The shaven-headed Marvin Hagler cut an imposing figure in the ring and his fearsome appearance was not deceiving. Hagler could fight with the best of them and ruled imperiously over the middleweight division for most of the 1980s. But the switch-hitter was always left with a raging sense of injustice due to several controversial events that were beyond his control.
Born in Newark on May 23, 1952, Hagler moved with his family to Brockton, Massachusetts, after the race riots that took place in New Jersey in 1967. He turned professional in 1973 and immediately impressed, winning and drawing with former Olympic champion Sugar Ray Seales in only his second year as a pro.
Close points losses to Willie “The Worm” Monroe and Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts did not halt Hagler’s progress and he later avenged them both with conclusive knockouts, as well as scoring fine wins over tough contenders like Kevin Finnegan and Bennie Briscoe.
Yet when Hagler’s chance finally came against Vito Antuofermo in November 1979, he was denied when the fight was declared a 15-round draw. He gained a second shot in November 1980 and took full advantage, cutting Alan Minter to ribbons in three bloody rounds. But the fight was marred by crowd trouble and the victorious Hagler was never given the chance to celebrate his win. He bitterly regretted this in years to come.
The “Marvelous One” reaped his revenge on the middleweight division and no-one could stop him. He made 10 defences over the next four years with only the great Roberto Duran lasting the distance in November 1983.
The fight that would define Hagler came next against the tall and explosive Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns and their thrilling slugfest would soon be accepted as the greatest short fight of the modern era. Hagler took Hearns’ mighty bombs and shrugged off two nasty cuts before flattening “The Hitman” in the third round in Las Vegas in April 1985.
By the time Hagler bombed out Ugandan puncher John Mugabi in March 1986, the signs of wear were starting to show, but he still seemed to have the measure of the comebacking Sugar Ray Leonard who had been thrust into temporary retirement due to an eye injury.
Yet Leonard out-psyched the champion, using his speed and skill to befuddle the strangely lethargic Hagler and defy the experts by winning controversially on points in their grudge match in Las Vegas in April 1987. Hagler could not believe the judges’ decision and bitterly contests the split verdict to this day. He quit boxing and vowed never to return.
Unlike most of his contemporaries, Hagler has kept to his promise and - almost uniquely - his legend remains untarnished. He is widely-regarded as one of the greatest middleweights and fighters in boxing history.
He now lives in Italy where he has gained notoriety as an actor.
Marvin Hagler: Fights 67, Wins 62 Losses 3 Draws 2 (Knockouts 52).
By Mark G. Butcher