Boxing is called "the sweet science". But there is also a level of brutality, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler exemplified both as one of the greatest middle weight champions of all time. Hagler died this past weekend suddenly and unexpectedly at his home in New Hampshire at age 66.
Watching him train, Champ Joe Frazier told Hagler in 1980 he had three problems: "You're great. You're black. And you're a left hander."
Hagler grew up in Newark, New Jersey and lived through the 1967 race riots until his mother moved the family to Brockton, Mass, where Hagler worked construction for the Petrocelli Brothers who also trained fighters. It took 50 bouts for Hagler to get a title shot, and then, in a brutal 15 round match against Champ Vito Antuofermo, the Judges stole it from Hagler and called it a draw. It took the intervention of Senator Ted Kennedy of all people to get Hagler another title shot, which occurred in London, England, against Alan Minter. "No black man will take my title" Minter said, until Hagler stopped him cold in the third round. The British crowd reacted by throwing bottles and cans and Hagler was hustled out of the ring, becoming the only champion to never be given his belt in the ring. But of course, there is no racism in England, right Meaghan and Harry?
Hagler remained Middleweight champ for seven years until the Judges again stole his title by giving a controversial and much derided decision to Sugar Ray Leonard, in perhaps one of the worst judged championship fights of all time. But along the way Hagler beat the great Robert Duran (watching Duran sneer at Hagler at the end of the 15th round where Hagler had knocked him around the ring is a great insight into the ornery and bullying champion Duran was), and defended his title against all comers, including, the great Tommy Hearns.
This may have been the golden age of welterweight/middleweight boxing with Duran, Leonard, Hearns, and Hagler all battling for titles. Hearns was tall with long arms and a rocket right hand that stopped most of his opponents.
Round One Hagler/Hearns in Las Vegas 1985 is widely considered the greatest round in boxing history. Period, Full stop. Let that sink in. We have it here for you to watch. Hagler ended the round with a cut over his left eye. In round two the boxers re-grouped a bit, recovering from the non-stop brutality in round one. In round three the referee stopped the fight for the fight doctor to examine Hagler's cut. Realizing that once again he may have his title stolen from him, Hagler reached down into the place where only champions go, and stopped Tommy Hearns with a barrage of right hands that sent Hearns down for the count.
Hagler legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler when ring announcers refused to introduce him as he had requested. When he title was stolen from him in the Leonard bout, he quit boxing and went to Italy where he had a successful movie career. The decision may have saved him from the bitter ending of many of his contemporaries who age with slurred speech and diminished mental capacities.
Hagler was always the outsider. A black man who didn't play ball and did things his own way. With his bullet shaved head (Telly Savalas was in his locker room for support for the Minter fight in England) and scowl, he fought his way into the title he so richly deserved and then kept it for seven years, showing the world the greatness he always had.
Hagler was a tremendous athlete, a great champion and a man unbowed who did things his way. He is to be admired and celebrated, coming from an era of overt racism that defeated men not as tenacious as he.
Here is the greatest round in boxing history. Hagler/Hearns round one. Caesars Palace 1985.