Almanac Boxing: Vale ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler

New York: Marvin Hagler v Mustafa Hamstro Fight. Madison Square Garden, World Middleweight title. Bettmann Archive [Source: www.insidehook.com]

 

 

The sporting world lost a true champion when ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler passed away at his New Hampshire home on Saturday (US time) aged 66.

 

 

Marvin Hagler was one of boxings best ever pound-for-pound fighters and is arguably the greatest middleweight of all time.  From 67 professional fights, Hagler had a record of 62 wins (52 by knockout) with three losses and two draws.  He was the undisputed middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987 and won 12 title defences.  Hagler only had one knockdown scored against him in these 67 fights.

 

 

Wide World of Sports on Saturday afternoons was my window into the US boxing scene.  In this post-Ali and pre-Tyson heavyweight era it was the welterweight and middleweight divisions boasting Hagler, ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, Tommy ‘The Hitman’ Hearns and Roberto Duran that ruled the roost.  They weren’t big guys, Hagler himself stood 5’9 ½ (177cm) and weighed 159 ¼ pounds (72kg) at his peak, but they were brutal fighters.

 

 

Marvin Hagler is my favourite boxer, just shading Ali and (pre-downfall) Tyson.  A black man with a shaved head and a physique that looked to have been carved from stone, Hagler was known for his relentless style in the ring and his spartan approach to training and preparation.  Like me (if I was actually a fighter of any note) Hagler fought as a southpaw but was right-handed.  A southpaw is a fighter whose stance is that of right foot/shoulder towards the target (think of a left-handed bat in cricket).  A right-handed southpaw has the potential benefit of a very heavy right jab and the lead (right) hook can be devastating.  Right-handed southpaws are often able to ‘switch hit’ and fight proficiently from an orthodox stance when necessary.

 

 

When we think of Marvin Hagler we are drawn to ‘The War’, his epic battle with Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns in April 1985 from Las Vegas.  Just last month we saw the current pound-for-pound king, super-middleweight Canelo Alvarez, stand in front of his latest title challenger and pick him apart for three one-sided, unexceptional rounds (nine minutes in total).  Locally, on Saturday night those with nothing else to do could have paid to watch middleweight Michael Zerafa (hopefully) bring down the curtain on Anthony Mundine’s career in two farcical minutes.  The Hagler versus Hearns war lasted only eight minutes, eight brutal minutes that would go down as one of the greatest fights of all time.  The opening round is widely considered to be the best ever round of boxing.

 

 

The opening salvo in Hagler versus Hearns is my favourite start to a fight.  Hagler comes out of his corner and making his way to the centre of the ring takes a quick step onto his right foot and throws a vicious lead (right) hook intended to take Hearns’ head clean off his shoulders.  The (clearly taller) Hearns ducks under the punch, and the fight is on.  Over the ensuing two rounds we witness a brutal back and forth.  Hearns moves and Hagler pursues.  Hearns cuts Hagler badly above the right eye with a right uppercut, and Hagler continues to walk through Hearns’ punches to land his own shots.  Hagler is relentless, Hearns is trying to box his way out.  The pace does not let up for a second.

 

 

In the third round the referee calls a time-out for the doctor to check Hagler’s widening cut forehead, blood runs down his face.  The fight is allowed to continue, and Hagler realises that he now has to finish Hearns sooner rather than later.  Hagler rocks Hearns with a right hand and then another overhand right has Hearns on the run and in obvious trouble.  A further right lands and pushes Hearns to the ropes, and he is on his way down once a final right is landed.  Hearns barely beats the count and is in no state to continue.  The fight ends with the semi-conscious fighter being carried to his corner, and the triumphant champion celebrating victory with a face covered in blood.  The record shows that Hearns was knocked out in the third round, yet he loses nothing in defeat.  This fight was never going the distance, it was just Hearns’ misfortune that he was the first to fall.

 

 

 

Marvin Hagler v Thomas Hearns April 1985. [Source: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images]

 

 

Marvin Hagler exited the ring two years later in April 1987, this time on the wrong end of a controversial split decision verdict to ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard.  Leonard moved and Hagler stalked.  When they came together, they slugged, brawled, and traded combinations for 12 memorable rounds.  They fought from go to whoa.  It was one of those fights that neither fighter deserved to lose, and the fans were the biggest winners.  The record shows that Leonard was awarded the victory and Marvin Hagler left the ring in disgust and never fought again.

 

 

Boxing is a sport where retirement announcements are generally taken with a grain of salt.  These days we see that anyone will fight anyone if the price is right.  Various old men and youtubers are lining up to get in the ring and get paid.  Legendary boxing promoter Bob Arum adds an interesting postscript to Hagler versus Leonard.  Arum recalled being at a black-tie event with both fighters in 1988 and being asked by Leonard to approach Hagler about a rematch, a bout that would have earned both fighters massive purses.  Hagler’s response to Arum was ‘Tell Ray to get a life.’  That was Marvin Hagler.

 

 

Marvin Hagler was 33 when he left boxing in 1987 and never looked back.  He was, and remains, my favourite boxer.

 

 

Vale.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dour opener and close-checking fullback. Peaked early.

Comments

  1. Really sad day Greg. Marvelous probably my favourite boxer too. Perhaps even my favourite athlete. That crisp left hook! And he wasn’t afraid to bring an opponent down with constant rips to the guts. The bouts in the 80s make the modern boxers look very second rate. It was a privilege to watch them.

  2. Sad loss Greg. There have been some wonderful middleweights over the years, but Hagler’s record stands up high. Both statistically, and in the opponents he beat , it’s up there in lights.

    A few years prior to Marvellous Marvin Hagler, Carlos Monzon, dominated the middleweight division. These two never met in the ring but it would have been an intriguing bout. After Hagler’s reign Bernard Hopkins was the numero uno middleweight. All three of these names are legends of the ring

    I forgot how young Hagler was when he finished his career. 33 is nowadays many years from retirement in so many sports. .

    Hagler dying the same weekend Anthony Mundine lost his comeback bout in the first round puts it all in perspective.

    Glen!

  3. Thanks gents.

    I do like a boxer who has the technique to work on both his opponents body and the head.
    Unfortunately due to shutdown in 2020 I had to get my boxing ‘fix’ watching these old fights on youtube. It made it harder to watch the current fights when they resumed (or to take ‘champion’ boxers ducking each other and avoiding the matchups the people want to see).

    Carlos Monzon was just before my time Glen! so I had to check him out. To have 100 fights in 14 years and retire just before turning 35 is a massive effort! Even better when his 3 losses came within his first 20 fights and he was never stopped. I guess he doesn’t get as much coverage these days given the majority of his fights were in South America before fighting in Europe as champion. If only his career had overlapped a bit more with these other champion middleweights. His private life outside the ring seemed just as violent as his career in the ring, which probably doesn’t help.

  4. Kevin Densley says

    Fine piece, Greg!

    I had great admiration for Hagler’s skills. Of course, I agree about the quality of his bout with Hearns – the fight was electrifying from beginning to end.

  5. Kevin Densley says

    And given your interest in boxing, Greg, you may wish to look at my reconstruction of Ned Kelly’s famous fight with Isaiah “Wild” Wright, In Beechworth, Victoria, 1874: https://www.footyalmanac.com.au/poem-a-notable-colonial-fistfight/

  6. Cheers Kevin, thanks for reading my piece.
    I will give yours a look.

  7. Great memories. Thanks Greg. Middleweight boxing in that era was like men’s tennis in the last decade. A truly great Big 4 who gave us great memories from every contest. I’ve fallen out of love with boxing in the last 20 years but Ali and TV Ringside made it a staple of my early life. Living in America in ’88 I have great memories of the epic Hearns-Leonard contests.
    I don’t remember any of the detail but after hearing of Marvin’s death I spent a few minutes reconstructing a mental impression of each fighter in my mind’s eye. Sugar Ray the Ali mini-me in style & charisma. Hearns the tall gunslinger with an uppercut like a curled up snake. Duran impassive and relentless carved from granite – who couldn’t bend only break. Hagler bent forward making himself a small target forever advancing like a Panzer tank.
    Sometimes memory is more fun than YouTube.

  8. matt watson says

    Hagler was a champ and someone I loved to watch.
    Relentless and merciless; he just would not stop throwing punches.
    It was almost criminal that he waited so long to get a title shot.
    I thought he would beat Leonard. But he looked slow and flat-footed for much of the fight.
    After Leonard-Hearns 2, Hagler was asked if he would fight either man again.
    ‘I told Bob Arum $20 million,’ Hagler said.
    Essentially he priced himself out of either rematch. And remained disgusted forever with the judges who scored for Leonard.
    Hagler did it his way… Damn I admired him for it.

  9. Vale, Marvin.
    That was real boxing, not the dross that gets served up today.

    Thanks for this tribute, Greg

  10. Thanks Peter_B. Your memory is pretty much on the mark. There are not many current fighters that can stick in one’s memory and lend themselves to a summary such as this.

    Thanks for sharing Matt. A couple of questionable losses on points when he first ventured to Philly to fight early days, coupled with a feeling that he wasn’t getting the recognition on the way up, gave him that chip on his shoulder that drove him on. I liked his quote when questioned about a comeback “it’s hard to get up for roadwork at 5am when you are sleeping in silk pyjamas”. He trained harder than anyone and fought harder than anyone. He truly was Marvelous.

  11. Thanks for reading Smokie.

    Dross is a fair assessment of some of the stuff that gets served up these days. Even worse now that you have to fork out $ to watch most of it.

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