not capable of continuing.
Finally, after knocking out big puncher John Mugabi, Hagler faced his final opponent Sugar Ray Leonard. Much to the surprise of most people watching, the young Leonard spent the first few rounds dancing around out-boxing the champion effortlessly with Hagler trying to prove he could out-box the youngster “right handed”. Hagler looked sluggish, possibly due to a 13 month absence from the ring, and after round eight or nine, looked spent. Leonard took the fight with a controversial split decision after 12 rounds.
In my opinion, Leonard did win the fight, by a clear margin, but there was a general feeling that Hagler had landed the harder, more effective shots during the fight with one writer claiming Leonard had “stolen rounds with flashy looking flurries” despite Hagler having been the aggressor.
This is a view Hagler agreed with saying “Even though the outcome wasn’t the way it should have been, publicly I still feel in my heart I won the Sugar Ray Leonard fight.”
Unable to accept the loss, he retired, citing dirty boxing politics as the reason. However, unlike so often when boxers are forced to retire after being brought down to earth with an almighty thud, Hagler retired on top and with the following sentiment…
“People still look at me as the champion and that’s very important to me.”