The Queen is Dead. Long Live the Queen.

Liam had just suffered his “Marvin Hagler moment”.

I heard the door to our room open, footsteps rushed up the hallway and began darting up the stairs.

“Who won?” I asked as he headed for his room.

“Serena lost.” He called out. His disappointment was palpable.

In 1976 I recall becoming aware of the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I was 12. Hagler was the undisputed world middleweight champion and as a keen young boxing follower I was enthralled by him. Despite being ranked the best in the business Hagler struggled to get his shot at the title. According to Wikipedia, Joe Frazier said Hagler’s struggle for recognition was because he had three major hurdles to overcome: he was black, he was a southpaw (he led with his right hand), and he was good. But once Marvelous got his shot and grabbed the title he didn’t let it go for about 11 years. In April 1987 he was controversially defeated by Sugar Ray Leonard in one of the greatest bouts I can ever remember. My sporting equilibrium had just been obliterated.

Hagler had been a constant during my formative years between the ages of 12 and 23. If the Aussies lost the cricket or Geelong lost the football, at least Marvelous won. Always. There was a near thing in 1979 when the bout with Vito Antuofermo was judged a draw, but this was rectified 15 months later when he stopped Antuofermo in 2 rounds. Sporting sanity had been restored. He survived a brutal bout with Roberto Duran in 1983 and an equally tough contest against Thomas Hearns in 1985 (do yourself a favour and watch that bout on YouTube. Incredible). Marvelous Marvin was unstoppable, and therefore by extension, I was unstoppable too.

Serena Williams is Liam’s Marvin Hagler. We’ve been to the Aussie Open just to watch her play live, he watches replays of a lot of her games on the net, reads all her tennis results, and marvels at her sporting prowess. Last Thursday we were at Rod Laver Arena and witnessed one of her most brutal tennis thrashings as she dismantled Radwanska, the fourth seed no less. The first set lasted 21 minutes.

Before the Women’s final last night Liam told me how nervous he was for Williams. But I was blasé.

“Don’t worry” I said, “she’ll win in two.”

It was flippant and unthinking. Have I learned nothing? Sport is never certain, outcomes never guaranteed. It might have made the defeat of Williams bite harder. Not my greatest moment.

I can completely understand why Liam is enthralled by this mighty athlete. Williams is Liam’s constant in all the turmoil of youth, just like Hagler was for me. The anxieties of growing up, of being 16, of dealing with school, a changing body, and a changing mind, can all be momentarily suspended as we watch our sporting God dispatch opponents with confidence and pizazz. We become them, albeit fleetingly. Or at least we become part of their winning team. It is a seduction of sorts. Emotionally we invest in them to shield ourselves from our own inadequacies and from an unrelenting world. Whilst I had Hagler I had gravitas. And whilst Liam has Williams, he has it too.

I’d left Australia when Hagler got rolled, commencing my backpacking odyssey to Europe and the Middle East. And I was 23. Self -confidence and physical and mental robustness were growing. But it still hurt and unsettled me. Here I was in a foreign land and Marvin had left me. Devastation.

Liam will no doubt have similar feelings. His sporting hero has lost. She is not unbeatable. She is not a robot. The world will wobble for a while. He might even feel sad. But his sporting life will go on.

Just as Marvelous Marvin Hagler fell off the throne a bloke by the name of Gary Ablett emerged on the football field. I had a new hero. I invested all over again and waited for the fall. Liam will also find another great to follow. Perhaps it will be Williams’ conqueror? Perhaps it will be Angelique Kerber?

About Damian O'Donnell

I'm passionate about breathing. And you should always chase your passions. If I read one more thing about what defines leadership I think I'll go crazy. Go Cats.

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