December 26, 2012

The Tao of Marvin Hagler

(as told by Sports Illustrated)

In the dark, cold autumn morning before first light, Marvelous Marvin Hagler is chanting. He is running in his Army boots along the path that begins at the far end of Herring Cove Beach and bends off to the left—away from the main road, toward the beach, into the dunes. "This is where I can dream," he says.

This is also where the Pilgrims first landed, where they looked around, had second thoughts, and hauled up anchor, finally disembarking across the bay at Plymouth Rock. Now it's part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, a place of sea gulls, salt hay and solitude. In the fall, when the tourists are gone and nearby Provincetown boards up, surf casters belly up to the sea and an occasional biker pedals by, but they decrease in number when it gets dark early and the wind grows horns and snorts off the beach.

Hagler has been coming here since 1977, working out of the Provincetown Inn , at the very tip of the Cape, sparring in a ring set up by the indoor pool, getting up before dawn to run with his sparring partners from the inn to the beach and beyond: the charge of the dark brigade. This is Hagler's self-imposed prison. Among the scrub pine, goldenrod and rose hip, he comes to serve that harshest sentence of all, the one that he imposes on himself: The confinement is as solitary as he can make it. "I get mean here," he says.


After the path lets go of the highway, it dips and loops for miles among the dunes, and Marvin Hagler, fueled by his obsession to conquer, to endure, is pushing himself again. This is his country: desolate, eerily silent, forbidding. Coming to a fork, Hagler veers left. The slap of his boots is like a mantra. He thinks: Goin' through him! I have to be on the inside. Don't stay on the outside. Goin' through him! The path swings back to the right and pretty soon turns left to the mouth of a tunnel under the main road. Hagler turns around at the mouth of the tunnel and shouts:

Get out of bed!
I'm comin' at you,
Gonna destroy you.
Destruct and destroy!
I'm the champ!


Marvin Hagler was born on May 23, 1954, in Newark, the first child of Ida Mae Hagler and Robert Sims (who weren't married at the time, hence Marvin's surname). The latter abandoned the family when Marvin was a child, leaving Ida Mae to raise Marvin and his brother, Robbie, and their four sisters, Veronica, Cheryl, Genarra and Noreen, on welfare. Marvin grew up in the playgrounds and the streets: cruising sidewalks, hanging out, playing sports, boxing shadows, dreaming big.

"I always wanted to be somebody," Hagler says. "Baseball, I played like I was Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays; basketball, I'd be Walt Frazier or Kareem; boxing, I'd pretend I was Floyd Patterson or Emile Griffith." Hagler first put on gloves when he was 10 for a man he knows only as Mister Joe, a social worker.

Mister Joe gave Marvin his first set of gloves, and his uncles began to teach him how to use them. "A rough bunch," Hagler says.

"He always said he wanted to be a boxer," Ida Mae says. "I didn't believe him. He said he wanted to be like Floyd Patterson. 'When I get grown,' he'd say, 'I'm gonna buy you a home.' I thought he'd be a social worker. He loved little kids."

The one constant in Marvin's life was his immediate family: his grandmother, Bessie Hagler, his brother, his sisters and Ida Mae. "We were close, very close," says Cheryl, 23. Even today, on birthdays and holidays they come together to celebrate.

Ida Mae—a bright, jovial woman of exceptional strength and vitality who kept the kids on a short rein—worked as a caterer and housekeeper. When Marvin was 14 and a freshman in high school, he dropped out of school to work in a toy factory to help support the family.

"As long as we have each other, we can make it," Ida Mae used to tell them. And, "Don't get on the wrong track: No drugs, no prisons for us." And, "Stay away from strangers. Mind your own business." And, "Come straight home from school. Stay home till I get home."

Ida Mae's word was law. "That's what brought us up to be the way we are," says Marvin. "Everybody that came into the house, you better make sure it was 'miss' or 'mister' when you spoke. That's the way she was."

Although they were poor, at Christmas there was always a tree, at dinnertime there was always a meal. If the clothes weren't new, they were always clean. "We took care of what we had," Veronica says. And when there was a race riot, Ida Mae was there, her voice a broom that whisked the kids under Veronica's bed.

That's how they survived the first riot, living close to the ground. It began on July 12, 1967. For five days Newark was a battleground and the Haglers were caught in the crossfire. They lived on the top floor of a three-story building. Looking down on the streets at the looters, Marvin says, was like watching ants on a picnic table.

"People were running out of stores," Marvin says, "carrying big TVs on their backs, and couches. You'd see little guys trying to carry things they couldn't even carry."

"Really terrifying," Ida Mae says. At night, she drew the shades, turned off the lights and double-locked the door, securing it further by jamming the back of a chair under the knob. For three days no one left the apartment. "She'd have killed us," Hagler says. When Uncle Eugene, who had been visiting, tried to leave the apartment to get home, a burst of gunfire chipped the facade above the front stoop and drove him back inside. The Haglers lay that night under Veronica's bed. One night, two bullets smashed through the bedroom window and shattered the plaster above the bed.

"Stay away from the windows," Ida Mae told her family. Police and National Guardsmen were everywhere—on the street, on the rooftops, chasing looters, searching for snipers. "You could hear them running across the roof above us," Ida Mae says. "There was running and cussing and policemen outside." Ida Mae forbade any of the kids to stand up. For three days they went about the five-room apartment on all fours, sliding around on cushions to get to the bathroom and the kitchen.

"It was like the end of the world," Veronica says.

By the time it was over, 26 people had died, and whole ghetto neighborhoods of the once vibrant city lay in ruin: Buildings were abandoned, garbage and mattresses were strewn in the streets, and countless cars were stripped.

"It was scary," Marvin says.

Ida Mae thought: I never want to go through that again.

Nearly two years later there was another riot. A thousand angry blacks roamed the streets, smashing store windows, looting and throwing bottles at police cars. Once again, the Hagler kids weren't allowed outdoors. The 1969 riot lasted only two nights, and no one was killed, but Ida Mae called a relative in Brockton, Mass., 20 miles from Boston, and asked her to help find the Haglers a place to live.

So, with the help of friends, a few weeks later she filled a U-Haul truck with their belongings and moved the family to Brockton, once renowned for its shoe factories, later as Rocky Marciano's hometown, a city that hadn't seen much social unrest since militant townsmen with hunting rifles took to its streets to support Shays' Rebellion in 1786. An old blue-collar town, it is also a mixed ethnic salad of Yankees, French Canadians, Lithuanians, Italians and Irish, with a small percentage of blacks and Puerto Ricans.

"What a relief," Ida Mae says. "It was wonderful. I could leave my doors unlocked. The kids could go outside and sit on the porch. I was strict in Newark because I had to be; here I let up a little."

In culture shock, Hagler didn't adjust so readily. "I felt out of place, going from an all-black society to a mixed society," he says. "The only place I'd run across whites was in stores. They were always behind the counter, taking the cash. School principals. Police. The post office. I really didn't trust them. If they were nice, I thought, 'What do they want from me?' I had to learn for myself how people really were. When I found out all white people weren't bad, I started to relax around them. It took me a long time. Goody and Pat had a lot to do with that."

Guareno (Goody) and Pascuale (Pat) Petronelli, partners in a Brockton construction company, also ran a gym for fighters. Goody had just retired from the U.S. Navy, in which he had served 20 years in the medical corps and had been a boxing coach. He and Pat had fought as amateurs around Brockton and had known Marciano well; in fact, Rocky had intended to join them as a partner in the Brockton gym when the former heavyweight champ was killed in an airplane crash in 1969.

As the Petronellis worked with fighters in that gym they noticed Marvin, then 15, hanging around, watching. Finally, Goody approached him. "Hey, kid, you want to learn how to fight?" he asked. "Sure, yeah man," Hagler said.

Their relationship—with Goody as trainer, Pat as manager—has endured to this day. It took time to mature, though. "He had a thing about Whitey," Goody says.

What he also had, and Goody saw it right off, was a passion for boxing, a sense of purpose. "I like to box," Hagler says. "I fell in love with all the fancy moves. And I liked the gloves—the smell of them, the look, the feel, just putting them on, trying to hit someone with them, trying to get out of the way from getting hit, the different colors. The black ones, the red ones. Emile Griffith came out with a nice pair of blue ones. I never seen blue ones before. Then I saw a pair of green ones; I liked those. But I fell in love with the red ones. Red's my favorite color. That's the blood color."

Hagler came to the gym every day. "Diligently," Goody says. "He had that desire. He'd get a little swollen lip or a black eye and he'd come back the next day. Those are the kids you look for. But you don't promise 'em nothin'."

From the start Hagler seemed to learn more quickly than the others. One day Goody mentioned that to him.

"I'm doin' my homework," the boy said. "I go home and practice those punches in the mirror." Just as he had practiced in Newark, shadow boxing as Floyd Patterson, busting holes in doors on a dare. I always wanted to be somebody.

Hagler was an exceptional amateur. He told a stretcher about his age, adding two years so he could start fighting sooner. It wasn't until last spring—when everyone thought he was 30 years old—that the truth came out. When he legally changed his name from Marvin Nathaniel Hagler to Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the date of his birth was certified in court. "I'd appreciate it if you'd write that I am 30," he told a reporter then, seeming a little embarrassed, but by that time the truth was in all the papers.

When Hagler turned pro, the late Boston promoter Sam Silverman, who would promote many of Hagler's bouts, had urged Goody to make him a righty so he could push him faster and farther. Petronelli did so, and on May 18, 1973 in Brockton, Hagler knocked out Terry Ryan in two for his first pro action. Then the promoter had a change of heart.

"Turn him back lefthanded," Silverman told Goody. "He's more dynamic that way."

Goody moaned, "Sam, make up your mind." Silverman might have, but Hagler didn't. He switches back and forth as opportunity beckons. He won his second fight, a six-round decision over Sonny Williams, and knocked out Muhammad Smith in two rounds for his third win.
Hagler got his first substantial purse, $1,000, in his fourth fight, against Don Wigfall, a local kid, in Brockton. There was more than money at stake, however, and to know why Hagler wanted Wigfall and what he did to him when he got him is to understand the kind of fuel that propels him.

In 1970, Hagler and Wigfall, a neighborhood tough, had had words at a party. "He had everyone scared of him," Hagler says, "but he didn't scare me. Coming from New Jersey like I did, if I didn't get you one way, I got you another. I hit you in the head with a bottle, or a brick. But I'll gitcha! I remember I just bought a new black leather jacket. We went outside. Before I could get my jacket off, he'd decked me. I rolled under a car; my jaw was swollen. For three years, I never let that die."

So it was that on Oct. 6, 1973, in the Brockton High School gym, Hagler punished Wigfall, decisioning him in eight. "Every time I had the chance to put him out, I let him back into the fight," Hagler says. "I whupped him, right in front of all the people who had seen him deck me that night. It might take me three years, but I'm gonna gitcha!"

Hagler rose quickly in the middleweight ranks in New England. If that is rather like being the world's tallest midget, it was the only world he had. He had begun shaving his head when he was an amateur, and he has shaved it ever since. He was seen as a menacing figure, and surely that domed roof enhanced the image, that and his riveting eyes, which he squints as he attacks, and the remorseless way he stalks and strikes. The only blemish in his first three years as a pro occurred when Hagler, after beating 1972 Olympic light welterweight champion Sugar Ray Seales in Boston—"A big mouth with a big gold medal and two-tone shoes"—met him again in Seattle, Seales's hometown. The bout was scored a draw, a dubious call.

Already Hagler was beginning to languish in Boston, unable to get competitive fights. "You have three strikes against you," Joe Frazier would tell him one day. "You're black, you're a southpaw and you can fight." Hagler's biggest purse in 1975 was $2,000, which he got for facing undefeated southpaw middleweight Johnny Baldwin, who Silverman figured would beat him. "Look, I can't get Hagler no fights," Silverman had protested to Pat Petronelli.

"Try and get him licked if you want," Pat said.

"You mean that?" Silverman said. "I got a guy who's gonna lick him."

"Then lick him!" Pat said. Giving Mad Dog Baldwin 18 pounds, Hagler whipped him in a 10-round decision. Hagler could have fought forever in Boston, picking up $300 here and $700 there, but the title had obsessed him since he was an amateur signing photographs "Marvin Hagler, future middleweight champion of the world."

Since 1971, he had dug ditches and cut down trees for the Petronelli Construction Co., and the work had taken him to Brockton's white, affluent west side. "Everybody that had money was on the west side," he says. "I always wanted to live on the west side. When I worked construction, we used to come into these areas where it was always nice, where they brought you ice tea when you worked outside. In the poor areas, nobody had ice tea. They brought out cookies. They made you lunch. It was nice: green grass, nice homes, big cars. I used to love working on people's homes here. Pat and Goody did something for me that they never realized. I was grateful to have a trade. They matured me. I found trust in these two people. I kind of knew what I wanted in life. I wanted a house with my own name on it in West Brockton—Hagler."

To get there, he first had to get out of New England. "Rocky Marciano had to leave New England to make the big time," Hagler says. "I like Brockton, but to make it, you gotta get out."

There was only one place to go, of course, and that was Philadelphia, to what Goody called the "Lion's Den" of middleweights—the Spectrum. It was where the money was and where the best fighters were: Bennie Briscoe, Willie (The Worm) Monroe, Eugene (Cyclone) Hart, Bobby (Boogaloo) Watts. "The baddest middleweights in the world," Goody says. "We had to go down there and fight the iron."

One by one, Hagler would take them on, until finally he had nailed them all, but not before two successive losses left him perilously close to oblivion. Watts wasn't the best of the middles, but for Hagler he was the first. They fought 10 rounds on Jan. 13, 1976, and when the judges gave it to Boogaloo, there were hoots from the hometown crowd. "Now Boogaloo is a friend of mine, but he didn't win that fight," says George Benton, the Philly trainer.

Two months after the Watts fight, Monroe beat up on Hagler on the way to a 10-round verdict. "A tough decision to accept," Hagler said after the fight, "but an honest one. I still have a few things to learn. I get the feeling that he's already learned them."

Peltz told the Petronellis of the trouble they were in: "I know you got screwed with Boogaloo Watts, but you got your ass kicked by Willie Monroe. Three strikes and you're out."
Next up: Hart. Working one day on the heavy bag in Joe Frazier's gym, Hart had spotted Marvin and said, "Hey, Hagler, I got the baddest left hook in town. Watch this." Bam! Hart slammed his left into the bag. "You're lookin' at the next middleweight champion of the world." Marvin turned to Pat and said, "Put him on the list."

The record book says Hagler knocked Hart out in eight, but what happened is more ambiguous. There was an argument in Hart's corner after the eighth, and he never came out for the ninth. The victory was only bittersweet, but Hagler had survived. "I thought he was just an ordinary fighter," Briscoe says. "He proved to be more than that." In a rematch against Monroe in Boston on Feb. 15, 1977, Hagler knocked The Worm out in the 12th round. Peltz staged the rubber match at the Spectrum six months later, and it was then that Hagler made his name in Philly.
Hagler buckled Monroe's knees with a right hook in the second round and pounced. A beautiful left hook caught Monroe. Down he went. And out.

"That was the fight that made him," Peltz says. "There was a complete difference between the Marvin that had fought in 1976 and 1977. The competition here had made him better. He had more confidence. He was sharper, his punches were shorter, he had more power."

There was only one more to go in Philly: Briscoe. On Aug. 24, 1978, 15,000 people jammed into the Spectrum to see them fight. Both boxers showed up in burgundy trunks, and neither would change. Peltz still wonders what the fans in the uppermost seats made of the spectacle: two shaved-headed black men wearing burgundy trunks. Who's on first? In the end Hagler was, but the Petronellis had to scramble. Hagler got butted in the second. Between rounds, Goody tried to stop the bleeding as Pat headed off the doctor coming over to inspect the cut, repeatedly pointing to the crowd and telling the doc that someone was calling him. By the time the doctor got to Hagler, Goody had the bleeding stopped. "I didn't spend 20 years in the Navy medical department for nothing," he says.

Where Hagler had been a banger against Monroe, he boxed artfully against Briscoe, sticking and moving to win the decision.

By now some were calling Hagler the uncrowned middleweight champion of the world, but still he couldn't get a title shot. "I can understand it now," Pat says. "Who needs a Marvin Hagler?" Hagler's sense of frustration deepened.

"Every time I fought, Pat and Goody said, 'Marvin, you've got to keep winning to get a shot! If you win this one, Marvin, you've got it.' Every time I won, there was nothing. Every day I was out there running, paving the ground, getting knocked around in the gym, keeping sharp, getting ready for that day." He waited some more. He wondered: What do I have to do to get recognition? Kill somebody in the ring? To Pat and Goody, he would say: When am I gonna get a break? To Bertha Washington, then his fiancée, now his wife, he would fume: The hell with this damn game! I'm sick of it. Promises, promises, always promises.

He was just too good for his own good. Bitter and frustrated, he packed his bags and prepared to leave the Petronellis and Brockton and move to California, to start his career anew. Pat and Goody urged him to stay, saying, "If we felt as though we couldn't do it for you, we'd be the first ones to let you find something else."

After talking it over with Bertha, Hagler yielded. "So I took my bags back," he said. "But I was hurt. The rent had to be paid. The kids had to have clothes. It was tough. When people look at me today they say, 'Hey, you're a millionaire now, you got it made.' They didn't know me before I was a success and as a result they don't realize that everything I got I worked for. There hasn't been nobody giving me nothin'."

Hagler finally got his title shot, six and a half years after he turned pro, and they didn't give him nothin' that night, either. This also happened to be the card—Nov. 30, 1979—on which Sugar Ray Leonard, in his 26th pro fight and first title shot, took the welterweight crown from Wilfred Benitez. Hagler's challenge for Vito Antuofermo's title was his 50th pro fight. He had been a long time in the shadows; he would be even longer.

The bout lasted the full 15 rounds, and it became at times so moving a spectacle—two men standing there and simply whaling away at each other—that at the end the crowd in Caesars Palace rose in applause. Hagler had clearly landed more and harder punches. Waiting for the decision, Referee Mills Lane told him, "Congratulations, now stay facing this way until they announce the decision and I raise your arm." When the verdict was announced, however, it was Vito's arm that went up. One judge had given it to Hagler, another to Antuofermo, while a third called it a draw: A tie always goes to the champion.

"I won the fight," Hagler says. "It hurt, but I just went back to school. Back to work. I felt as though, if I missed that shot, I'd never get another opportunity."

There was an immediate demand for a rematch, but Antuofermo was having no part of Hagler if he didn't have to.



September 27th 1980. Wembley Stadium. Alan Minter. For the Middleweight Championship of the World.


At close to midnight last Saturday, at Bailey's Hotel in London, Marvin Hagler, the new, undisputed middleweight champion of the world, grinned hugely and then pulled on a pint mug of English ale. "Putting some fluid back in my body," he explained. Which also seemed to be the undivided aim of the contingent of 20 or so of his townsfolk from Brockton, Mass., who had traveled to England to cheer him on.

That they all needed a bit of fluid with some potency was understandable. Only now, and slowly, were they beginning to relax from a frightening experience. Somewhat more than an hour earlier, just after Hagler had taken the title from England's Alan Minter in slightly less than nine blood-bespattered minutes of fighting, exultation had abruptly changed to terror as the ugliest crowd ever to show up at Wembley Arena—10,000 strong, many high on booze and crude chauvinism—viciously turned on the visiting Americans and their champion.

To set the scene: 1:45 into Round 3 Minter is bleeding from four terrible cuts, two near each eye, and there is no need to consult the ring doctor about stopping the bout. Minter's manager, Doug Bidwell, concedes the instant Referee Carlos Berrocal steps in to wave Hagler away and take a closer look at Minter's gory face. Hagler goes down on his knees in a Borg-style gesture of thanksgiving but he can barely rise again because beer bottles, many half full, start to rain down on the ring, and a horrifying ululation of howls and boos fills the arena.

"I went down low and my guys protected me," Hagler recalled over his ale at Bailey's. His handlers had done it by forming a human blanket. Goody Petronelli, Hagler's trainer and co-manager, was hit by a bottle. Quickly, helmeted bobbies moved in—"It was beautiful to see them," said Petronelli—and they, with the cornermen, formed a phalanx and herded Hagler safely through the ropes. They would never have made it all the way to the dressing room through that murderous crowd. Instead, they went into a tunnel under the north balcony and straight into police security headquarters.

Meanwhile, up in the south balcony Rita Kechejian, who is the wife of Nishan Kechejian, Hagler's personal physician, had made the mistake of holding up a modest banner that read BRING IT HOME TO BROCKTON, MARVIN! "They ripped our sign down and frightened us," she said, stunned. Bertha Hagler, Marvin's wife, was sitting beside Rita and had been equally shaken. She wisely kept the handkerchief-sized American flag she had planned to wave at the moment of victory tucked inside her pocket-book. Although, mercifully, none of the Brockton 20 in the stands had come to physical harm, each of them had a horror story to tell of how, apparently, Britain's endemic soccer violence had spilled over into boxing.

"I was scared, panicking," Petronelli said later. "I'd been warned that we'd hear a lot of noise, but I never expected the bottle throwing. Not in England. And then, when we finally got to the limo, they'd smashed the windshield. Thank God we weren't in it then." It was fortunate also that the besieged Hagler entourage didn't run into that part of the mob outside that was chanting the obscene racist slogans of the National Front, Britain's version of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a tainted night for Hagler, a disastrous one for Minter and a shameful one for England.

A crowd is a blunt weapon, though, and it has to be honed before it becomes as dangerous as this one was. Perhaps contributing a bit to the mob madness was the thought of Johnny Owen, the Welsh bantamweight, still lying in a coma in a Los Angeles hospital after being knocked out in the 12th round of his title match the week before against champion Lupe Pintor. British newspapers had widely reported how, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth, Owen had been pelted by beer bottles as he lay in the ring.

But much of the ugliness at Wembley could be laid directly at the feet of Minter. In front of too many people with notebooks the champion had announced in early September, "I am not letting any black man take the title from me." He claimed to have been angered by Hagler's alleged refusal to shake hands as the two were introduced in the ring in Las Vegas last November when Hagler fought a controversial draw with then-champion Vito Antuofermo. Kevin Finnegan, a former European middleweight champion, said he had gotten the same treatment from Hagler at that fight, accompanied by the memorable words, "I don't touch white flesh."
In subsequent days, though, some fence-mending was done. Minter decided that what he actually said was "that black man," and Hagler, nattily outfitted in a three-piece pinstripe suit, presented himself to the British press and told reporters that his non-handshaking was non-racial: he never shakes hands with a fighter he might meet in the ring one day.

And the civil Hagler seems the true Hagler, outside the ring at least. He is gentle-spoken, articulate and quick-witted. Why does he shave his skull? Well, he had four sisters and they never let him get at the comb. How did he feel about fighting abroad? Why, he never fights broads; he has too much respect for them.

Hagler is more sensitive, too, than he was given credit for. All week he had asked for news of Owen; he had heard on Friday night that the Welshman had been operated on a second time to relieve intracranial pressure and that his vital signs were "unstable." Hagler constantly questioned his sport as he worked out in a gym located over a pub in the area of South London known as Lavender Hill, which had been made famous by that Alec Guinness movie. "What's wrong?" Hagler wanted to know. "Are we training boxers wrong? Putting them in the ring prepared wrong?"

Hagler also spoke of the uniquely undivided—none of this WBA-WBC stuff—middleweight title he had come so close to winning from Antuofermo in Las Vegas, a deed Minter had accomplished with a split-decision victory last March.

"I could almost taste the title that time," Hagler said. "Watch the tape and see how I won it. Easy. Know what I did? I softened Antuofermo up. Minter just beat what was left of him."

Hagler might have had a right to be bitter about that decision which left him with an uncrowned-champion label. Before meeting Antuofermo, Hagler had lost only twice in 53bouts, both on decisions, both early in '76, both reversed in rematches.

Minter's career has been far more patchy: 39 wins, five losses—all on cuts—and one no contest. In the last six years, though, Minter, a restaurateur in Crawley, some 30 miles south of London, had lost only twice and his fortunes had flourished after he won the title from Antuofermo and then demolished him in a June rematch at Wembley. Since then he had become a national hero in England. You can't take the subway in London without seeing him featured on a poster advertising sports clothes with the caption THE COOL TASTE OF MINT. Minter's purse for Saturday night was said to be $500,000—Hagler would get only a quarter of that—and a successful defense of his title would bring Minter such goodies as a $1 million contract for endorsements by Sasson, the leisure-wear company.

"Yeah, well," Minter said coldly of Hagler during one of his own training sessions, "he blew his big chance in Vegas, didn't 'e?"

The champion's much-photographed blue eyes were cold, the expression that of a bank manager turning down a loan applicant.

"I don't think the guy's all that genuine. He couldn't end Antuofermo. He's a gym fighter. He's unbelievable in the gym, but the moves he makes in the ring don't compare."

In London if one wants an unbiased opinion, one goes to the betting shops. By Saturday morning the bookies were giving 4-5 Minter and even money Hagler; one would need a very fine blade to slice that.

And on Saturday night at Wembley, the crowd began to chant Minter's name shortly after the start of the undercard. The spectators were hyped up enough as it was without the chauvinistic rabble-rousing that Promoters Harry (The Hoarse) Levene and Mickey Duff seemed to consider necessary for the occasion: the five Royal Marines in full ceremonial dress playing fanfares on silver bugles; the dramatic blacking out of the hall; the bathing of Minter in spotlights as he came out of his dressing room; the hugely oversized Union Jack and Banner of St. George of England that accompanied Minter to the ring; his attendants in Union Jack-patterned outfits.
It had a maddening effect on the crowd, maybe even some on Minter, but clearly none at all on Hagler, who simply turned into his corner and loosened up. Hagler, the pundits had declared, would carry the fight hard to Minter in the first five or six rounds, while the champion would hang in, box cautiously, contain Hagler, and then come forth in the second half of the fight when the American's alleged lack of staying power would let Minter go in for the kill.

It didn't happen at all like that. Minter had long ago learned not to crash in at the start, not to lose his temper the first time he was hit. That, at least, was what he and Bidwell kept saying. This was the new, ice-cool Mint, the planner, the strategist.

But Hagler had said in the Lavender Hill gym a couple of days before, "I see the way they've got Minter all hyped up. I wouldn't like that. My pace is medium pace."
And from the bell, a clever medium pace was all Hagler needed. In came Minter, wildly, throwing rights, only to encounter Hagler's left jab. Minter probably won that first round, but at the end of it his face was red and starting to swell. Ominously, there was a small cut alongside his left eye. Jackie McCoy, the cut man Bidwell had imported from Los Angeles, had to start work far sooner than expected.

In the second round, rushing in again, Minter had the crowd screaming as his jabs pushed Hagler back, but the challenger's counterpunching was steady. Now Minter's left eye and nose were bleeding, and there was a more pronounced desperation in his wildness.

"I told Marvin," Petronelli said later, " 'Just keep that snapping speed going. He isn't going to last as long as we thought.' I just couldn't believe how Minter was trying to force the fight. Coming after Marvin, the damn fool. We did our damage and kept back."

The damage, by the end of the second round, was almost more than Minter's corner could handle in the one-minute break, and by the middle of the third, Hagler was hitting the champion at will. Minter was blinded by a reopened cut over his left eye, and a final, fearsome right uppercut brought the referee between them with about 75 seconds left in the round. Then came the tumult, and a new champion who wasn't proclaimed but smuggled out of the ring, leaving the dazed and defeated Minter with his handlers, who tried to stanch wounds that later would require 17 stitches.

At Bailey's, as the bad memories faded and the joy sank in, as Hagler in his best three-piece pinstripe moved around the room to shake hands, there was no one more happy than Promoter Bob Arum.

"I finally got me a winner," he exulted. "Big John Tate, Marvin Johnson, Sugar Ray Leonard, they all went down. But this is the end of the ignominy."

Delighted, like a child with a box of chocolates, Arum began to pick through future opponents for Hagler: Fulgencio Obel, the No. 2 contender from Venezuela; Ruben Pardo from Argentina, Mustafa Hamsho, who fights out of New York. He thought for a while, and then, suddenly, said, "Antuofermo."

Antuofermo?

"That draw with Marvin," Arum said defensively. And, indeed, there across the room was Vito himself. Challenged, he replied, also defensively, "I'd like to. I'm having an operation on my eyes."

For Minter, though, nobody held out a chance. No rematch, said Arum. "Marvin would do this to him every time." It certainly looked like it. But even if he gets another shot, it seems quite likely that Minter's days of trumpets and banners are over.



January 17th 1981. Boston Garden. Fule Obel. First defense of Middleweight Title.



The riddle all of last week in Boston was what does it take to be the undisputed No. 1 middleweight contender? Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the champion of all the world's 160-pounders, supplied the answer in that marvelous old relic, Boston Garden, Saturday night: not a hell of a lot.

The No. 1 challenger according to both the World Boxing Association and the World Boxing Council was Fulgencio Obelmejias, a 28-year-old Venezuelan with a thirst for American history, a hunger for clam chowder—which he called chipi chipi soup—and all the fighting ability of a quahog. He came to the U.S. with a 30-0 record, which included 28 knockouts, and went on to prove that while it might be possible to learn how to fight in a cemetery, it isn't possible if you only take on the residents.

"How did he get to be No. 1?" Hagler wondered aloud, along with everyone else, a few days before his first defense of the title he'd won with a third-round knockout of Alan Minter of England in September. The 26-year-old champion pondered that question before a blazing wood fire at the Provincetown Inn on the frozen tip of Cape Cod, 120miles from Boston. It was there that he had trained for six weeks in preparation for a fight whose outcome would be obvious by the second round but wouldn't end until 20 seconds into the eighth round. Outside the cozy inn, a strong wind sent clouds of swirling snow whipping across the frozen seascape. Occasionally the forlorn call of a complaining seagull would pierce the whistle of the wind.

"When I was working my way up the ratings, Obelmejias wasn't behind me," Hagler said, staring into the fire. "Nobody was jumping me over anybody, from seventh to fourth, or fourth to No. 1. But all of a sudden I get to be champ, and here's a guy from nowhere right behind me. I've got to figure somebody in the WBA or the WBC said, 'Hey, I think this guy can beat Hagler,' and they jumped him up to No. 1. And when I knock him out they'll find somebody else they think can beat me and jump him into No. 1. If that's the way it is, why even have ratings?"

While Hagler's voice is soft, his words are hard, his demeanor chilling. The title hasn't thawed him a bit. He can't forget the many lean years when others got the title fights he thought he deserved. He smolders when he thinks of the fat purses, of the recognition that should have been his. Now he's the champion, but the hunger is still with him. That's why he sometimes screamed at the early morning sky, startling the gulls into flight, as he ran along the dunes.

"I remember everything they did to me. I'll never forgive them," says Hagler, referring to the WBA and WBC. With his shaven head and hairy lip and chin, the champion takes on a Mephistophelian look when angry. "I want to stay bitter. I use it, I feed on it. That's why I put myself in jail like this to train for a fight. I want to be mean. All I want to think of is destruction. Then nobody can take from me what's mine. The only way they'll get the title from me is to kill me."

In Boston, Obelmejias seemed to be training more for an exam in American history than for a fistfight. His first request upon arriving was to be taken to Plymouth Rock, and then he wanted to see the U.S.S. Constitution, which is moored to a pier in Charlestown.

The No. 1 contender also trained, but not very well. Mornings, heavily bundled against the bitter cold, he ran along the Charles, from the Museum of Science to the Boston University Bridge and back. When he wasn't sightseeing or spooning up clam chowder, he usually stayed in his hotel room studying an English-Spanish dictionary or watching television. Sesame Street, with its Spanish/English lessons, was his favorite. On the Wednesday before the fight he caught a cold.

"Can he fight?" said Rodolfo Sabatini, an Italian promoter, smiling at the question. Sabatini had promoted Obelmejias' last three fights, all in Italy. "Yes, he can fight. He can punch and he can move his hands. The only thing I don't know about is his heart. I've never seen him in trouble because he never fought anybody who could get him in trouble."

The people Obelmejias fought to gain his ranking included George Lee, an American he knocked out in one round in November of 1979. From March 15, 1979 until that November, Lee had four bouts, losing all four. From Nov. 17, when Obelmejias fought him, until Jan. 27, 1980, a period of 71 days, Lee was knocked out five more times on three continents, in four countries and in five cities. Still, Obelmejias' victory over Lee earned the Venezuelan a jump from No. 5 to No. 4 in the WBC rankings.

Then there was Carlos Marks of Trinidad, whom Obelmejias stopped in nine to win the Central American and Caribbean middleweight titles in 1978. It was Marks' eighth loss over a 13-fight span.

There wasn't a world-class fighter on the No. 1 contender's record. No matter. The No. 1 contender's manager is Rafito Cedeino, a force in Venezuelan boxing and a friend of both WBC President Jose Sulaimon and WBA President Rodrigo Sanchez. In the past few months no fewer than six of Cedeino's fighters have been in title fights; five lost. The lone victor was Rafael Orono, the WBC superflyweight champion, who beat Jovito Regnifo, who is also in the Cedeino stable in Caracas. Cedeino not only had both fighters in that one, he was also the promoter. Nice guy to have in your corner if you're looking to be No. 1.

But against Hagler, all Obelmejias' status did was earn him $100,000 and get him semi-killed. In fact, Hagler came closer to losing his title in a driveway on the afternoon of the fight than he did in the ring that night.

The evening before, the champion had driven in from Cape Cod to Avon, a small town 20 miles south of Boston. Ten inches of snow fell overnight and the next morning, when Hagler went out to drive to the noon weigh-in, his rented limo was snowbound. It took six men to shovel the car free. At that, the champion was 47 minutes late. If he'd been two hours late he would have lost the title without a punch having been thrown.

Once the bell rang Obelmejias had no chance. The anger that helps make Hagler such a good fighter is kept under control in the ring. In winning 51 of 55 fights (two draws), he has had 42 knockouts, yet he isn't simply a puncher. He's the complete boxer operating with the knowledgeable detachment of a surgeon, graceful and flowing, unleashing punches in ever-changing patterns, hardly ever in bursts of fewer than three, mixing his jabs and crosses and hooks and upper-cuts until they become a blur.

If he gets a man in trouble, Hagler will work to take him out quickly. But should the man escape, Hagler will revert to methodically ripping his opponent apart piece by piece. Patience is his trademark.

In the first round against Obelmejias, Hagler did little, contenting himself with studying his unknown prey at close quarters. Then he put into play the strategy devised by his managers-trainers, the brothers Petronelli, Goody and Pat.

"Pressure him," they'd ordered. "Stay on top of him and make him fight a full three minutes."

Obelmejias didn't help his own cause by fighting a stupid fight. He's 6'1", with a 72-inch reach, yet instead of staying outside, where he presumably would've been more effective, he, too, elected to work close.

Badly battered from the second round on, Obelmejias, who could deliver nothing beyond a few uppercuts, fell in the sixth from a thunderous right to the head.
Struggling up, he took an eight count and then survived a savage pounding to the end of the round. No one can ever again question his heart.

In the seventh, though Obelmejias tried desperately to pull the fight out with wild rights, he took more of the same. At the end, bleeding from the mouth and a small cut under his left eye, he returned to his corner on old legs. Early in the eighth round, Hagler drilled home a savage right to the head, and the No. 1 contender reeled back into the ropes.

"That's it," said referee Octavio Meyran of Mexico, waving Hagler off.

In his dressing room, Obelmejias held an ice pack against his right hand. "I broke the thumb in the second round," he said, "and I couldn't breathe. The cold, it bothered me. I want to fight him again."

"Again?" said a surprised visitor. "Have you ever fought anyone as tough as that?"
"Oh, yes," said the No. 1 contender.

But Obelmejias will have to wait. Hagler, who was paid $500,000 for this fight, has planned a May defense against former champion Vito Antuofermo in Boston. There's also talk of a March fight against Chong-Pal Park in South Korea, should the money be right. And then there's the big two: the welterweight champions, Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, both of whom would like to move up.

"Which one, Hearns or Leonard?" Hagler was asked.

The champion grinned. "Either one. I want to make $5 million like everybody else."

Then, perhaps, the bitterness will be put to bed.



June 13th 1981. Boston Garden. Vito Antuofermo rematch. Second defense of Middleweight Title.



It came as everybody knew it would, a bright, ragged blossoming of blood over Vito Antuofermo's brow that coursed down into his eye sockets and the fissures of his wrecked face. The only surprise was the speed with which it happened, barely 30 seconds into the first round of his challenge for Marvin Hagler's world middleweight title at Boston Garden on Saturday night. An elemental howl from the crowd signaled that the cutting had started and that once again there would be no chance in the world that Antuofermo would finish the fight.

A flurry of rights from Hagler had taken him to the ropes; then, as he straightened to escape, heads collided. An accidental butt, seemingly on Antuofermo's part. But suddenly the mask of blood was there again. Blindly he hung on as more of Hagler's rights pounded him and, with the bell, just as blindly he stared out at the crowd, oblivious of the necessity for speed in getting the cut attended to. In his corner, assistant trainer Panama Lewis was screaming incomprehensibly and Freddie Brown, Antuofermo's veteran trainer, a cut man of extraordinary skills, was in the middle of the ring, shouting at the referee. Brown contended that Hagler had butted Antuofermo and wanted Referee Davey Pearl to stop the fight and rule it a technical draw. Nearly three minutes passed before the fight was resumed, an extra two minutes that Antuofermo and Brown desperately needed.

And then, coldly, precisely, Hagler went to work on the cut again, opening it once more with a five-blow combination that started with a right uppercut. "I don't care how I did it," the champion said later. "That's the game of boxing." No one could contradict him on that score or blame him for cynicism. The sad thing was that the fight had to happen at all, that a fighter as skilled and as consummately professional as Hagler had to earn his money this way.

On Thursday, in the dank heat of Provincetown, on Cape Cod, where he was training, Hagler muttered, over and over: "Gonna swat that mosquito, Vito the Mosquito." He had moved into that semi-trance common to many fighters late in their training. That afternoon Hagler worked out for the last time in the ring with Goody Petronelli, his trainer and friend of 11 years, Petronelli simulating Autuofermo's whirl-away style and Hagler countering, coming in under the hooks, working on the combinations. "You got me where you want me," grunted Petronelli from the ropes, and the long preparation was over. But Hagler, it seemed, was far away indeed from where he wanted to be himself.

As a mark, maybe, of his increased self-confidence since he took the combined WBA/WBC middleweight title from Alan Minter in London last September, Hagler has trimmed his mustache down to a less ferocious length. But the head is still austerely shaved, and more than a touch of bitterness persists in him.

"I've paid my dues, haven't I?" he asked. "Now I'm waiting for some big money."

To dismiss his attitude as avaricious would be unfair. Hagler is one of a handful of fighters of excellence around today, and he has indeed paid his dues in full, especially in the long, lean years when there seemed almost to be a conspiracy to keep the middleweight title out of his hands. And now that he has it, there seem no more worthwhile peaks to conquer and, more practically, no money-drawing names to fight. A little sardonically he will mention possible opponents: the undistinguished Syrian, Mustafa Hamsho, Dwight Davison, who is (they must have kept it pretty quiet) the WBC's No. 1 contender, Curtis Parker, Wilford Scypion.

Antuofermo, at least, was a better draw than any of these. Even so, Hagler expected to pick up no more than half a million dollars from Saturday's fight. "I'm a million-dollar fighter, aren't I?" he asked reasonably. And certainly he is accomplished enough to stand up in the company of such would-be middle-weights as Thomas Hearns and Wilfred Benitez. And yes, Sugar Ray Leonard.

On Leonard's glittering career Hagler casts a cold and envious eye, in particular the instant television contract, the fast title shot and the $16 million in purses that came with the Duran fights. Hagler has called Leonard "greedy," and said, "One day I will get what I am due. I am very patient."

Three months ago, in Syracuse, N.Y., at the Leonard-Larry Bonds fight, there had been talk of a Leonard-Hagler match. "But they took Hearns instead," said Petronelli. Meanwhile, though, if a convoluted set of circumstances comes about, Hagler might meet Sugar Ray next year. Hagler's title could be next on Leonard's list should Sugar Ray take the junior middleweight title from Ayub Kalule later this month.

At 10 p.m. last Saturday evening, Vito Antuofermo was still in the way. "He's been on my mind a long time," said the champion. Since, indeed, that curious draw the two had fought in Las Vegas in November 1979, a fight Hagler had dominated until the seventh round. Then he had lost pace and allowed Antuofermo to catch up. This time, after Antuofermo's two bloody defeats by Minter—who then had been beaten by Hagler—you couldn't get working odds anywhere around Boston that Marvelous Marvin the Brockton Blackbuster (that's what it says on Petronelli's T shirt) would fail to put Antuofermo away.

In the days before the fight, the craggy-faced Antuofermo sat much of the time in his Boston hotel room, playing solitaire and waiting for the next reporter to walk in and ask him about his supraorbital ridges.

Advance ticket sales for the fight hadn't been great, but the promoters might have hoped for a late lift from lovers of a bloodletting despite the fact that Antuofermo had had his supraorbitals fixed. They are the bony ridges behind the eyebrows—in his case prominent and sharp—that caused the worst of the many cuts he has suffered in the ring. The supraorbitals broke the skin from behind when he took a punch, causing blood to stream into his eyes.

And few who saw the fearful, bloody mask that he wore at the end of the eighth round when he failed to regain the title from Minter in London a year ago would have believed Antuofermo would ever fight again. A proven bleeder, Antuofermo was, with a face of paper. Forget him, everybody said. But a few months later, there he was at Hagler's victory party in London, talking about the new doctor he had found.
A surgeon, more precisely, and a neighbor of Antuofermo's on New York's Long Island, Dr. Jerld Acker, who took a look at those supraorbitals, decided they were the cause of all the trouble and planed them down so that they wouldn't cut through so easily. And so, $4,000 lighter and three days in the hospital later, the new-model Antuofermo emerged, one perhaps without the automatic blood-donor features.
In April he went 10 rounds with Mauricio Aldana, and though he won the decision, he was cut four times—but not on the brows, where the most incapacitating wounds, the blinding kind, used to occur. (If they had, Antuofermo was heard to declare, not altogether jokingly, he would be wanting his $4,000 back.)

Antuofermo's scarred visage was the focus of all the prefight battling between the rival camps, symbolized by Freddie Brown's little black bag, which, Petronelli believed, contained all sorts of arcane and illegal substances meant to stanch wounds swiftly. "He's not going to use that hokey-pokey stuff, that axle grease of his, on cuts," said Petronelli. "It's illegal. I have a copy of the rule book, and it says a [1/1000] solution of Adrenalin only. Freddie Brown's been around maybe a hundred years—it's hard for him to climb in the ring between rounds—but that don't mean nuthin'."

The jockeying went on: Even the certification of the weigh-in scale was disputed for a time by Antuofermo's camp. In the end the cut stuff in Brown's bag was cleared, but it would be unavailing. Still, no one could have forecast how swiftly the ax would fall.

The patched-up Antuofermo came out for the third, and Hagler put him down briefly with a straight left. And then that tormented, flailing courage of Antuofermo's was seen for a moment or two as he pressed forward. Effortlessly, Hagler kept him at bay with steady rights. There was more patching by Brown before the fourth, and then a hard right opened a new cut under the right eye. Finally an apparent butt by Hagler made the worst split of all—just above the same eye. Arms waving, his mouth full of cotton, Brown was in midring again to protest at the bell, but in Antuofermo's corner Tony Carione, Antuofermo's co-manager, had already conceded.

It was called a TKO in the fifth, and for Vito Antuofermo, it should be a TKO to a career. But when asked, inevitably, if he would fight again, a huge grin spread over his face.

As for Hagler, the hard man, what were his plans? "I'm not fighting in Massachusetts again," he said, having given the question some serious thought, "unless I get a tax break." Sticking to essentials, as usual. That's our Marvin.



October 3rd 1981. Rosemont Horizon. Mustafa Hamsho. Third defense of Middleweight Title.



One of last Saturday night's title fights at The Horizon in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont resembled bayonet practice at Parris Island. The other was, in effect, a 15-round footrace that went to the slowest. Marvin Hagler was the bayonet, and when he had finished slashing up Mustafa Hamsho at 2:09 of the 11th round, he was $1 million richer and still the world's only middleweight champion. Mike Weaver, trim at 215 but rusty after a year's layoff, plodded to a unanimous decision over James (Quick) Tillis, who fought as though he were in the Boston Marathon. In his second defense of the WBA heavyweight title, Weaver worked about 13 minutes longer than Hagler did but was paid $250,000 less.

Early Sunday morning Hagler sat on a hotel-room bed and reviewed his performance. He had just come from a hospital where five stitches had closed a deep slice above his right eye. The cut had come from a clash of heads in the second round. The bandages over the eye were partly concealed by sunglasses and a black hat pulled low.
When Hagler had left the hospital, the doctors were still working over Hamsho, who, until his trainer, Al Braverman, jumped into the ring to stop the fight, looked as though he would run out of blood before he ran out of heart. He was badly cut under both brows: Each wound was at least two inches long and half an inch wide. There was another slice under his left eye. He didn't win a round from any of the three officials.

Hagler smiled without warmth. "There was no love lost in this fight," he said. "It went exactly as we planned: Keep him in the center of the ring, pick my shots and make him look like an amateur."

Hamsho, who was born in Syria, is a street brawler. "I'll tell you what kind of style he has," Braverman said before the bout. "He's got no style. He just wades in, throwing punches from any angle." On such assaults Hamsho takes with him an iron jaw and unslacking courage, attributes that had helped him win all but one of his 34 fights and moved him up to No. 1 contender and a $200,000 shot against Hagler.
It was like sending a pit bull against a machine gun. "He can't fight a lick," said Goody Petronelli, who, with his brother, Pat, manages and trains Hagler. "The only thing we're worried about is his head, which he uses like a billygoat, and his shots below the belt."

Very early in the first round, Hagler introduced Hamsho to the evening's fare: two crackling jabs that almost snapped the challenger's head off at the neck. Hagler's jabs are a combination of jackhammer and straight razor. In the next round Hamsho introduced Hagler to the top of Hamsho's head. The champion went back to his corner with blood streaming from the cut over his eye. He sat calmly while Goody worked on the cut. "I've been there before," Hagler would say later. "Goody's the best cut man in the world. He does his job and I do mine."

While performing his ministrations, Goody also persuaded Hagler to change strategy slightly: "Keep moving and jabbing. Tire him out. Don't throw anything else unless you got a good spot."

Hagler found a good spot nine seconds into the second round, nailing Hamsho with a straight right. Snarling, Hamsho fired back with both hands. He enjoys his work. His punches come like buckshot; a lot miss, but those that land sting.
In the third Hagler ripped open Hamsho's right eye but didn't slow him down. Late in the round Hamsho twice stuck his tongue out at the champion. Both licks missed.

The area below Hamsho's left eye was torn open in the fourth. After about a minute of the round, Referee Octavio Meyran of Mexico stopped the fight and asked the two ring doctors to look at Hamsho's cuts. "Why two doctors?" Braverman yelled. "The other guy is cut, too. Send one of the doctors over to look at him. At least give us half a chance."

Hamsho passed the physical, but the pattern was set. Hagler is a relentless sharpshooter. By the sixth round Hamsho had dropped all pretense of boxing and was walking straight in, taking an awful beating, trying to land the one big punch. With blood streaming down his face onto his chest, he was rocked again and again, only to laugh at the beating and go in for more.

"I don't know what his corner was waiting for," Hagler said later. "The meat from his eyes was hanging down. But I can't let that bother me. I just have to think: better him than me."

After the 10th round, Meyran told Braverman he would permit Hamsho just one more round. Braverman nodded and told Hamsho, "This is your last shot."

Hagler came out firing. "I didn't want him stopped on cuts," he said. "I wanted him out." Hamsho tried gamely to fight back. In his corner, Patty Flood, Hamsho's manager, said to Braverman, "He's had enough. We've got to stop it."

Braverman started up the steps into the ring. Hagler fired four straight hooks and then a string of hooks and crosses as Braverman, a big man, struggled to get between the ropes. Finally he made it into the ring. Two seconds later Meyran took Hamsho into protective custody.

In the dressing room, Braverman tried to clean up the cuts. "Butts," he said. "But I believe they were accidental butts. This one, stitches. That one, stitches. This one, maybe stitches. How many? A lot."

Flood studied the ruined face. "I know guys get 200 stitches after a bar fight and don't make a quarter," he said. "At least we get 200 grand for this."
No one seemed cheered by the thought of Hamsho's 55 stitches.

On the officials' cards, where Hamsho had lost a point in the third round for butting, Meyran had Hagler ahead by seven points; judge Michael Glienna put him up by nine; and judge Al Tremari, who scored four rounds 10-8, had him winning by 15. "I got to admit," Flood said, "I knew Hagler was a great puncher and he was strong, but I didn't know he was such a beautiful boxer."



March 7th 1982. Bally’s Casino Atlantic City, NJ. William “Caveman” Lee. Fourth defense of Middleweight Title.




This fight was such a mismatch SI didn’t cover it. HBO wouldn’t broadcast it either. Caveman Lee, despite having one of the coolest nicknames ever, was a late replacement and took the fight on short notice. Hagler dismantled him in just over 60seconds knocking him silly with a leaping right jab. See for yourself.


October 30th 1982. San Remo Italy. Fully Obel rematch. Fifth defense of Middleweight Title.


It was 4:35 Sunday morning in San Remo, a late hour even for the Italian Riviera, but Marvelous Marvin Hagler was promenading jauntily along the sidewalk of the Corso Cavallotti toward the Hotel Méditerranée. With his leather cap on his shaved head and a tote bag in his left hand, he looked like a workman heading home after the lobster shift. Which, in a way, was what he was.

Almost an hour earlier, on the stage of a movie theater, the Teatro Ariston, before 2,000 spectators, Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, had knocked out Fulgencio Obelmejias of Venezuela at 2:25 of the fifth round, clouting him with a sweeping right hook that caught the challenger on the sweet spot of his jaw. The right hook is the lefthanded Hagler's most destructive punch, and this one had been as swift and decisive as any he'd ever thrown. The San Remo fight had been his first title defense since fracturing a rib in training June 22—his first, in fact, since he knocked out Caveman Lee in 67 seconds on March 7—and he felt a palpable sense of relief in getting it behind him. A small entourage, including Pat and Goody Petronelli, Hagler's manager and his trainer respectively, trailed behind him as the last of the late-night revelers roared past in their Fiats.

"Oh man, I feel good!" Hagler said. "Boy, this was an experience—fighting at 3:30 in the morning. Everything was on the money tonight. I showed Fully Obel what a professional fighter is. Everything was right. I felt like the real champion out there. Everything is looking up for me now."

Exactly how far up depends, in considerable measure, on what Sugar Ray Leonard, the undisputed welterweight champion, announces at a press conference in Baltimore on Nov. 9. Ever since Leonard suffered a detached retina while training for a fight last April, his future has been the subject of widespread speculation. But aside from Leonard himself, no one has a greater interest than Hagler in whether Leonard will fight again. If he decides to return, it will be to meet Hagler for the middleweight title in what would surely be the richest bout in the history of the sport.

Most boxing observers are convinced that Leonard will announce his retirement at the press conference, but he has been playing it very coy. A few minutes after Hagler dispatched Obelmejias, he said to Leonard, who was at ringside doing color commentary for HBO, "If we're such good friends, give me a payday!" To which Leonard replied, "Mike Trainer, sign me up." Trainer is Leonard's lawyer.

"Did you hear what I said to Ray?" Hagler asked as he strolled back to his hotel. "Right in front of everybody. I put him on the spot. But I don't think Leonard wants any part of me. He's giving everybody a mirage to look at."

Moments after Hagler swept through the Méditerranée's lobby, Leonard materialized at a party in the hotel and whispered to Pat Petronelli, "Pat, after what I saw tonight, me and Marvin could make more money than anybody ever made in the history of boxing. I mean that."

Petronelli, who looked at Leonard and knew he wasn't seeing a mirage, felt a chill. "Right!" he said to Leonard. Earlier, Leonard had urged Petronelli to be in Baltimore for the big announcement, saying, "It's in your interest to be there." Now he was telling Petronelli about all the money that could be made from a Hagler-Leonard bout, and Petronelli thought: Could Leonard be planning to use his Baltimore forum to announce a return to fight Hagler? "I'll be there," Petronelli said.
Later, when asked about his intentions, Leonard said that his eye doctor, Ron Michels of Johns Hopkins Hospital, had examined him the week before and had given him an essentially clean bill of health.

"My vision is 20-20," Leonard said. "Back to normal. Now it's a new thing. It was up to Dr. Michels. Now it's up to me. I have to start to reevaluate. I had made up my mind, but now that's changed.... If anything happens, it will be a one-shot deal."

Unless Leonard announces that he's returning to the ring, Hagler can only look forward to defending his title early next year against the WBC's leading contender, Tony Sibson, a stoutly built Englishman with a powerful left hook, and Frank (The Animal) Fletcher, a body puncher from Philadelphia who can absorb all kinds of punishment but isn't a notably hard hitter. Both fights would be million-dollar paydays for Hagler. Beyond them, of course, there's the winner of the Dec. 3 WBC junior middleweight championship fight between Wilfred Benitez and Thomas Hearns, and for Hagler a match with either would mean millions more. It was the prospect of these paydays, with the vision of Leonard hovering delectably above them all, that helped fuel Hagler's intensity when he stepped onto the stage of the Ariston Sunday morning. He had trained rigorously for this fight—for several weeks on the very tip of Cape Cod, for the last 10 days in San Remo—knowing how long a fall it would be if he ever slipped. He was getting $500,000 (to Obelmejias's $120,000), a pleasant taste of things to come.

"The way I look at it, this is putting money in the bank as well as keeping me active," Hagler said a few days before the fight. "There's no way I'm taking this guy lightly. I've had nine different sparring partners for this fight. I'm going to make sure I fight him even harder than I did the first time. I punished him then; this time I'm going to hurt him. I don't want this man back."

Hagler had whipped Obelmejias in Boston on Jan. 17, 1981 in his first title defense; he indeed battered Obelmejias around and wore him down before winning on an eighth-round TKO. Going into that bout, Obelmejias was an undefeated mystery—30-0, with 28 KOs—a politically well-connected fighter who had risen to No. 1 in the WBC and WBA by crushing tomato cans. When Hagler whipped him, Obelmejias automatically dropped to No. 4 in the WBA rankings, but he climbed back to No. 1 in the WBA this year by remaining undefeated while two contenders above him lost and the other moved up to light heavyweight. The WBA mandated that Hagler defend against Obelmejias, but the prospect of a rematch was so unattractive that Bob Arum, the promoter, couldn't get a network to buy it. He finally sold the fight to HBO, but only as the first of a three-fight package that is expected to include Hagler's defenses against Sibson and Fletcher.

Obelmejias complained that he had been suffering from a severe cold during his first fight with Hagler (although he never mentioned anything about his illness until after Hagler had won), and so he came to the balmy Mediterranean coast of Italy predicting victory. "It has been more than three months since I began training for this fight," Obelmejias said from his camp in Genoa. "I'm sure it will go completely different this time. If I hadn't been sick in Boston, things wouldn't have gone the way they did and I would have won and been champion. I'd never been in a climate like that. Now everything is O.K."

Hagler seemed unconcerned about his recent inactivity. Goody Petronelli expected Hagler to expose Obelmejias as an artificial contender once again. "He's ready to tear him apart," Goody said. "He has been sparring a lot, his timing is nice, and he has no aches and pains. If Obel wants to come at Marvin, fine; he did that last time and ended up on the short end. If he wants to box, fine. We are ready for anything he wants to do." For years Hagler has trained by the motto "Destruction and destroy," so for the San Remo crowd he added an Italian twist, wearing a shirt that said: DISTRUZIONE E DISTRUTTORE.

Few things infuriate Hagler more than an opponent displaying disdain or contempt for him, and he simply can't abide snickering. It violates the Haglerian canon of proper behavior for what he regards as a very serious enterprise between two men, one that can be settled only in the ring. So Obelmejias made his first mistake about 11 hours before the fight, when he kept smiling at Hagler at the weigh-in, raising his arms above his head and saying, "El campeon [the champion], el campeon. I fix Hagler, I fix." As they left the theater Pat Petronelli said, "He's a punk." Hagler squinted, his eyes like beads. "That's how I like 'em," he said. "I'm gonna hurt him, Pat." Whatever Obelmejias' plan was, it never really got off the ground. Hagler appeared cold in the first two rounds, losing both, but in the third he began to pick up the tempo and take the fight to Obelmejias, who was trying to catch Hagler with uppercuts whenever the champion came in. "As soon as Marvin threw the left, Obel threw the right uppercut to the ribs," Goody said. "We trained for that. He was trying to catch Marvin when he was lunging in."

Hagler intensified the pressure in the fourth round, when he began to find a comfortable distance to fight from. Pat kept urging from the corner, "It's just a matter of time, Marvin. Keep pumpin'. Keep pumpin'."

Now in the fifth, Hagler began to tag his man—jabs, hooks, left hands. Suddenly, at the close of one exchange, Hagler reached back and let fly with that right hook. Obelmejias crumpled to the canvas. He rolled on his back, his mouth open, and stared blankly in the air as if studying the murals depicting medieval scenes painted on the ceiling of the theater. At one point he struggled vainly to gain his legs, only to topple over again.

"Wasn't that a sweetheart of a punch?" Pat said.

"Beautiful," Goody said.

"I feel good, like a little boy in a candy store," Hagler said.

In this candy store, to be sure, there are Sibson and Fletcher, Benitez or Hearns, but there is no sugar sweeter than Ray. Whatever Leonard decides next week, he is making no end of mischief. One day last week in San Remo he approached Pat and teased him about the difference between his 147-pound welterweight limit and Hagler's 160-pound middleweight maximum. "I can fight beautiful at 155!" Leonard said.

All of this gives Pat reason for hope. "Oh, we are conservatively looking for something around $10 or $12 million to fight Leonard," he says. "We can struggle with those numbers. Sugar Ray will receive $20 million."

At the party following the fight, Pat reported that Leonard leaned over to him a final time and said, "I wasn't going to fight again, but my eyes are perfect. I want that one big fight with Marvin Hagler. Be there on the ninth."





February 11th 1983. Worcester, MA. Tony Sibson Sixth defense of Middleweight Title.



It has long been Marvelous Marvin Hagler's lament that he labors in the suburbs of greatness, while fighters of lesser merit bask in metropolitan limelight. So when ring announcer Nuno Cam neglected to introduce Hagler, the world's undisputed middleweight champion, before his bout last Friday in Worcester, Mass. with England's Tony Sibson, Hagler took it in stride. As he'd pointed out a few days before the fight, "If Sibson wins, he'll go home a national hero. If I win, I'll just go home."

Hagler's hometown, Brockton, Mass., is itself a suburb, of Boston, and is about 50 miles from Worcester, but for seven weeks before the fight his home was the Provincetown Inn at the tip of Cape Cod, which afforded him the solitude to train his magnificent body and develop a hatred for his opponent.

"He's got a big mouth," Hagler snarled, venting his self-induced fury at his shy and quiet challenger. "This is the last of the cocky Irishmen [sic]. The British people want nothing more than to take him home a hero. They've led him on, and they've led him to destruction. But he's courageous. That's good. I won't have to look for him."
Sibson, 24, was mystified at the outburst. "I don't know where he got that from, unless he's just using it to psych himself up," Sibson said. "All I've said was that I'm excited about fighting him because I think he's the best middleweight, probably since Sugar Ray Robinson. And I say that even though Carlos Monzon was my boyhood idol."

When the fight was stopped at 2:40 of the sixth, after Hagler had pummeled Sibson to the deck twice in the round, Hagler, in an interview with HBO's Larry Merchant, suggested that he was the greatest middleweight of all time.

"Others would have to sit in judgment on that," Merchant said.

"Well, at least the greatest since Monzon," Hagler said, backing off a bit farther than necessary.

Since winning the championship from Britain's Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, Hagler has, in just six defenses, stormed his way past the best of his contemporaries in a dismally weak division. It's hard for a man asking to be compared with the likes of Robinson and Mickey Walker and Harry Greb to offer opponents like Mustafa Hamsho and Fulgencio Obelmejias as a yardstick by which to measure his talents. Not that Hagler can be faulted for ruling a division of mediocrities. It's the same problem WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is faced with. But at least Hagler has world-caliber challengers on the horizon: Thomas Hearns, the WBC super-welterweight champ, and the man Hearns beat for that crown, Wilfred Benitez.

Certainly Hagler already can be rated among the 10 best middleweight champions ever, and he's improving with every fight. His punching power rates with the alltime best, and he's a textbook boxer: He never drops his guard and never loses his head, and he's always in position to punch. And he has never been knocked out; indeed, it's doubtful that any middleweight in history could have KO'd him, except possibly Stanley Ketchel or Bob Fitzsimmons.

But no matter how great the fighter, there is always a way to beat him. Against Hagler, perhaps there are two: the busy and skilled infighting of, say, a Jake LaMotta or a Dick Tiger, or the moving and jabbing of a Robinson. A truly mobile fighter, one with skill, would give Hagler all he could handle.

Seven who certainly had the style and ability, on a good night, to beat Hagler were Fitzsimmons, Robinson, Walker, Greb, Ketchel, Tiger and LaMotta. Others who could have made things interesting: Emile Griffith, Monzon, Fred Apostoli, Ken Overlin and Marcel Cerdan. Gene Fullmer, rugged and tough, though erratic, could have offered Hagler a hard night's work. England's Randy Turpin would have made it interesting—for six or seven rounds.

Which is more than Sibson, who came in with a 47-3-1 record as the WBC's No. 1 contender, could do. The Englishman is about as devious as a hungry bear making for a honey tree, and such men are made to order for a moving, slashing sharpshooter like the champion. The fight became a magnificent exhibition of Hagler's impressive, even frightening, skills.

In the first few rounds Hagler, a lefty, established a punishing jab. And he mystified Sibson by switching from southpaw to an orthodox stance and back even more than usual. "I couldn't find him for the first two rounds," Sibson said later. "I figured I'd find him sooner or later, but I never did. I asked myself, 'Where did he go?' But I know he was there because he kept hitting me."

In the third round, under orders from his corner, Sibson tried to trade jabs, but Hagler had begun throwing combinations, digging hooks to the body and overhand rights to the head.

In the fifth round Sibson, who had never been cut before, had his face split like a melon. There was a large gash over his left eye, a smaller one over his right. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth. In the sixth Hagler stiffened Sibson's legs with a straight left and then dropped him with a right hook and a left off the top of his head. Sibson took a standing eight count from referee Carlos Padilla, then turned away from his corner and pulled down his trunks.

"Good Lord," said Mickey Duff, the British promoter who was working in Sibson's corner. "I thought, 'What's he showing us his arse for?' Then we realized he was trying to tell us he had split his protective cup. We sent someone to the dressing room to get another."

It wasn't needed. Sensing it was time to take his $1.1 million and go home, Hagler moved in and put Sibson on the deck again with three straight right hands. He looked like a man hammering a large stake into the floor. Shaking his head, Sibson, who received $557,000, pulled out his mouthpiece and regained his feet. Blood was pouring down his face. Padilla took one look and told Sibson to take the rest of the night off.

Some may say the result was predictable because Sibson, upon his arrival in Worcester 10 days before the bout, had announced he wouldn't spar. "I'm too damn friendly," he said. "I can't bring myself to hurt little people."

But Sibson could have sparred from now to doomsday and the result wouldn't have been different. "I never believed anyone could do to me what he did," Sibson said the morning after the fight. The boyish grin was still there, but above it now were ugly lumps and the 17 stitches that had been needed to close the cuts. "After the fight I had a couple of Cokes and then looked into the mirror. I said, 'God almighty!' I didn't know fighters could look like this. That Hagler is an artist in there."



May 27th 1983. Providence, RI. Wilford Scypion. Seventh defense of Middleweight Title.


As it turned out, the question of whether Marvelous Marvin Hagler should fight Woeful Wilford Scypion for the traditional 15 rounds or for only 12, as ordered by the WBC and the WBA, was moot. Two minutes and 47 seconds into the fourth round last Friday night in Providence, R.I., Scypion was flat on his back. And Hagler, whose record now is 57-2-2, had proved, as he does with every title defense, that he is the best middleweight, and probably the best fighter in the world today, regardless of what the alphabetized lords of the ring decree.

From Mexico City the following day, Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, which had ranked Scypion as the No. 1 contender, said he chose to look upon the scuffle as a nontitle fight. So for the moment Hagler, despite having flouted the WBC's 12-round dictum, remains its champion. From Panama and Venezuela, the twin WBA power bases, there was only embarrassed silence.

To understand all of this, if one can begin to understand anything happening in boxing these days, one must go back to the death of South Korean Duk Koo Kim after he was knocked out last Nov. 13 by WBA lightweight champion Ray Mancini. Soon thereafter, Sulaiman, displaying more compassion than logic, announced that as of Jan. 1, 1983 all WBC championship bouts would be limited to 12 rounds. His rationale was that if the Kim-Mancini fight had ended after 12, Kim would still be alive. Applying that logic retroactively to 1918, of 645 documented fight-connected deaths since then, only 13 would have been prevented. The other 632 fatalities came in 12 rounds or less. And of those 632 fatalities, 190 were amateurs, who fight three rounds or fewer.

The WBA, which follows Sulaiman's lead only when there's money to be made, said it would continue with the 15-round limit.

In the case of unified champions, of which there are only two, Hagler and light heavyweight Michael Spinks, the two groups agreed that they would take turns acting as the "host" organization for title defenses. The other would just be along for a free ride—and the sanction fees. In Hagler's last fight before meeting Scypion, a sixth-round knockout of Tony Sibson in February, the WBC provided the officials and the supervision. That bout was scheduled for 15 rounds because the contracts for a fight of that length had already been signed.

On March 11, Bob Arum, co-promoter of last week's bout, received a Telex from Dr. Elias Cordova, the chairman of the WBA championship committee, informing him that the Scypion fight would have WBA officials and be for 15 rounds and that "only under this conditions [sic] the bout will receive the WBA approbation."

Subsequently, however, using the argument that Scypion was the WBC's No. 1 contender but only No. 2 according to the WBA, Sulaiman convinced Gilberto Mendoza, the president of the WBA, that the WBA should pass up its turn in the spotlight. Dr. Cordova, who has his own independent duchy within the WBA, wouldn't play along.
Hagler was caught in the crossfire. No matter which way he turned, one organization was going to strip him of half his championship. Then a backroom deal was struck. In exchange for the control of Hagler's next two defenses, the WBA agreed to let Sulaiman direct this one.

"Twelve rounds," Sulaiman said happily.

Hagler objected. "Fifteen rounds," he said.

Obviously distressed that a champion would dare speak up, even to a rival organization, Mendoza then decreed that the WBA would sanction only a 12-round fight. It mattered not that this was in direct contravention of the WBA's 15-round rule. Nor did it matter that Sulaiman had agreed to ignore his own new rule by allowing Hagler to fight 15 rounds in each of his two defenses following the Scypion challenge.

Enter the United States Boxing Association, or, more correctly, its hastily put-together offshoot, the USBA/International. "You are our world middleweight champion," said the USBA/I, an organization that, minus the slash and the I, had Scypion as its United States middleweight champion. "If you want to fight 15 rounds, we'll sanction it."

That's all the boxing world needed: a third organization with a third set of ratings and, more than likely, a third set of champions. Said Bill Brennan, the USBA/I's championship committee chairman and former president of the USBA, "We'll be O.K. if we can keep our people honest, keep their hands out of other people's pockets."
For his part, Hagler was more than happy to have the USBA/I's blessing. He said, "I won the title in a 15-round fight, I've defended it six times in 15-round fights, and I'm going to defend it this time in a 15-round fight."

Pat Petronelli, Hagler's co-manager, was more direct, "We're fed up with the WBC and WBA dictating terms to us. How can they sanction this fight for 12 rounds and the next two for 15 rounds? It's bad for the sport. We're taking a stand right now. Marvin is disgusted with both organizations. They keep saying, '[We're going to] strip, strip, strip [you of your title].' And we're saying to them, 'If you want to do it, go ahead and do it.' Marvin Hagler will still be the world champion regardless of what they say."

When the fight was postponed from May 13 to May 27 because of an injury to Hagler's left knee, Arum asked Mike Jones, Scypion's co-manager, "You in or out?"

Jones asked for 24 hours to confer with his man. The next day Jones said, "When you get down to the nitty-gritty, one fact stands out: Marvin is the undisputed middleweight champion. How could any governing body deny that? And when Wilford wins the title, he will be the undisputed champion of the world."

Two other facts stood out: When Scypion upset Frank (The Animal) Fletcher in February, he earned the shot at Hagler and the $350,000, including training expenses, that went with it. If Scypion (26-3) refused to fight. Arum had the option of bringing in a substitute. Given the choice between $350,000 and the future blessings of the WBC and WBA, Scypion wisely opted for the cash.

Sulaiman had two moves left in his repertoire. On May 18 he wired Mike Malitz of Arum's office: "WBC emergency committee voted certification of Hagler-Scypion 15 rounds based on contractual agreement. Our officials will be Arthur Mercante, referee, and judges Tony Perez, Tony Castellano and Mr. Fishenbaum."

"Mr. Fishenbaum" was Stuart Kirschenbaum, the chairman of the Michigan athletic commission, who had already been appointed a judge by the USBA/I. Along with Kirschenbaum the USBA/I had selected Referee Frank Cappuccino, and judges Larry Hazzard and Joe Cortez. A Telex went back to Sulaiman: "Suggest you contact Robert W. Lee, president of the USBA/I." A rough translation: "Drop dead."

As a last resort, Sulaiman tried a direct appeal to Hagler. He placed a call to the champion's training camp in Province-town, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod. Co-manager and trainer Goody Petronelli answered the telephone. "I'm confused," Sulaiman said. "Why is Marvin saying all those terrible things about me? Why is Bob Arum telling me to stay home?"

"Don't believe all that stuff you read in the papers," Petronelli told him. "A lot of it is getting blown out of proportion."

"I want to talk to Marvin."

Petronelli was firm. "No, not now," he said. "You're a fight person. You know I don't want to get his mind all messed up over this 15-and 12-round stuff. If you want to talk to him after the fight, he'll be glad to talk to you."

"I understand," said Sulaiman. "Tell him I have always respected him and I think he's a great champion."

That's an opinion Scypion seemed to share. He arrived in the ring frozen with fear, and in the first round Hagler hit him with a short and wicked left hook to the head, leaving him barely erect and barely conscious. As Scypion staggered backward into a corner, Hagler went after him—and then backed off. "He was fighting back out of instinct, and that's the time you can get hurt," Hagler said later. "I figured I had 15 rounds, so there was no hurry."

After two more rounds of toying with Scypion, Hagler decided 15 rounds was 11 too many. Early in the third minute of the fourth round, Hagler unleashed a volley of punches—the first being a jarring overhand right—and when he was done, Scypion was down for the count. Just which punch had put him there was unclear. Even the HBO replays couldn't provide the answer.

No matter. When Jones saw Scypion fall, he decided he had taken enough. As Cappuccino counted eight, Jones was starting through the ropes, and at nine he was inside the ring, just as Trainer Victor Valle was last June, when Gerry Cooney, another boxer in the Jones stable, was being pounded by Larry Holmes. Even if Scypion had made it to his feet, and indeed he was trying, he would have been disqualified because his cornerman was in the ring. Officially the result will be listed as a knockout at 2:47.

A few moments later, Hagler, in the bored manner of a veteran mountain climber who has scaled all the Himalayas, said he was seriously pondering retirement. "I've beaten everything that's out there," he said. "There are no big-money fights for me, and I don't feel like just hanging around waiting for somebody to knock me off. I'm going home for a long rest. I'm going to be with my wife and my family, and I am going to think about it."

Hagler's boredom is understandable. His next fight is scheduled to be against the WBA's top contender, Juan Roldan, a crude and slow Argentinian who decisioned Teddy Mann on Friday night's undercard. After that, Arum has suggested Roberto Duran, should he win the WBA junior middleweight title from Davey Moore on June 16, and, possibly, Wilfred Benitez, the former WBC super welterweight champ.

Oddly, no one has mentioned Tommy Hearns, who beat Benitez last December for the title and is the one fighter who could provide Hagler with a big payday. In the past, the Hagier camp has said that Hearns wants no part of Hagler, even though the two men almost met last year, before an injury to Hearns's hand canceled the bout.
"Not so," said Mike Trainer, the attorney for Hearns and his manager, Emanuel Steward. "That is the only big-money fight for Marvin. But not yet, although I'll sit down and talk with them about it tomorrow if they want. First Tommy has to defend his title. And then he has to move up and meet a few middleweights to make this a credible fight. Hearns is the only opponent Hagler has who can make him a lot of money. Roldan's a joke. And you can forget Duran and Benitez, because Benitez has beaten Duran and Tommy beat Benitez. If Marvin wants to make a lot of money, he has only one choice—Hearns."

But if Trainer really wants to talk to Hagler, he'll have to get in line. Sulaiman is already knocking on his rebellious champion's front door. "I believe the people with Hagler have abandoned the WBC title," Sulaiman said Saturday. "But I want Hagler to tell me this himself. I respect him; I like him. I will go anywhere to meet with him. I will pay my own way. Only then, after I have talked with Marvin, will I make up my mind whether he's still our champion or has abandoned us. And if he has, we'll find somebody else. At this moment he is still our champion."
Goody Petronelli said that Sulaiman is welcome to sit down and talk with the world champion anytime. "But my brother Pat and I will be there, too," he said. "Anyhow, right now all Marvin is thinking about is taking the summer off. He's worked long and hard, and he deserves a long rest. He's going to get it. In the fall he'll be a new man; he'll be raring to go. Then we can talk about his future."

As Hagler left Providence for his home in Brockton, Mass. on Saturday, he said that fall sounded like a nice time to make his decision. "I'll let you know in September or November." As everyone knows, October is for Halloween, which is almost as scary as Hagler.


November 10th 1983. Caesars Palace, Las Vegas. Roberto Duran. Eighth defense of Middleweight Title.





Toward the close of the 12th round last Thursday night, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran fought at a savage pace. Duran scored with hard, straight right hands to Hagler's face, and just before the bell blood trickled from Hagler's swollen left eye, as Duran taunted Hagler by pointing to his chin and saying, "Hit me! Hit me!" Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion, obliged with a hard right as he chased Duran into a corner.

The crowd of 14,600 in the stadium at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was on its feet roaring long after the bell had sounded. But the 12th, which Duran won with such a flourish, was mere prelude to what would happen in the next round. Duran brought the multitude up again, and again, and then it was chanting, "Dooooran! Dooooran! Dooooran!" Spurred on by the crowd and driven by the force of his own furious will and considerable talent, Duran, the WBA junior middleweight champion, appeared to seize control of the fight.

Midway through the 13th, Hagler struck Duran with a mighty left to the face, but Duran countered to the body, jarred Hagler with a sharp right to the head, cracked him with another right and then a third, and followed with a left and a right. Now someone in the crowd was blowing a bugle, a clarion call, it seemed, for Duran. At the bell he landed a final right to Hagler's head, and Hagler smiled sarcastically as he went to his corner. It was Duran's round, and Hagler knew it.

Suddenly—and quite miraculously—there was a sense in the stadium that Duran, a 4-to-1underdog who had been so roughed up in the sixth round it looked as if he'd never make it to the ninth, had not only survived but might yet prevail; that the former lightweight and welterweight champion of the world was about to make history by becoming the first man ever to win four world titles; and that Hagler's middleweight crown, which he'd won three years before and had successfully defended seven times, all by knockout, was in grave danger of being taken.

Hagler was simply Marvin now. It was Duran who had been marvelous. At the end of the 13th, Luis Spada, Duran's manager and strategist, told him, "You win the last two rounds, you win the fight. Throw punches. Make points. You have to win the last two rounds!"

Goody Petronelli, Hagler's trainer, told his man the same thing. Almost four years earlier at Caesars, Hagler had suffered his biggest ring disappointment, losing his first bid for the middleweight title when the judges, in a highly questionable decision, called his fight with then champion Vito Antuofermo a draw. Now Petronelli feared a similar shaft. "I want a strong 14th and 15th," he told Hagler. "You can't make this fight close. You've got to win these last two rounds."

At that point judge Guy Jutras of Canada had the fight even, at 124-124, while judge Yasaku Yoshida of Japan, whose indecision had been such that he'd called six rounds even, actually had Duran ahead 127-126, as did Ove Ovesen of Denmark, 125-124. If many at ringside would later be astonished at the judges' cards—Hagler had certainly landed more and harder punches to this juncture—it was unmistakable that Duran had craftily fought within reach of victory in the 12th and 13th rounds.

That this was so, after what Duran had been through during the preceding year, and particularly in the previous 51 minutes, gave an otherwise routine evening a sudden sense of moment. Only 363 days earlier, in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Duran had decisioned someone named Jimmy Batten in what appeared to be the closing fight of his career. It was a dreadful performance for a man who had once been so consummate a fighter, and it looked as if he had lost the skills that had served to make him the fighter of the '70s.

But then, 2½ months later, Duran whipped Pipino Cuevas, and on June 16 of this year he stunningly lifted the junior middleweight title from the inexperienced Davey Moore by stopping him in the eighth round. Despite the skeptics, who could not forget that Duran quit in the eighth round of his 1980 welterweight title rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard and who doubted that something of the old Duran remained, promoter Bob Arum made the Hagler-Duran fight. Both fighters trained with fervor, and by the time they arrived in Las Vegas they were dead fit for the occasion of their lives. On the morning of the fight Duran weighed in at 156½, Hagler at a pound more.

"I'm in the same shape I was when I fought Leonard the first time," said Duran, referring to his WBC welterweight title victory in June of 1980. And he was additionally armed with a strategy, devised by Spada, that called for Duran to box—to move rather than attack—and induce Hagler to miss.

"How ready can you get?" Hagler asked three days before the fight. "I want to get it over with. After a while, all the talking gets to you. I go to sleep now listening to myself talk."

Talk they eventually did, though it took Hagler a while to learn the strange new language Duran brought into the ring. And Hagler's discomfort with the relatively passive Duran showed in long, inexplicable lapses of his own originality and will, until he became aware that his title was truly at risk.

Aside from Referee Stanley Christodoulou—who did a superior job of preventing Duran's low blows from becoming a factor while letting the fighters fight—the only man in the ring who knew at all times what he was doing was Duran. "People think I'm going to go crazy in there, like against Leonard," Duran said before the fight. "But, no." Though decidedly undersized and outgunned—Duran is an inch shorter than Hagler and has eight inches less reach—he arrived at the 14th round with a chance, on more than the judges' cards, of finessing Hagler's belt from him.
It was a strange fight, with small eddies and currents that made it difficult to score, but fascinating for what it revealed about the personalities of its leading men. Duran is an imaginative actor onstage, an original who creates ring drama by the mere feint of his head. Hagler is a stoic, without creative urgency or flair. He's a stalker, conservative and cautious, almost insecure, whose ring presence can be likened to that of a mechanic in a garage—speak softly and carry a big wrench.
The first round was a sleepwalk. "I knew that Hagler was waiting for me to get inside to fight with him," Duran said afterward, "so he could get his punches in with force." Nothing doing, of course.

When Duran didn't attack in the second, Petronelli began to worry, "I thought, 'What's going on here?"

Not that much, really, which was the source of Petronelli's concern, though the fighters did mix it up somewhat more than they had in the first round. Hagler caught Duran with a solid right jab, a punch Duran would feel throughout the fight, and he scored uppercuts to the body and head when they fought inside. But Duran was making himself a difficult target and finding the range with his straight right hand, the punch that eventually took him as far as he went.

"Duran was fighting the smarter, more composed fight," Ovesen would say. "He made Marvin miss and countered on his own. I made those two rounds for Duran, but not by much." The fight was going as Duran and Spada had planned it. "I fought him at half-distance," Duran said. "I was waiting for him to unload so I could score on him. Whichever hand he unloaded, I was ready to counter. He didn't confuse me with anything. I was beating him without mixing it up too much."

Petronelli's foreboding deepened. "Duran waited and waited and waited for Marvin to lead," he said. "We had to change our tactics and go on the offensive, which isn't really Marvin's style." So at the end of the third, Petronelli told Hagler, "This ain't going too well. Put the pressure on him."

Through the uneventful fourth and fifth rounds, Hagler showed a harder jab but to little effect. "He'd slip and counter, slide back and wait for me," Hagler said. "When you're trying for a knockout, it's the hardest thing to get. That's what I was after, but you have to let them come. He wasn't there. Duran is too crafty to go after for a knockout. You leave yourself open, and he takes advantage of it."

Duran, meanwhile, was using every trick picked up in his 80 pro bouts (of which he had won 76) to keep out of harm's way: gliding left and right, then facing Hagler straight on, now giving him angles, then slipping and bobbing under punches, picking them off with his hands and arms, even turning his head to avert Hagler's savage uppercuts. "They were strong,' I Duran said. "I turned my head to be careful of his right because it's his most dangerous hand. His left is dead. The hand he most relied on was his right."

Hagler had trouble with Duran's hand speed, and he often couldn't find Duran's head. "I wasn't getting my jab off the way I generally do," said Hagler, who was more effective when he switched from a lefty to a righty stance, which brought him two feet closer to Duran. "It seemed everybody was disappointed that I didn't knock him out. I felt that way myself. But he wasn't that vulnerable to a knockout. It was hard to hit him with a solid punch. I didn't catch him with a solid shot."
Oh, but he did, especially in the sixth, when he tagged Duran repeatedly and heavily with lefts and rights to the body and head and appeared to have him on the ropes. Duran needed his chin of stone to survive the sixth, but the fight was clearly Hagler's if he would only reach out and grasp it. And now Duran had another obstacle to contend with. In the fifth round he'd driven a hard right to Hagler's forehead, and thereafter he felt pain in his right hand every time he landed it. Hagler never knew this.

Duran soon came to feel that his major protection against all-out attack, his cocked right hand, was so enfeebled that it left him vulnerable. "I was a little scared because he was coming in straight up," Duran said. "I could reach him with any right, but actually I was scared to throw the right hand." To survive, if not to win, Duran kept throwing it anyway through the rest of the fight.

All of this might have been moot had Hagler seized his advantage. But he didn't. Though Duran hadn't hurt him—and apparently couldn't hurt him—Hagler fought from the seventh to the 10th rounds as if Duran were Larry Holmes.

"He came to tear my head off," says Duran, "but when he saw that I could hit him hard, with strength, he got scared and became a coward. That's why he didn't take too many chances and mix it up with me. Everyone was saying he was a destroyer, but when he hit me, he didn't do anything to me. His punches absolutely did me no damage. He got scared every time he threw a jab because I could get my right in under it. That's why he held off so much."

Why Hagler, whose general motto is "Destruct and destroy," came so close to self-destructing became a central question following the 11th round, when he danced and let a tiring Duran back into the fight. What was he worried about? "I'm not a fool either," Hagler would say, "going in to get hit. You don't barrel in there on a guy like Roberto Duran. Why take unnecessary punishment unless you have to? I'd been effective and was winning the fight, so it isn't like I had to go in there and take the punishment to bomb him out."

No matter. Hagler won the fight by heeding Petronelli's advice and battering an exhausted Duran for the last six minutes of the fight, finally shedding his caution when he had to and taking the fight to the challenger. Briefly, Hagler was marvelous again. "The better man won," Duran said, after two judges had given Hagler the victory by one point, the other by two.

Ironically, the loser came away with $4 million and his reputation enhanced, while the winner stepped out of the ring with $8 million and his image diminished. And all the possibilities seem to be Duran's, with a unification bout against WBC junior middleweight champion Thomas Hearns and another multimillion-dollar payday in the offing. Hagler, who ran his record to 58-2-2, is left to fight in the mediocre middleweight division, with his next defense against Juan Domingo Roldan, the Argentine who knocked an inept Frank Fletcher unconscious in a fight before the main event.

Hagler proved himself the best middleweight on the block, while Duran showed that he is a fighter for the ages and should again be the object of celebration.



March 30th 1984. Riviera Hotel Las Vegas, NV. Juan Domingo Roldan. Ninth defense of Middleweight Title.




Juan Domingo Roldan was 10 when he was paid two Argentine pesos to fight a boy 30 pounds heavier than he. Six years later, he earned $100 for surviving 12 minutes against a wrestling bear. And last Friday night at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, he got $100,000 to try and take away Marvelous Marvin Hagler's undisputed world middleweight championship. Roldan should have stuck to bears.

Against Hagler, the end came 39 seconds into the 10th round, with Roldan badly battered and brushing resin from the seat of his trunks while informing referee Tony Perez in Spanish, "No more. I've had enough." Roldan had been practicing that speech since midway through the third round, after a hard right hand from Hagler had gouged Roldan's right eye and converted him into a very awkward cyclops. Until then, Roldan, the WBA's No. 1 contender and a 6-to-1 underdog, had just been very awkward. At the end of the third round, he'd told the people in his corner, "I can't fight anymore. I can't see him."

Tito Lectore, his manager, told him, "You've still got your left eye. You must have courage. You're beating him and you can take him out with one punch. You must forget the pain. You can be the world champion."

Roldan had won the first two rounds, mostly because Hagler was fighting in reverse while trying to decode Roldan's wild but fiercely aggressive style. The retreat was only the first element of Hagler's strategy. "It will take me a couple of rounds to figure him out," Hagler had said the day before. "After that, this is where he gets off the bus. He's been following me around for 18 months. [Roldan had fought on the undercard of four Hagler defenses.] This is the last stop for him. Now I turn on the red light."

However, it was certainly no part of Hagler's plan to wind up on the floor in the opening seconds of the fight. "It was a damn slip," the embarrassed champ, who hadn't been on the deck in 52 amateur and 62 previous pro fights, later protested. Perez ruled it a knockdown and, after shoving the seemingly puzzled Roldan toward a neutral corner, tolled the mandatory eight against an angry Hagler. "You can call it whatever you want," Perez said. "I called it a knockdown."

No matter. For $1.2 million, Hagler could afford to give Roldan his glimmer of hope. It wouldn't last long—only until Hagler, having solved the riddle of Roldan's rushes, opened up in the third round with the guns that had carried him to a 58-2-2 record. He hadn't lost since March of 1976, when Willie Monroe decisioned him.
The 5'7", 159¼-pound Roldan, a resident of Freyre, Argentina, 400 miles northwest of Buenos Aires, throws all of his punches with singular purpose: to destroy. If he feints, it's by mistake. Usually, the punches flow in wide, angry arcs starting from the hip, but against Hagler, who also weighed 159¼, he scored well early with a right uppercut. Roldan is ungainly, but he uses that fact to his advantage, and many of his most effective punches are thrown while he's off balance.

"He's so aggressive, you've got to drive him back," Hagler said before the bout. "He doesn't like it when people hit him back. This may surprise a lot of people, but I intend to hurt him. People think that just because I didn't knock out Roberto Duran [last November when Hagler won a close, but unanimous, decision] that I'm ready to be taken. I'm going to show them that the monster is back. I went to school on Duran. From him I got my master's degree. Starting now, I'm going after my Ph.D."
Hagler began serious work on his doctorate in the third round. After the second, he was told by trainer Goody Pe-tronelli, "Slide back on this guy and catch him coming in. He's wide open after every punch." Earlier, Hagler had tried ducking inside some of Roldan's punches and had been tagged by an uppercut. Now, as Roldan punched, Hagler heeded Petronelli's advice to take a step back and, as Roldan's shots fell harmlessly short, counter with hard punches to the body.

Midway through the round, Hagler fired a straight right to the head. He caught Roldan at the end of the punch, just as his hand was turning over, and the knuckle of the tucked-in thumb caught Roldan in the corner of his right eye. "God, the pain was terrible," Roldan said afterward. "It spread all the way across to my ear. I couldn't see anything."

Staggering backward in pain, Roldan slammed against the ropes and slumped down. With his right hand, he pawed helplessly at the injured eye. Jumping in, Perez waved Hagler off and began to count. The eye was swollen shut almost before Perez got to eight. "I'd planned on boxing him," Hagler said, "but I saw I was hurting him—I could hear him grunt every time I hit him in the body—and I wasn't about to make the same mistake I made against Duran. I forgot all about boxing Roldan. I knew I could take him out. It was just a matter of hitting him until he fell down."
In the sixth round, Hagler ripped a cut over Roldan's terribly swollen eye. Perez became concerned, and after each round asked Dr. Donald Romeo, the ring physician, to check the eye.

"Ask him if he wants to continue," Romeo said, as he made each examination, to Tito Alba, a translator who was covering the Roldan corner for HBO.

"Tell him he feels fine and wants to continue," Lectore, butting in, told Alba each time.

After the ninth round, Roldan told Lectore he could fight no more. Lectore slapped him hard. Then he began to shake Roldan. "You can't quit," Lectore said. "You must have courage. Be brave. You can still win. Throw the big punch. Knock him out."
Roldan knew there was no big punch left. In the sixth, he had hit Hagler on the chin with a wicked hook. The champion withstood it without blinking. Still, Roldan answered the bell for the 10th round. Moving in quickly, Hagler shifted from his normal southpaw stance and caught Roldan with a straight right, fired two left hooks and then caught him with a right cross square on the injured eye. Roldan crashed over on his back.

Sitting up, Roldan stared at the floor in despair. Then he climbed wearily to his feet and, shoulders slumped in defeat, turned toward his corner even as Perez finished the count. That's when Perez asked him if he wanted any more of Hagler, and Roldan said no.

Furious, Lectore threw a towel into the ring. Then, striding from the arena, he barged into Roldan's dressing room and belted a door from its hinges with a righthand punch.

The following morning, Lectore, his hand badly swollen, said he hadn't thrown the towel at Roldan. "People shouldn't think I'm a criminal," he said. "I was just trying to give him courage. That's my job. But Roldan fought a very courageous fight. He fought the last seven rounds with one eye. I just threw the towel because of the bad luck. With two good eyes, Roldan won the first 2½ rounds. That's what's important. All the rest was bad luck."

Next up for Hagler—in the 10th defense of the title he won on Sept. 27, 1980—is Mustafa Hamsho, who, you'll remember, was butchered by Hagler on Oct. 3, 1981 before the fight was stopped in the 11th round. Then, said Lectore, Roldan will try his luck again.

You would think once against Hagler would be enough.



October 19th 1984. Madison Square Garden. Mustafa Hamsho rematch. Tenth defense of Middleweight Title.




Forty or so years ago, when the middleweight division was producing boxing's sweetest scientists, Marvelous Marvin Hagler's brand of controlled mayhem undoubtedly would have fired up the cognoscenti at New York's old Madison Square Garden. Hagler has rarely been blessed with opponents or settings conducive to high artistry, but the undisputed—well, sort of—middleweight champion was received like a warrior from the golden era last Friday night when he made his New York debut, in the present Garden, by stopping a typically outclassed challenger, Mustafa Hamsho, at 2:31 of the third round.

In essence, the arena became Marvin's, Garden for the night, testimony to the 30-year-old champion's four-year monopoly of a divison and 12-year pro career during which he had somehow never before fought in New York. His dismantling of Hamsho brought his record to 60-2-2, with 50 KOs, and was his 10th successful title defense. The adulation he received from the 14,000 fans persuaded the oft-slighted Hagler to call the evening "the highlight of my career." Such is the state of boxing, however, that after the bout, the WBC stripped Hagler of its version of the title because the fight had been scheduled for 15 rounds instead of the WBC-sanctioned 12. Hagler still holds the WBA and IBF titles.

Hagler withstood butting tactics and some sneaky right hands by Hamsho, a 31-year-old Syrian-born southpaw now living in Brooklyn, in the first two rounds before putting him down—for the first time in his 43-fight career—with two right hooks midway through the third. When Hamsho struggled to his feet, Hagler patiently set him up for a sweeping, leaping, finishing right that looked like a mirror image of the catapult left hook employed by one of Hagler's idols, Floyd Patterson.

In a 1981 title defense, Hagler had hit Hamsho steadily for 11 rounds without this sort of effect, and last Friday's early explosion somewhat eased the memory of Hagler's tentative performances in recent defenses against Roberto Duran and Juan Roldan. But these days Hagler is being held up to a harsher light than his own division can provide. Thomas Hearns, the WBC junior middleweight champion, whose two-round demolition of Duran on June 15 has once again made him a supernova, looms as the test that could measure Hagler's claim that he's the equal of a Robinson or a Zale.

At ringside for Friday's fight, Hearns, who was resplendent in tuxedo, gold HIT MAN medallion and high-tech sunglasses that looked suitable for viewing a 3-D movie, was besieged by autograph seekers; he seemed to love the attention. "Marvin didn't show me anything new," said Hearns after the bout. "I can beat him any way he wants to fight. There was nothing for me to be concerned about other than Marvin winning the fight. He made me very happy."

For good reason. Promoter Bob Arum is hustling to put together a $10-million package that would make a Hagler-Hearns bout the richest middleweight fight of all time. One hang-up is that the Hearns camp insists that the purse be split 50-50; Hagler's people are asking for 55%. If an agreement is reached—a similar arrangement fell through in 1982—and Hearns beats hard-hitting but raw John (The Beast) Mugabi later this year, the fight would be held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in early spring.
Hagler got ready for Hamsho, who as No. 1 contender (his record: 38-2-2, with 22 KOs) was a mandatory challenger, in typically Spartan style in Provincetown, Mass. He didn't meet with the New York media until the day before the fight, when he announced, "I'm feeling especially mean." That condition was brought on by his acute antipathy for Hamsho, who had incurred Hagler's ire in escalating stages. First Hamsho said the Duran fight proved " Hagler is coward, he has no heart." The Roldan fight, Hamsho added, taught him that Hagler "knows how to thumb." Retorted Hagler, "Hamsho was better off when he didn't speak English. I don't want to see this man's face anymore. I don't want to hear his name. Eliminate."

Hamsho wasn't intimidated, even though it had taken 55 stitches to put together his shredded brows after the '81 fight. He has a style his late manager, Paddy Flood, who died suddenly in March 1983, said was "strictly La Motta." Hamsho planned to become more elusive against Hagler the second time by carrying his head lower and bobbing and weaving. For inspiration Hamsho had a green and white robe made by Flood's widow, Jean, and the knowledge that the fight would be televised in Syria, which he left 10 years ago.

Hamsho's night began inauspiciously when the two large Syrian flags that accompanied him into the ring aroused scattered booing, as did the playing of the Syrian national anthem. The challenger came out at the bell with a strong right to Hagler's head, but did himself more harm than good by butting Hagler twice. At the end of the round, which judges Eva Shain and Vinnie Rainone gave to Hamsho, a livid Hagler shouted at Hamsho, "You want to play dirty, I'll show you how to play dirty. I'll hurt you."

It took Hagler another round to collect his emotions and put punches together with his usual efficiency. Hamsho was bobbing and weaving, but a seemingly possessed Hagler was finding him.

"After he butted me, I decided these would be my judges," Hagler said, holding up his hands. "This is K [he brandished his right hand] and this is O. And O sets up K so I can put him away." After the second knockdown, Hamsho's manager, Al Certo, jumped into the ring to cradle his fighter before referee Arthur Mercante could begin a count.

Hagler got $1.4 million for beating Hamsho, about as much as he can hope to make against anyone but Hearns. Hamsho got $300,000. Besides the money from a Hearns fight, Hagler has set his sights on Carlos Monzon's record of 14 middleweight championship defenses.

Hearns's manager, Emanuel Steward, contends that while Hagler deserves to be considered one of the alltime great middleweight champions, he's a fighter on the downside. "Anyone with any speed will now give Marvin trouble," Steward said. "Marvin doesn't respond to punches as fast.

"He was getting hit by short-armed, slow little Hamsho. Little Duran hit him with rights. Roldan hit him. Think what Thomas will hit him with. I think it will be a short night."

Not surprisingly, Goody Petronelli, Hagler's longtime trainer, had a rebuttal. "Marvin is the most complete fighter in boxing today," Petronelli said, "and he has more guns now than he ever had. Hearns doesn't have Marvin's chin, his durability or his experience. As for Duran, he was in for a last payday against Hearns. I think Hearns needs a little more encouragement before he gets in the ring. When he's ready, we'll see who's king of the hill."

Hagler-Hearns Preview




In an era when "classic" fistfights exist primarily in the minds of promoters, the matching of two boxers with the superb credentials of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns is a throwback to the times when such warriors as Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano roamed the middleweight ranks. This will be a fighter's fight.
For a change, there is more analysis than hype as Hagler and Hearns sweat through the final days before their 12-round fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on April 15. And while the experts argue over which man will win, everyone agrees on one thing: Hagler and Hearns don't like each other. Really.

"I don't like him, and he doesn't like me," Hearns says in a flat voice. "That's not the usual prefight talk; that's just the way things are."

Hagler agrees and says that the only other point upon which the two fighters have ever agreed is that his world middleweight championship will be on the line. "He's chicken," the champion says coldly. "He ducked me for three years until he thought I got old. Well, I'm not old, and he's in for a helluva beating."

At his training camp in Palm Springs—his usual training site on the tip of Cape Cod was bypassed because of an unpredictable furnace—Hagler is staging daily dress rehearsals for the fight with sparring partners Larry Davis, who is a Hearns-like 6'2" with an 83-inch reach (compared with Hagler's 5'9" and 75-inch reach), and Jerry Holly, 6'1½" with an 81-inch wingspan. Taking the other two-round shift in the sparring rotation is Bobby (Boogaloo) Watts, who beat Hagler, one of only two men to do so, and that was back in January 1976.

Hagler is running a minimum of six miles every morning and enduring 1½-hour, nearly nonstop workouts six days a week. He is leading a Spartan life, as well he might, considering that old Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas, occasionally drops in on training sessions and three weeks ago invited Hagler over to his house to watch the Larry Holmes fight against David Bey.

Hagler's training camp diet is always heavy on fish and chicken, but he also has been loading up on vitamin C for this bout. In fact, when Hagler and his trainer-manager, Pat Petronelli, spotted a tree loaded with oranges on the golf course across from their hotel, the two got a sack and strolled over. After checking that the coast was clear, Petronelli boosted his boxer up into the branches to pick a few fresh oranges. Uh-oh, a golf cart came purring up unexpectedly, and when the Marvelous one saw it, he nearly fell out of the tree. "It was embarrassing as hell," Petronelli recalls. Not only had they been caught red-handed, but their captor was Bob Hope.

As for Hearns, The Road To Las Vegas runs right through the lobby of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach. There, amid the pillars and statues of cute woodland sprites, Hearns is sweating and sharpening his skills five afternoons a week in a specially constructed 24-foot ring. The challenger's only real distraction so far was a fishing trip on which he caught 40 fish...and a case of seasickness.

Hearns's usual routine is to be up at 6 a.m. for roadwork—actually beach work—followed by a shower and short nap. Then, at eight, his manager-trainer, Emanual Steward, will cook the biggest of Hearns's two meals a day. A typical breakfast menu includes veal chops or chicken, salad, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. At 2 p.m. Hearns goes down to the lobby for his workout, which concludes with six to eight rounds of sparring. Steward has the challenger working four-minute rounds with only 30-second rest periods against a stable of three, sometimes four, sparring partners a day. Among them have been World Boxing Council welterweight Milton McCrory and Don Lee, the World Boxing Association No. 3 middleweight challenger. Lee is also a lefthander, so Hearns can be ready when Hagler, a natural righthander, switches styles, which he will do.

What will happen when Hagler, 30, unbeaten since 1976 (60-2-2 overall), collides with Hearns, 26, a paralyzing hitter (41-1)?

The combination of power—between them, Hagler and Hearns have knocked out 84 opponents—and durability is decidedly impressive, and the fight may be as close as the middleweight division will ever get to a replay of Graziano's bruising wars with Tony Zale in the late '40s. In his 64 fights, Hagler has been knocked down only once, by Juan Roldan a year ago. And that was really a slip. In his drive to the middleweight championship, which he won by stopping Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, and in 10 successful defenses, Hagler has sent 50 opponents back to their dressing rooms early. "I think I can take anything [Hearns] has got," says the heavily muscled champ. "I don't believe that stuff about the Hit Man."

Hearns took up hammering his opponents when he turned pro in 1977, after a 10-year amateur career as a pure boxer. The rangy challenger punches with enough leverage to have knocked out 34 of his 41 pro opponents. He won the WBA welterweight title from Pipino Cuevas, in 1980, then lost that crown to Sugar Ray Leonard on a 14th-round TKO the following year. In December 1982 he won the WBC junior middleweight crown from Wilfred Benitez, and he continues to hold that as a hedge should he lose to Hagler.

Despite their accomplishments, both fighters are driven by motives that have nothing to do with the millions ($5.7 for Hagler; $5.4 for Hearns) they will earn. They know that boxing historians will use each man as the true measure of the other's skill, and each plans a vicious exploration of the other's credentials.

The books in Las Vegas opened with Hagler a 7-to-5 choice, but large sums of money the other way quickly made Hearns 6 to 5. The bookmakers expect a countermove by backers of Hagler but predict the fight will be even money by the opening bell. With malice, each fighter has predicted a knockout in the third round. If you agree with that, Hearns should be the pick. If the brawny champion is to knock out his man, it will come later.

Hearns needs no extra incentive to go after an early knockout. All but seven of his 34 KOs have come before the fifth round, most brought about by a sharp right hand after the victim had been thoroughly bombarded by a long and jarring left jab.
But for this fight, Hearns will be modifying his jab, firing it instead in an arc over the champion's right hand when Hagler goes southpaw.

"People think he is going to be watching my right," says Hearns. "But the power is going to be in my left. Marvin is much shorter, and for me to hit him I've got to come down with the jab. I've got to step to my left, with my left foot on the outside, and hit him sideways with a lot of pressure instead of straight on."
Assuming his jab has forced an opening in Hagler's compact, weaving defense, Hearns will unleash his lethal right. It will be more of a hook than the classic cross, and it will be aimed, not at the chin, but at the side of the head.

The prospect does not alarm the champ. "After it comes," says Hagler, "I'm going to say, 'Tommy, is that your best shot? Hey, you better hit me with that ring post over there because you just found out that Mr. H isn't going anywhere.' That's when people say he'll try to box. I don't think so. When I pop him, I think there is too much macho in him. [This, remember, is from the man who called Hearns "chicken" in another context.] I think when the crowd starts to whooping and hollering, he's going to fight the kind of fight I want it to be. He's going to start throwing them, and I'll be there, bobbing and weaving. That's when I'm going to whip this guy."
What will help Hearns, aside from his power, is his foot and hand speed and his height, all of which will negate any edge Hagler might have as a southpaw. "With his height, Tommy is looking down into the pit," says Harold Weston, Madison Square Garden's current matchmaker, who suffered a detached retina in losing to Hearns in 1979. "He'll be towering over Hagler, and Hagler will be crouching anyway, so the southpaw style won't affect Hearns."

Furthermore, Hagler has never fought anyone who could deliver a punch as fast as Hearns. "I've watched Marvin's fights," says Steward. "He hasn't been in with anyone who has the movement Tommy will show him, but even with slower opponents, every time Hagler misses a punch, he loses his balance. There is something missing. He's slipping and falling...that's a sign of age. And with a fighter who moves like Tommy, he'll really be in trouble."

In recent fights, Hagler has been cut badly over both eyes. The injuries have mostly come from head butts, but the cause is immaterial: The scar tissue is there, unmistakable targets for Hearns's ripping jab. "Tommy is going to hurt Marvin in the first round," says Steward. "The big right hand. If it doesn't knock him out, it will cut him. And the jab will cut him. And then when the blood is blinding him, he won't see the right hand coming."

While trying to solve the jab, Hagler will have to get past the first four rounds. After that, if Hagler has survived, Hearns will back off, using his long stride and snapping jab to try and hold off the champion, who will now step up his attack. Hagler, one of the most devastating body punchers in boxing, will have to get inside, where Hearns is most vulnerable. But Hearns can be a hard man to pin down.
"It's those long arms and legs of his," says Leonard, who spent more than one fruitless round chasing his elusive prey. "With those arms, when he moves he is able to hit from such a great distance that it is difficult to land a really solid shot or get off a good combination. With his legs, for every two steps you take, he has to take only one. Hell, in three or four steps, he's around the ring, from corner to corner. That can present a problem for Hagler."

The champion, however, is accustomed to men—undeniably slower—fleeing from him. He has become a master of cutting off the ring. But then, there is little that he can't do inside his 20-foot-square workshop. What makes him unique is that he fights a perfect textbook style, one neatly supplemented by heavy hands. In Hearns he has an opponent with the physique of a praying mantis, and such fighters tend to fold when whacked in the middle. It is to this area that Hagler, with his augerlike right hook, is truly devastating.

"The thing that sticks out in my mind," says Angelo Dundee, who was in Leonard's corner the night he beat Hearns, "is the left hook Ray landed to Tommy's body in the sixth round. That turned the whole fight around. That kind of dig from Hagler can break a fighter in half. Those big tall guys have a history of not being able to take a shot downstairs, and Hearns is going to take some vicious whacks to the body."
A natural righthander, Hagler gets inside by posing as a southpaw and using a fine right jab. If he can make Hearns miss with those long-distance punches, he'll slip to the inside and work hard to the body, not with one shot, but in quick bruising bursts. In the middle rounds, he'll move Hearns out of center ring, where there is relative safety, and begin to hammer at him in the corners.

By the middle rounds, Hagler's attack will begin to collect dues from the challenger's body. Hearns will be hurt, but he'll fight back from behind the jab. The champion will shift gears again, setting an even more violent tempo. Because he has thrown so many punches already, Hearns will begin to falter. The punishment he has taken to the body will rob the speed from his legs. Hagler, who himself probably will have been cut and bloodied, will nevertheless appear fresh.

In the 10th and 11th rounds, Hearns will reach down and fight back, still trying to land the one big right hand that will end it. He'll slow Hagler, but he won't have enough left to stop him. After four or five rounds, Hearns's punches lose much of their snap.

In the last round, one or both could fall, as much from exhaustion as from the effect of the other man's punches. Neither will stay down.

It will go to the judges, who are going to find they've scored the first four rounds for Hearns, the next four even and the last four for Hagler. Which means they'll probably fight again in September.



April 15th 1985. Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Nevada. Hagler-Hearns. Eleventh defense of Middleweight Title.




There was a strong wind blowing through Las Vegas Monday night, but it could not sweep away the smell of raw violence as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns hammered at each other with a fury that spent itself only after Hearns had been saved by the protecting arms of referee Richard Steele. The fight in a ring set up on the tennis courts at Caesars Palace lasted only a second longer than eight minutes, but for those who saw it, the memory of its nonstop savagery will remain forever.

Hagler's undisputed middleweight championship was at stake, and for the first time since he won it from Alan Minter in 1980, people had been questioning his ability to retain it. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Hagler fumed as the odds tilted back and forth before settling on the champion by the narrowest of margins. Hagler's pride was sorely stung, and a deep burning anger wrote his battle plan.

It was a simple strategy, one that could have been designed by Attila: Keep the swords swinging until there are no more heads to roll, give no quarter, take no prisoners. There would be only one pace, all-out; only one direction, forward.
It was a gamble, for Hagler would be exposing his 30-year-old body to the cannons that had knocked out 34 of the 41 men his 26-year-old challenger had faced and had earned Hearns the nickname Hit Man. "But he ain't never hit Marvin Hagler," the champion sneered. "I've taken the best shots of the biggest hitters in the middleweight division, and I've never been off my feet [ Hagler considers his knockdown by Juan Roldan a slip]. And this guy isn't even a middleweight. Hit Man, my ass."

Hearns, as the challenger, came into the ring first—tall and strikingly muscular at 159� pounds—wearing a red robe with yellow trim. He jumped up and down to limber up his leg muscles, and then he strolled around the ring smiling. Hagler followed, in a royal-blue robe over trunks of the same color. Most champions keep challengers waiting alone in the ring as long as possible, but Hagler had warmed up well in his dressing room and he wanted to make his appearance while the sweat was still oiling his body. Entering the ring, he fixed Hearns with a scowl that never wavered, not even during Doc Severinsen's trumpet version of the National Anthem.

When the bell rang, the war was immediately on. "I think Marvin may come out so fired up that we'll just have Tommy stick and move," Emanuel Steward, the challenger's manager, had said. " Hagler will be so juiced up, after seven or eight rounds it'll rob his strength. Then we'll go for the late knockout."
But Steward underestimated just how juiced up the champ would be. Hagler never gave Hearns a chance to do anything but fight for his life. The 5'9�" champion swept over his 6'2" opponent like a 159�-pound tidal wave. There were no knockdowns in the first round, but only because both men were superbly conditioned and courageous athletes. Surely each hit the other with plenty of blows powerful enough to drop lesser mortals. In all, 165 punches (by computer count) were thrown by both fighters: 82 by Hagler, 83 by the challenger.

Startled by the intensity of Hagler's assault, Hearns replied in kind. He's normally a sharpshooter from the outside, but only 22 of his 83 punches were jabs. Hagler, attacking Hearns's slender middle with his first volley, threw none. "I started slugging because I had to," Hearns admitted later. "Marvin started running in, and I had to protect myself."

It was a sensational opening round. Both fighters were rocked during the violent toe-to-toe exchanges, and midway through the round the champion's forehead over his right eye was ripped open either by a Hearns right hand or elbow. With Hagler not bothering with defense, Hearns went for the quick kill. His gloves became a red blur as he rained punch after punch on the champion's head—and it would prove his undoing.
"He fought 12 rounds in one," Steward said later.

Returning to his corner, Hearns wore the drained expression of a man who had already fought for 36 minutes.

"What are you doing?" Steward screamed. "You've got to stick and move. Jab. Don't fight with him."

In the champ's corner, Dr. Donald Romeo, the chief physician of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, was examining the cut on Hagler's forehead. Another abrasion had begun to form under the eye. Satisfied that the cut on the forehead was harmless, Romeo returned to his seat.

"Don't change," Hagler's trainer, Goody Petronelli, told the champion. "Just keep your hands up a little higher. Don't worry about the cut. Just keep charging and keep the pressure up."

"O.K.," said Hagler. "I won't worry about the cut. If you go to war, you're going to get wounded."

Hagler's pace in the second round was only slightly less relentless. "When I see blood," said the champion, "I become a bull." He came out ready to gore whatever was in his path, and although Hearns rocked him midway through the round with a strong right cross, Hagler never for an instant eased the pressure. "All that right hand did," said Hagler, "was make me even madder."

A veteran of 64 professional fights (all but two of them victories), Hagler could sense the strength seeping away from Hearns's body. As he went back to his corner after the second round, the champion knew the fight was just about over.
"This cut isn't bad, but it's bleeding a lot," said Petronelli, as he worked on Hagler's forehead. "Let's not take any chances. Take him out this round."
"He's ready to go," said Hagler, spitting a mouthful of water into a pail. "He's not going to hurt me with that right hand. I took his best, and now I'm going to knock him out."

As in the first two rounds, Hagler came out at full fury. Forcing himself up on his toes, Hearns tried to hold him off with jabs, but he had little left. Hagler waded through the challenger's jabs, pressing forward, always punching. Hearns was not backing down, but he was backing up. One of Hearns's jabs widened the cut on Hagler's forehead, and as blood came roaring down the champion's face, Steele signaled time-out and stepped in. He led Hagler back to his corner to be reexamined by Romeo.

"Can you see all right?" the physician asked over the screams of 15,088 outraged fans.

"No problem," said Hagler. "I ain't missing him, am I?"

Romeo again motioned to Steele that the fight could continue.

Deciding that he didn't want the outcome determined by anyone but himself, Hagler moved in, first firing a short left and then a smashing right to the side of Hearns's head. Dazed, the challenger floundered backward across the ring.
The pursuing Hagler unloaded a right and a left, and then leaped in with an overhand right that thundered against Hearns's head. On instinct alone, the challenger tried to clinch, but then he went down.

As Steele picked up the count, Hearns lay on his back, arms outstretched, eyes open but unseeing. With great will, Hearns rolled over and brought himself to his feet at the count of nine. But Steele, after studying the challenger's glazed eyes, wisely signaled a cease-fire. The time was 2:01 of the third round.

With blood still streaming down his face and onto his chest, Hagler leaped into the air, at least $5.7 million richer. It was his 11th title defense, leaving him on track in his drive to surpass Carlos Monzon's middleweight record of 14.
Hearns had to be carried back to his corner, and it was several minutes before he could stand on his own two feet. Later, Hearns, who is still WBC junior middleweight champ and who stands to bank at least $5.4 million from the fight, went into Hagler's dressing room. "We made a lot of money, but we gave them a good show," Hearns said. "Tell you what. You move up and fight the light heavies, and I'll take care of the middleweights."

Hagler laughed. "You move up," he said.

After receiving four stitches for the cut in his forehead, Hagler went to a party in the Augustus Room at Caesars. He spoke briefly to the celebrators. Then, with his wife, Bertha, he watched a video replay of the fight. After seeing the knockout for the fourth time, Hagler smiled and applauded. He looked at his watch. It was midnight. "Let's go," he said to Bertha. His work was done.



March 10th 1986. Caesars Palace, Las Vegas NV. John “The Beast” Mugabi. Twelfth defense of Middleweight Title.




For his next performance, Marvelous Marvin Hagler would be delighted to fight Sugar Ray Robinson. A young Robinson. Or a young Tony Zale. "Now Zale, there was one tough, rough fighter," the world middleweight champion was saying in a moment of reflection last Saturday night, five days after knocking out John Mugabi, an iron-chinned challenger who himself had KO'd 26 straight opponents before running afoul of Hagler.

Mugabi hit the deck and stuck at 1:29 of the 11th round in the night air of Caesars Palace arena in Las Vegas. That was Hagler's 12th straight title defense, a string stretching back to Jan. 17, 1981, and it left the 31-year-old champ just three shy of becoming the most successful 160-pound title-holder in history; between 1970 and 1977, Carlos Monzon made 14 successful defenses.

"Just three more," Hagler mused at his home in Hanover, Mass. "So far I'm on a great timetable. I don't think 31 is old. I'll be 32 in a couple of months [May 23], and I think I still have one good strong year left. The record, that is what I am looking for."

Next up won't be Robinson or Zale, but 27-year-old Thomas Hearns, whom Hagler knocked out in the third round last April. Hearns earned a second go-round this coming fall by rendering James Shuler senseless in 73 seconds, during a cold rain that quit just before Hagler went to work in the same outdoor arena.

Promoter Bob Arum had wanted a June 23 Hagler-Hearns date, but "we told him November," said Pat Petronelli, Hagler's manager. "Marvin needs some time off." Hagler wants to make his last two defenses next year, before his 33rd birthday. The closing act of his truly marvelous career is expected to be against welterweight champion Donald Curry, who will test himself at 154 pounds against WBA junior middleweight champ Mike McCallum on June 23.

" Hearns don't want this fight," Hagler scoffed. "He's still trying to bluff the public. He's saying, 'I'm still a tough guy, and I want Marvin Hagler again.' Then everybody is supposed to say, 'Oh, my, you got a lot of heart.' Bull. He don't want me. Hearns knew Shuler had no chin and couldn't punch. He wins one fight and he's right back in a championship fight. If I had lost to him, it would have been goodby Marvelous Marvin Hagler. They've been trying to get rid of me for years."

For the Mugabi fight, Hagler earned between $3 million and $5 million, depending upon the final closed-circuit and pay-per-view take. But riches and a measure of respect have not softened his bitter memory of the years when champions avoided his southpaw cannons and—most galling—of the title, seemingly won from Vito Antuofermo in 1979, that was whisked away by a controversial draw. Even when Hagler won the title, from Alan Minter in 1980, the London fans applauded him only with a barrage of epithets and beer bottles.

"Have I found peace? Not really," says Hagler, who has a 62-2-2 record, his last loss coming on March 9, 1976. Even that one, to Willie Monroe in Philadelphia, reeked of hometown accounting, and the following year Hagler knocked Monroe out twice to underline the injustice. "I'll put it this way: I'm happy but I'm not satisfied," says Hagler. "I believe they really won't give me credit until I am done with the game. Because every time there is another opponent, somebody is going to say, 'This guy is going to take you.' Now they are talking about Curry. It's like I haven't proved myself yet. What the hell do they want?"

In Hagler's 12 title defenses, only one man, Roberto Duran, has gone the distance against him. And that was because Hagler, for reasons even he can't fathom, fought the puffed-up Panamanian with unaccustomed and unneeded caution. No matter. Boxing being what it is, there is even talk of using a resurrected Duran, slimmed down from 200-plus pounds, as Hagler's opponent between Hearns and Curry.

"Nobody should want to fight Marvin a second time," said Goody Petronelli, Pat's brother and Marvin's trainer. "Look at the record: Marvin is devastating the second time around." In fact, of the 12 rematches he has fought, he has won all of them, 10 by KO.

There will be no second time for Mugabi, not if the Ugandan, now living in Tampa, has any input into decisions about his future. After his first professional loss, Mugabi has decided he is more suited to remaining a junior middleweight. "Marvin is very tough and very strong and a great champion," Mugabi said. "Now I want to fight Curry and Hearns. I knock them both out." He didn't even hint at a rematch with Hagler.

"Oh, no," said Pat Petronelli, "not Curry, not as a junior middleweight. Hey, I warn both Hearns and Curry: Beware of this man at 154 pounds. As much as we like Curry, and we all think he is great, we all agree Mugabi is dangerous because he is so damn strong. Curry has got to stay away from him because we are looking for that last big payday. Mugabi could ruin everything."

Hearns, too, had that big payday in mind as he waded from his dressing room to meet Shuler. A bright canopy covered the ring, and banks of TV lights gave the fighters warm relief from the 40� temperature. Hearns was also heated by the thought of a $500,000 incentive bonus Arum had offered if he knocked out Shuler in six rounds or fewer. Cold reality said that anything less would make a rematch with Hagler a distant drumbeat.

Opening with several hooks to the rib cage, which Shuler endured with clear anguish, Hearns fired one big right hand to the jaw and Shuler was counted out after just 73 seconds. Hearns collected his bonus plus the $1 million guarantee for meeting the WBC's No. 1 middleweight contender. For reasons mysterious, Mugabi, who has always campaigned as a junior middleweight, was the WBA's No. 1 160-pound contender.
"Now I want to sit and watch Hagler win, because I have something to prove," Hearns said during the wait before the Hagler-Mugabi bout. "The next one will be a totally different fight. I'm a different man than when I fought him the last time. I didn't have any legs then. Everybody has seen Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3, but they haven't seen Round 4. And Round 4 will be just as exciting."

Even as Hearns talked of the rematch, Mickey Duff, Mugabi's manager, was busy in Hagler's dressing room doing his best to derail the champion. Duff was screaming that Hagler had exceeded the legal limits in almost everything, including the size of his protective cup.

"Duff had Marvin tighter than a drum," said Pat Petronelli. "He came in and made a big issue out of the protective cup just a half hour before the fight. He said the cup was too high and there would be no fight. He said the rules stated that the cup had to stop at the navel and that Marvin's was above that. It wasn't. Marvin was all taped, and here's Duff, screaming and ranting and raving."

Hagler looked at the Petronelli brothers. "Get him the hell out of here," he yelled. "I can't take this. I can't concentrate."

Duff departed only after the Petronellis promised that George Francis, Mugabi's trainer, could return with a Nevada State Athletic Commission inspector to check the cup. Francis came in five minutes later, took a look and said, "That's fine."
Hagler arrived in the ring late, hooded and angry. The rain had stopped just a few minutes earlier, and steam rose eerily from the champion's shaven skull. "He was so mad he tried to knock Mugabi's head off with every punch the first two rounds," said Pat Petronelli.

Fighting righthanded except for the last five seconds of the first round, Hagler, a natural southpaw, lost it to Mugabi, who dispelled the myth that he is as unfamiliar with the subtleties of boxing as he is with the written word. (He speaks three languages—Batoro, Swahili and English—but can't read or write.)

"I needed the work, anyway," said Hagler. "And it was great. I love a good fight. I could see why he had 26 knockouts, and he's a very gutsy warrior. I figured I had to wear him out; I could see that was the way I had to go, because he was kind of strong and I had to take some of that punching power out of him."

Coming out for Round 2 as a southpaw, Hagler quickly discovered that Mugabi couldn't handle his right jab, which is a devastating, head-snapping punch. And the champion was following his jab, moving to his right, causing Mugabi to reach in with his own right hands. "After that it was just a matter of time," Hagler said.

Mugabi's time almost came in the sixth, when he was rocked hard by right hands and almost out, only to be saved by referee Mills Lane, who stepped in and used eight seconds to warn Hagler for hitting low. The pause was enough to allow Mugabi to recover. "It's all starting to come together," Hagler told his furious cornermen at the end of the round.

Feeling that Mugabi was weakening, Hagler began manhandling him inside, and further sapped his strength with short, wicked shots. By the end of the 10th, the challenger was exhausted and without hope. Not even the pleadings of Father Anthony Clark, the priest who had baptized Mugabi a Catholic three weeks earlier and was working in his corner, helped. "We love you" were Father Tony's words as Mugabi went out to face Hagler in the 11th. But when the champion dropped him after a barrage of rights, he sat, arms on knees, and watched as Lane counted him out.

"What was so exciting about the fight was the way I done it," said Hagler. "I took the toughest opponent out there, a guy with all those knockouts, and I destroyed him. Him and Hearns, back-to-back. Now maybe all those doubters will shut up."




I look forward to a very strategic fight, to doing everything conceivable to win—to tying him up, to going behind him, to being cute—everything that's going to trigger him, to cross those wires. The key to Marvin Hagler is frustration. I've got to make him miss, force him to make mistakes. When he fought Roberto Duran, after one particular round he was shaking his head. He was frustrated. If I see that, then I've got him. I've got him! —SUGAR RAY LEONARD

Ask Leonard. What are you going to do different? Stand there and bang with Hagler? O.K. That's the only other thing he can do. Other than that he's going to run and do the same old stuff that Leonard's been doin'. I'll let him do the flurrying. But what happens when you stop and look at me and hit me with your best shot and I'm still there and I'm smiling in your face? Just what I did with Thomas Hearns. I realize Leonard's going to run; I'll cut the ring off. Put the pressure on him. Pressssurrrrrrre! When he stops, here I'am. Hello! I'm going to knock him silly.
—MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER

No one can accuse them of speeding. In fact, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard will arrive for their showdown about five years late, and just that much older, roughly the time it took Leonard to decide he really wanted to fight the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, after all. Close boxing observers still debate who would have won this fight in 1982, the year Leonard, then the welterweight champion, killed prospects for such a match by announcing his retirement. Oh, Sugar Ray made a comeback on May 11, 1984, beating the obscure Kevin Howard, but he retired again immediately after that lackluster win.

Today the match fascinates more as an object of curiosity than as a historic showdown. Rather than a forum to settle their places in history it's a field exercise in déjà vu. Though both men have surely seen their best days as fighters, they are commanding unprecedented guarantees for their efforts to recapture the past—Hagler $12 million, Leonard $11 million. Much of the event's appeal turns on questions that only the joust can answer:

1) Can the 30-year-old Leonard, who will step into the ring having fought only once in five years and 50 days, conceivably bring enough of his old skills to whip one of the most dangerous, tenacious middleweights of all time? The extraordinary length of the idleness notwithstanding, can he pull it off without even one tune-up bout?

2) Will Hagler, officially 32, who has not fought since he knocked out John Mugabi in their war of March 10, 1986, suffer from being idle more than a year himself? And what to make of the fact that Hagler's eyebrows are laced with scars and that he has shown increasing susceptibility to cuts?

3) Can Leonard weather the kind of fury and will that Hagler used to demolish Thomas Hearns, and can Hagler raise himself to such a transcendent level of exertion again?
Knowledgeable followers of the fight game consider the most tangible, telling fact of this bout to be Leonard's essential idleness for more than five years. If Leonard defeats a man who has held the middleweight title since Sept. 27, 1980, he will have pulled off the comeback of the century, staggering both memory and imagination.

"It goes against all my instincts," says Barney Nagler, the 74-year-old sports columnist and biographer. "The last time we saw Leonard, he was getting knocked down in Worcester, Mass., by a lad named Kevin Howard. Why should he be any better now? He thinks he is, but he isn't. There isn't an old fighter who doesn't sit there and say, I can do it better.' That's why they come back. It's the oldest delusion."

Ray Arcel, the 87-year-old retired fight trainer who handled 20 world champions in his career, can read off the top of his head the lamentable roll call of great fighters who tried to come back, beginning with Benny Leonard, who had reigned as lightweight champion from 1917 to '25 and asked Arcel to train him for his comeback in 1932. "He was one of the smartest fighters of all time and he couldn't move, couldn't feint, couldn't move a guy out of position," says Arcel. "I'd talk and talk to him: 'You are fooling around with mother nature. You've been idle too long. It's true in every field. If you don't use it, you lose it."

But at the same time, Arcel sees factors that could make the Hagler-Leonard bout not only competitive, but even. Like everyone else, Arcel saw how one of his own fighters, former lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight champ Roberto Duran, almost beat Hagler in 1983 by outboxing him, showing Hagler every angle and feint in the book. Fighting with caution, Hagler nearly let that one slip away.

"Ordinarily, Hagler should win, but when you start to analyze the thing, it's a toss-up," says Arcel. "Hagler has to fight the fight. He's got to set the pace, keep punching and keep off-setting this fella. If he lets Leonard get started, Leonard will outbox him for all 12 rounds."

If Hagler learned anything in the Duran fight, it was not to lie back and let the rounds pass by. Pat and Goody Petronelli, Hagler's handlers, learned a lot that night, too. "Who would have thought that Duran could outbox a Marvin Hagler?" Pat Petronelli asks. "We told Marvin, 'Lay back and counter-punch.' He's going to come at you. Duran took us to school."

Interestingly, Leonard also received the most notable learning experience of his career at the University of Duran. In their first fight, in Montreal in 1980, Leonard took the attack to Duran, who had 55 knockouts in 74 fights, and in 15 wild rounds narrowly lost his title. In the infamous rematch, taunting, humiliating and outboxing Duran, he won back his crown by forcing Duran to plead "no más."
So, the most obvious analysis is that Hagler will not fight Leonard as he fought Duran, lying back and allowing Leonard to dance and show-biz away his title, and Leonard will not fight Hagler as he fought Duran in Montreal, duking it out toe-to-toe. The Petronellis, and most everyone else, expect Leonard to put on a boxing show.
"It's no secret," says Pat. "I'm going to tell you here, right out straight. Leonard is going to do what he does best, and that is showboat, flash, be a young Ali. Jab, flurry, counter, clinch, jab, and let those rounds go by—five, six, seven, eight—and taunt Marvin, talk to Marvin, try to make fun of him, give him a funny face, try to get Marvin to blow his cool, to get him lunging and leaping at him."

As Hagler says with such sibilant menace, what he must do to win is exert pressssurrrrrrre. "If you're going to tell me that Leonard's going to hit any harder or be any faster than Thomas Hearns, I don't know what to expect," says Hagler. "That was a very fast fight. Hearns was throwing very hard and very fast punches. There's no way, with the time Leonard's been off, that he can bounce back into that frame of mind. He's going to run. I basically just have to be patient."
But not too patient, lest the rounds slip away and Hagler ultimately finds himself in too much trouble too late. "He's probably anticipating stopping me on cuts," Hagler says. "I realize that I'm going to have to take some punches to get inside.... He don't like to be hit. He don't like pain. But I can absorb pain, I can absorb punches."

Each camp, of course, has been serving its man sparring partners instructed in his opponent's style. "I've been told to box Marvin," says James Lucas, a quick 152-pounder. "Try to do things Sugar Ray would do. Fake him, try to throw Marvin off his rhythm, try to keep him moving, tie him up." There were moments in his training camp when Hagler's swift sparring partners did indeed throw him off his rhythm. Hagler would end up chasing them and lunging with looping rights or lefts that missed badly.

As Hagler plays with lateral movers and dancers, so Leonard has populated his training camp with stalkers and bullers. They have been instructed to pump the jab and, when they catch Leonard on the ropes, to throw uppercuts, a la Hagler. "We are to keep pressure on him," says 160-pound Charles Ingram. "Keep Ray moving. Keep him working. Push him around, throw him around. Stay on top of him."

Leonard has fought some long, grueling rounds in the gym to prepare for this fight—some of them lasting seven minutes—absorbing whatever punishment his Hagler fight-alikes could offer, and he feels they have given him enough to be ready. "The key to this fight is composure," he says. "Not necessarily to run in and try to swing and throw the biggest and hardest and most damaging blow. It's just to land the punch.
"If Hagler races at me, I'm just going to move around, like I did with Hearns. [Leonard knocked out Hearns in the 14th round of their welterweight title fight on Sept. 16, 1981.] Five rounds, if it takes that long, to loosen him up. When Hearns did run in, I'd just tie him up. And get a punch in. And run, and leave little memos behind."

To be sure, Leonard will be aiming to win each round, all the while sniping at the scars over Hagler's eyes, which could be Leonard's two little road maps to victory. "A key is to cut him," Leonard says. Get a trickle of blood and keep moving. When Hagler is cut, he gets desperate.

"I have to counterpunch. See, Hagler is not your everyday guy because of what he brings to the ring. That aggression magnifies his ability. Because he comes into the ring and hates you so much, his strength becomes incredible." Hagler has the more fearsome reputation as a knockout artist, having flattened 52 of his 66 opponents. But Leonard, the cutie, the mover and dancer, has KO'd 24 of 34.

"I have the stamina that I need," says Leonard. "My mind is clean, it's clear. I get up in the morning and I see this man. It's so vivid, and that's why I know I'm going to win. It's a vision."

For Leonard, the vision is this: In the fourth round, grown tired of chasing, Hagler wades in ever more aggressively and carelessly, and Leonard catches the lunging, off-balance champion with a stinging combination—a stiff left jab, followed by a flashing left hook that opens a gash above Hagler's right eye, and then a right hand over the top that staggers him. Hagler bobs up and moves in again. Leonard, confident, lands a double jab, ducks a savage right hook, counters with one of his own, and comes up inside, tying Hagler up. As the bell rings, with the crowd on its feet, roaring, he walks to his corner with his hands raised in the air, while a frustrated Hagler shakes his head and blinks at the blood.

Psychologically, it is now Leonard's fight, and the rest of the way he makes a target of that cut, moving and dancing, until the referee stops it in the 10th round, when the half-blind champion cannot go on.

For Hagler, the vision is less complex. "I can't tell you how the fight will go," Hagler says. "I just know the outcome: It's me that's going to be standing, my hand that's going to be raised."

Picking it up in the same fourth round, this scenario has Leonard opening that cut, and as Hagler did when cut against Hearns, he abandons all caution, entering a dimension known only to himself. Relentlessly cutting off the ring, Hagler pursues Leonard, finally trapping him on the ropes. Once inside he bangs hard to the body, lefts and rights that bring down Leonard's hands. As Leonard tries to spin away, to his right, Hagler wings a left hook that catches him on the button, then a right that lands on the jaw. When Leonard reaches to tie him up, Hagler throws a right uppercut, buckling Leonard's legs.

Setting himself, with an immobile Leonard covering and bobbing before him, Hagler lets fire all the artillery, a furious combination that ends with a right hook to the head, dropping Leonard to a knee and bringing in the referee to wave the fight to a stop.

All history and logic point to such an end, but those twin supports of correct thought have been violated before. Hagler opened in the Vegas books as the 4 to 1 favorite, but since then the odds have settled to a more realistic 3 to 1, and by fight time they should be closer still. For some, such as Shelly Finkel, the manager of WBA welterweight champ Mark Breland, the odds are out of whack. "I think Hagler has slipped tremendously," Finkel says. "He got hit plenty by Mugabi. If Ray has his legs under him, I don't think Hagler has a chance."

The guess here is that Leonard has both his legs beneath him, and in defiance of history and logic, he will win.



Preview by Rick Reilly



Boxing is not so much a sweet science as a sweet contradiction. Fighters run four to eight miles a day preparing for an event that ropes them off in a 20-foot square. They train for up to half a year for competitions that rarely exhaust an hour. They enter the ring hooded in lavish robes, but must fight nearly naked. They surround themselves with multitudes—managers and trainers, cooks and masseurs, bag-toters and towel-folders and door-holders, and, oddly, bodyguards—all of whom leave them deathly alone at their one hour of danger.

And so it would figure that the most compelling fight in years is also the one we least wanted to materialize: Marvelous Marvin Hagler, 32 going on 35 some say, the bull, a man with a head so fierce hair is afraid to grow there, vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, 30, the matador, with a face so childlike that his decision to put it in front of fists again has caused public outrage. On April 6, they will contest the richest prizefight in history. Naturally it will be held in the backyard of a Las Vegas casino-hotel.

The fight's very appeal is confusion. Leonard, who retired in 1982 after suffering a detached retina in his left eye, has chosen to continue in the sport least suited to keeping the human body intact. Worse, Hagler is the one man stalking the planet that America does not want alone in the ring with Sugar. Yet Hagler is the only fighter great enough to bring Leonard back. The risks will hang so heavily in the desert air that night that we will not want to watch. But, like boxers themselves, we will not be able to help ourselves.

Nobody is going to want Leonard when I get through with him. He probably won 't talk no more, might not see no more, and might not even walk no more. I like to mess up pretty faces. —MARVIN HAGLER

Marvin's a sweet guy. He really is. —RAY LEONARD

Hagler and Leonard seem to have been born to define each other's opposite. Hagler is the long-suffering, steel-chinned relentless brawler. His face has stopped more leather than Leonard has thrown. He is 62-2-2 and undefeated in the last 10 years, yet he didn't win the middleweight title until his 54th fight. Leonard is, comparatively, a Boy Scout. He is 33-1-0, the former welterweight and junior middleweight champion, twice retired, twice unretired. Hagler is a lefthanded fighter, although sometimes in mid-round he will suddenly switch and begin fighting righthanded. Leonard is strictly a righty. Hagler's body is sculpted, drastic.
Leonard's is smooth. Hagler bloodies men. Fighting Mustafa Hamsho in 1981, he opened up gaps in Hamsho's skin that required 55 stitches to close. Leonard rarely chops up men, only frustrates them. Against Roberto Duran in November 1980, he confused and embarrassed the great Panamanian into quitting, the unkindest cut of all.

Leonard's charm transcends race and sex. At his training camp in Hilton Head, S.C., his workouts draw as many women and youngsters as they do men and many more whites than blacks, all of whom are let in free. Hagler's appeal is narrower. He trains before a crowd that is predominantly masculine, men who have willingly paid $5 a head.

Leonard likes camp to be cozy, like home. He often brings in his wife and children. His father is a cook. His brother and father share his suite. When all of them gather at his nightly supper table, he might as well be back at his childhood home in Palmer Park, Md.

Hagler does not allow his wife or children in camp and likes to hear only good news from home. Phone conversations are short. He does not like company. He prefers to think of his Palm Springs hotel as "prison." While the rest of his camp entourage watched the Super Bowl together, Hagler watched it in the next room, by himself. The last six weeks before this fight, Hagler has come to the phone only for the most urgent calls from home.

Leonard is the fighter for the '80s, reputedly the most fiscally fit in history. His home in Potomac is sumptuous, with a wine cellar in the basement and a Rolls-Royce in the garage. In seven years as an active pro, he made half again as much ($48 million) as Hagler in 14 ($31 million). Hagler is the last of the club fighters. He refuses to shake the hand of a man he may have to fight someday. He has been said to be so suspicious as to switch plates at dinner. He incites himself with slogans long on conviction if short on grammar. "Destruction and Destroy" is his favorite. Once, when he fought in Italy, he wrote it on his shirts in Italian. Still wasn't right.

Leonard decorates autographs with a happy face. Hagler writes, "I will knock him out." Leonard sets up a video-game room for his huge entourage. He reads biographies, plays tennis during camp, has a chow chow at home. Hagler's entourage is small and is left to entertain itself. He eats most of his meals alone in his room, takes a lunchtime walk by himself and traipses the 300 yards from his hotel to his training tent carrying his own equipment bag. Leonard rides 100 yards in a van that drops him at the entrance.

During workouts, Hagler plays music constantly, rock music for most routines, but when he is hitting the speed bag it is rap exclusively, some of it written in his honor. "And I've heard it said/Hagler puts heads to bed." Leonard plays only an occasional tune, happy ditties like Sweet Georgia Brown, when he's jumping rope.
Leonard is the boxer who says, "I'm the puncher in this fight." Hagler is the puncher who says, "I could take Leonard in the gym and outbox him right now." Hagler loves the smell of the gym. Leonard endures it. "You hit Marvin," says one of his sparring partners, James Lucas, "and he just gets happier." Says Mike Trainer, Leonard's attorney and financial adviser, "Ray's not a fighter who loves to fight. What he loves is the mountain. He's got to be challenged."

In the ring, Hagler huffs and snorts and reprimands his sparring partners: "C'mon! Let's go! Let's work!" Leonard says nothing. He is occasionally playful in the ring, cognizant of the crowd. Hagler seems infuriated to have to share the ring with anyone. Leonard seems to be inviting us to join him there.

Of course, there was a time when Hagler would have gladly had things different. But eight years ago he realized he couldn't be Sugar Ray Leonard, and it has clanked around in his stomach ever since.

The occasion was his first shot at the middleweight title, in 1979. Leonard and Hagler were on the same card, both challenging for titles, yet Leonard was making $1 million to fight welterweight Wilfred Benitez in the main event while Hagler was making $40,000 to fight Vito Antuofermo. But that is the way it has always been. Leonard never fought as a lead-in in his life. Hagler made $50 for his first fight. Leonard made $40,000. Leonard fought for a title in his 26th fight. Hagler had to cool his fists until his 50th.

And so, against Antuofermo, Hagler was out to prove he could be Leonard; prove he was not a bulky stagehand, but the dancer; that he could outbox anybody in the arena, the Sugar-man included. "And I boxed Antuofermo's ears off," Hagler says. Bloody proof was furnished by Antuofermo's face, which required 25 stitches to fix.
As the judges were tabulating their cards, referee Mills Lane leaned over to Hagler and said, "Congratulations. Now stay facing this way until they announce the decision and I raise your arm." Yet the judges ruled the bout a draw, and as Hagler climbed wearily down from the ring, Joe Louis signaled him over, pulled him close and whispered in his ear, "You got robbed."

That's when Hagler knew what was expected of him. "That taught me a lesson," Hagler says. "You know what they want, man. They only want blood and knockouts. That's all they want. Either you're going to be the bad guy or the good guy. And I ain't never been the good guy."

Bitterly, he has trained for the role all his life. Born in Newark, N.J., Hagler learned early never to come home a loser. If he was beaten in a street fight, his mother would not let him into the house. "You go right back out there and fight him again," she would say. "Or else you'll run from all of them."

But it was Ida Mae Hagler, single parent of six, who ended up running. In 1968, not long after her family spent three days on its hands and knees in its own apartment for fear of stray bullets during the Newark race riots, Ida Mae moved the family to the home shared by several of her relatives in Brockton, Mass. Unknowingly, she had moved Marvin to the birthplace of Rocky Marciano.

At 16, Hagler became an unwed father, quit school and began working. He also tried his fists at boxing in a gym owned by Goody and Pat Petronelli. They were former confidants of Marciano, but mostly they were construction businessmen trying to keep a two-bit fight operation afloat after hours. They were the first white men Hagler can recall ever speaking to who weren't behind a cash register or a badge, and he grew terribly loyal to them. Hagler would work all day ("I was the best damn construction worker in Massachusetts," he likes to say, though an eight-inch chain-saw scar on his right foot seems to dispute that fact), then come to the gym in his dusty clothes, his hands mortar-tough and his heart set harder still on becoming a fighter.

Of Hagler's first $50 purse, $10 went toward registration and the other $40 went to him. For years the Petronellis never took a dime. "We needed it," says Goody, "but he needed it worse." Later, when titleholders were ducking Hagler, it was his own stubborn loyalty to the Petronellis that held back his career. All Hagler had to do was sign away a piece of himself to one of the big-name promoters who were courting him and he would have gotten a title fight "a lot sooner," Pat has said. "But Marvin was willing to wait."

And while he waited, he took club fights all along the Eastern seaboard. He climbed the ladder with his chin and cashed paltry checks as his hatred grew for darling Olympians like Ray Leonard, who fought with pictures of their girlfriends in their socks.

"He's a phony," Hagler says. "When Ali left, they gave it all to Leonard. They guided Leonard. They gave him Ali's trainer [Angelo Dundee]. They gave him Ali's style, strategies. They transferred everything to Leonard. He's a copycat. He's a built machine. He doesn't even have his own name. They gave him Sugar Ray Robinson's name."

Hagler changed his Christian name to Marvelous in the Massachusetts courts. Usually, history lets the sportswriters do that. But Hagler isn't so good at waiting on history—or sportswriters. "You people have never given me full credit for what I've done," he once said. "When I became champion, I said I'd fight every top-rated contender. I've done that, and I beat 'em all."

Hagler's resentment is toward a world that, in his mind, would rather have a man smile or joke or dance his way to the top instead of punch his way—and that resentment was always ready to bubble over. Hagler's first words after devastating Thomas Hearns in three rounds in 1985 were, "Maybe now I'll get some commercials."
"Marvin's insecurity about himself is almost his own downfall towards people accepting him," says Leonard. "...It's Marvin's persona. People could like him. It's just that look of his. It's like, 'We don't want our kids running around with a bald head.' It's tough enough now to keep kids from wearing those weird hairstyles as it is." Leonard is amused by Hagler's shoulder chip. He knows Hagler is blind to the road he has really traveled.

Growing up in Palmer Park, Md., was not exactly the Georgetown Experience. Palmer Park is a poor, mixed neighborhood, with more than enough trouble to go around. Of the three promising fighters who showed up around the same time in the recreation center where Janks Morton was a volunteer boxing instructor, two have squandered their potential. Derrik Holmes, a junior featherweight, shot a man. The other, a 112-pound fighter, simply dropped out of sight, although Morton heard that he, too, had shot a man.

Now Leonard's name is at the top of every doorman's list in boxing, but he endured pain and risk to get it there. "He was small for as much power as he had, so his hands would hurt so much after he fought that he'd cry," remembers Morton. Like Hagler, Leonard fathered as a teenager and worked to support the child. Yet, in the Olympics, "I fought for free, don't forget," and in the shadow of the real pre-Olympics star, Howard Davis, to boot. Had Leonard not won the gold and, in the ensuing interviews delighted the nation, he might have gone the club-fight route, too.

But even upon winning the gold, Leonard did not want to fight. "The journey is ended," he said with the medal dangling off his neck. "My dream is fulfilled." He wanted to go to the University of Maryland more than anything, but, like Hagler, he fought for his family. Both his parents were ill—his father from spinal pneumonia, his mother from a heart attack. Leonard turned pro.

And Leonard didn't exactly fight moonlighting bouncers to earn his cash. From June 1980 to September 1981, he faced fighters with a combined record of 169-4: Duran, Duran again, Larry Bonds, Ayub Kalule and Thomas Hearns. He lost in 15 rounds to Duran, then, in the rematch, confused Duran into quitting after eight rounds, which is even more devastating than knocking him out. He left Bonds crawling, KO'd Kalule and then slew the unslayable Hearns, who was until then undefeated, 32-0. "Hagler should thank Ray for beating Duran and Hearns," says Dundee. "Ray took away their cloak of invincibility. They weren't the same when Hagler fought them."

Of course, if Hagler were here to hear that, he might utter his trademark slogan, the one he used in his lean years and still uses as a reminder after many of his workouts today.

"What do I have to do?" he'll yell, glistening from his own hard work. "Kill somebody?"

There isn't enough money in the world for me to risk my eyesight. You can't put a price tag on that. —SUGAR RAY LEONARD

"Fighters fight," A.J. Liebling wrote in The Sweet Science, and that is an inexorable law of boxing which Leonard, unlike Hagler, did not believe applied to him. Ultimately, he learned.

After Leonard stopped Hearns in a glorious 14th-round knockout, the refrigerator was empty. "There was nobody left to fight," he recalls. So nobody is exactly who he fought, and his name was Bruce Finch. "I went out trying to sell the fight, telling everybody what a great fighter Finch was," Leonard says. "I realized I was mostly just trying to convince myself. After I beat him, I felt sorry for him. I saw him afterwards. His wife's crying. His kids are crying. I told 'em, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' I knew I was losing something then."

Still, Leonard beat on against the current, signing to face the No. 3 contender, Roger Stafford. But during training he felt pain in his left eye. A few days later, surgeons repaired the detached retina. The fight was canceled. At a dinner six months later, a tuxedoed Hagler panted in anticipation of a historic fight with Leonard, only to have Leonard announce his retirement. He was leaving the fight game for a world of HBO stand-ups and life as a human cummerbund.

The world, much relieved, sang hosannas at Leonard's feet. "People have a certain love for you and respect for your intelligence both inside and outside of the ring," he said during retirement. "And I believe that if you tarnish that, they'll hold it against you. I don't want that. Not for any price."

But, for all his perception, Leonard couldn't see into his own future. He had, in effect, died young as a boxer, at 26, not by knockout but by a tiny sliver of tissue. He felt as though he had cheated himself.

"To retire at 26, that was the biggest burden in my life," he says now. "For four years, I dealt with that. Twenty-six years old and I was through with my career.... It burned inside. It ate at me every single day. Jeez, I'm not finished yet."
Leonard talks as if his first unretirement never happened, which, for its limited impact, never did. In April of 1984, he laced on his gloves again and trained six weeks to fight un-ranked Kevin Howard, with the idea of fighting Hagler next. Howard introduced Leonard to the canvas for the first time in his career in the fourth round, then tasted it himself five rounds later. Still, Howard's unlikely right hand persuaded Leonard to go back whence he came.

Of course, that didn't change the truth. Hagler, the one great fighter he had not beaten, was still out there. "I haunted him," says Hagler. And Leonard still felt too young to die.

"I'd go to the club with the fellas, and we'd get bombed all the time. It was like, 'Ahh, I'm not doing anything anymore.' But something deep inside me was saying, 'Ray, where's your vanity? Where's your respect for yourself?'...I'd go on business trips, and first thing you do on a business trip is somebody says, 'Let's go get some booze, let's celebrate our deal.' You close a half-million-dollar deal, you're going to celebrate."

Then one day Sugar Ray saw Ray Leonard in the mirror.

"I saw no definition. Nothing. I said, 'Where are the arms I used to have? Where are the ripples I used to have in my stomach?' My wife laughed at me. The way she laughed, it hurt my feelings. It made me aware."

Never undersell the importance of ego in a champion prizefighter. By way of explaining his comeback to USA Weekend, Leonard said that when a man is a champion, he is "so proud. You want people to say, 'Hey, champ, way to go.' You can sit there and listen to it over and over again. But it's always good to hear a different person tell you—that's why you walk across the street to another hotel.... You want to fight the monsters. In doing that, your persona becomes greater. You become bigger. There are more lucrative contracts and phenomenal deals."

Leonard began running, returning to the gym, sparring with 1984 Olympic light middleweight silver medalist Shawn O'Sullivan. He put up a punching bag in his house. Bought a stationary bike. "I saw a metamorphosis." Thus fortified, he prepared for his toughest fight—with his wife, Juanita.

"What would you say if I wanted to fight Hagler?" he asked.

"I'd kill you," she said.

Friends tried to talk him out of it. Even Hagler tried, modestly. "If I had to fight me," he said, "I wouldn't do it."

Fighters fight.

Leonard's fans are having a hard time remembering that. Though all of Leonard's doctors have pronounced his eye fit, there remains the gnawing possibility that the retina could break away again.

That makes many people at first afraid, then angry. If you are blinded, we will feel bad. And we don't like to feel bad. In Leonard, the public had a rarity: a boxer who had retired with his faculties intact, his nose and eyes in all the right places and his bank balance more gorgeous still. Not Ali, nor Louis, nor Robinson, nor Holmes was willing to let his boxing self die. They had to see the death certificate first.
"It's inexplicable. People don't understand what I'm doing," Leonard says. "I am the American Dream: financially independent, living in an exclusive, wealthy area, two kids, a dog. That should be it, that's all Americans need, or think you should need. But I say, I want more.' "

Leonard finally gave up trying to keep the whole world proud of him and started working on his own happiness. "I've always done things because I was sensitive to issues. People say, 'He's not a normal fighter. He's not Joe Palooka with a pug nose. He's going to go on to Hollywood, going to retire early.' That's the way the book is written. And it took me years to come to the conclusion that I have to live my own life to be content. When I'm 45 and not a competitive athlete, I have to listen to myself."

Now that he has the fight he wants, he breathes it. "I go to bed, I see Hagler. I wake up in the morning, I see Hagler. I put my head down at night, I see his face. I go to sleep, I see him. That's why I know I'm going to win. 'Cause I see him."
So Leonard's vision is better than ever. The question is: Is his ambition blind?
Marvin, tell me, will you be going for the eyes? —A CHICAGO SPORTSWRITER, 1987

Hagler took 109 days to decide whether to fight Leonard, and it's easy to understand why. "What happens if you lose, Marvin?" Leonard asks an absent Hagler. "To lose to me goes against all logic. People are saying the odds are insurmountable. Ray Leonard, 154 pounds soaking wet, comes back after five years of inactivity and beats the baddest guy out there. For him to lose would be so devastating."

Hagler has a long way to fall and no net. The American public defines Marvelous Marvin as an unvanquished fighter. If he loses that, he has lost everything. "I know what got me here," he told The Boston Globe. "My boxing. If I lose a fight, nobody will want me."

For Hagler, ducking Leonard is even more unacceptable than risking a lifetime as the Man Who Blinded Sugar Ray. After all, what else does he know? As Hagler has said, "If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That's all I am. I live it."

And that, beneath it all, is what galls Hagler about Leonard. Since the fight was first mentioned in 1981, he has been the patient costar, showing up for work every day, enduring the fits and piques of the temperamental lead, waiting year in and year out while Sugar Ray decides what he wants to be. Boxer or broadcaster? Pitchman or puncher?

"He's using boxing to carry him," Hagler says. "While I am still boxing. Boxing is still me.... People look and say, 'Oh, look, he's still here. Still looking good.' I fought all these people, and listen to me, listen to my faculties, everything is still intact. My speed is still there. Man, I'm still here."

And so to need Leonard—someone so untrue to boxing, someone so willing to jilt it for the first shiny object—to need him to arrive at his biggest day, is in Hagler's mind one more injustice. So what's new? Every time Hagler has come to his self-described "glory day," he believes, it has been snatched from him, whisked out from under his eyes like a tablecloth from under crystal. "Why is it with me?" he says. "Why does it seem like there's always somebody trying to step in?"

Even when Hagler won the title in the fall of 1980 by putting Britain's Alan Minter through a two-fisted Cuisinart, the glory escaped him. The London crowd christened the new champion with beer and whisky bottles, hundreds of them, forcing Hagler to run like a thief before the referee could hoist his hand in victory.

Now, he was the uncelebrated, unwanted champion. As Joe Frazier told him, "You have three strikes against you. One, you're black. Two, you're southpaw. Three, you can fight." He beat Hearns, a man they said had a right hand to knock God out, and Duran. But Leonard had beaten them, too. He beat the 26-0 John (the Beast) Mugabi, but Mugabi was unexpectedly tough even though he had agreed to fight as a middleweight, instead of junior middleweight. And though Hagler has defended his title 12 consecutive times, approaching Carlos Monzon's middleweight record of 14, there was always the shadow of Marciano. That's the story of Hagler's life, not even the main man in his own hometown.

And now this. The fight of his life, yet a fight with no historical payoff waiting at the end. After all, how much credit does a man get for beating up a pixilated welterweight with more rust than a '58 Impala? Then again, the alternative is worse. Should he lose, what is he the rest of his days but a bum?

"This is Marvin's Olympics," says Hagler's brother, middleweight Robbie Sims. "This is his moment."

Knowing it to be so, Hagler has convinced himself that beating Leonard is everything. In camp he wears a hat that reads NO MERCY, as if he needs to further remind himself to hate Leonard. Mr. Bad Guy.


"If he's foolish enough to step in the ring with me," Hagler told The New York Times, "I'm foolish enough to rip his eye out."

That straight in his mind, he sets on the mantel what is his to win. To Hagler, Leonard is everybody's hero, white and black. Therefore, Hagler believes that the booty that goes with defeating Leonard includes Leonard's fans. Hagler will pulverize his way to their hearts.

"Look what happened when I beat Duran," Hagler says. "Look, now, I've got all the Hispanics. 'You great champ-ee-own. Champ-ee-own. You beat my man. You better than my man.... 'Now, with Leonard, the press is down on me. 'Marvin, you're not colorful. Ray is what we need. Ray is sellable. Ray is marketable....' Now, I'm going to take all the people that were Leonard-generated and I'm going to take them all away from him. Then he's going to go right away. He'll just disappear.
"That's my reward. I [will have] knocked out a person they think could never be knocked out. I knocked out their American hero. Their Olympic sweetheart. Then I walk away from the game of boxing, and still retire as middleweight champion.
"I haven't achieved what I wanted yet. I Still haven't got that satisfaction. I'm happy, but I still haven't got that glory.... I'm still looking for my satisfaction. It's this, Knock Leonard out and you've done it. Now you can go on and live your life."

We were meant to be in the ring together. It's a bond. —SUGAR RAY LEONARD

Here are two very different fighters and very different men who need each other in the worst way. Without Leonard, Hagler is left with such forgettable opponents as Tony Sibson and Juan Roldan, hardly the tools for constructing history. Without Hagler, Leonard was left with the Bruce Finches of the world. They elevate each other.

Together, one of them will become whole. With a win over Hagler, Leonard is legend. One real fight in five years and still good enough to beat the middleweight of the ages. With a victory, Leonard is back where he is most comfortable, the best in boxing, the best fighter pound-for-pound. No gray areas. That is all Leonard wants. To beat Hagler. "I don't care about the title," says Leonard. "I don't even care if it's sanctioned. [The WBA has stripped Hagler of his title, citing the fact that he has not defended his title in six months, and the IBF is contemplating similar action.] You can call it the Sugar Ray-Marvin Hagler middleweight crown. I just want the fight."

With a "safe" win over Leonard—that is, one that puts Leonard away, but to no grave consequence—the nation lets out a massive sigh of relief. Hagler "turns Sugar Ray sugarless," as he likes to put it, and Marvelous Marvin is still there. Even history must hush up now. There can be no further challenges. "I think he deserves to be ranked among the greatest boxers," Leonard once said of Hagler. "But for his own satisfaction, it's me that's going to give it to him."

This fight doesn't need America's blessing. This fight was as inevitable as nightfall. Leonard has love, but fights for respect. Hagler has respect, but fights for love.

They have been circling each other all their lives.

Fighters fight.



April 6th 1987. Caesars Palace, Las Vegas NV. Sugar Ray Leonard.




At the very end, in his final moment of triumph and vindication, after the sound of the bell that signaled completion of his finest hour as a prizefighter, the instant came when sheer exhaustion finally did to Sugar Ray Leonard what Marvelous Marvin Hagler could not.

Moving across the middle of the ring Monday night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, after 12 rounds in battle against a champion who had defended his middleweight title 12 times and who had not known defeat in 11 years, Leonard sagged and collapsed to his knees. He appeared about to swoon to the canvas when two of his seconds, Janks Morton and Ollie Dunlap, grabbed him by the arms, lifted him to his feet and helped him back to his corner. Leonard's face, drained of expression, reflected the will, effort and intensity that he had brought to, and expended on, this fight.

By all logic, in the face of all history, Leonard should never have been in that ring in the first place. Except for one sad, brief encounter with an unknown fighter in May 1984, he had not fought in five years and 50 days. And yet here he was, facing one of the most remorseless, murderous punchers in the history of the middleweight division, without a single tune-up to hone his boxing skills. What he was trying to do was unprecedented in the history of this consuming sport.

When the final round began, he was battling on will and instinct alone. There was nothing left. He had extended himself past his limit. But he had to survive one more round, three minutes of what turned out to be sustained fury. Desperate and sensing that he was in trouble, Hagler opened the 12th by lunging and missing with a right hand. Off a left hook, Leonard caught Hagler with a three-punch combination that brought the crowd of 15,336 roaring to its feet. Then Hagler nailed Leonard with a stiff right and suddenly the two men were talking to each other. They had been doing that all night.

"They were using certain words in the ring that I would not care to repeat," said referee Richard Steele. "They were going at each other verbally as well as physically."

After the chatter stopped, Hagler caught Leonard with a sweeping hook, but Leonard bobbed beneath another, escaping, and began moving laterally and then backward as the stalking champion bulled in and finally caught him in a neutral corner. Here Hagler banged him with a sharp left hook, but he missed another left as Leonard dipped, then missed again. But Hagler still had Leonard pinned to the ring post, and he belted him with lefts and rights.

Suddenly, when Hagler seemed to lave the tiring challenger where he wanted him, Leonard began throwing lard, flashing punches in a sustained burst that left Hagler bewildered and covering. It was the longest flurry of the fight, a dozen rapid-fire punches on Hagler's face and arms that ended with Leonard slipping free and now moving left and right. Once again Hagler advanced and trapped Leonard on the ropes, and once again Leonard summoned up a flurry, not only getting away but actually sticking out his chin and mugging at the champion, just as he had lone when he forced Roberto Duran to surrender in the "no mas" fight of 1980.

This had been a Hagler crowd from he outset—Leonard was even booed at the weigh-in that morning, when he showed up at 158 pounds and Hagler at 158�—but chanting had been heard for Leonard in the middle rounds, and now, as the end drew near, the chants grew louder and more sustained: "Sugar Ray! Sugar Ray!"

Hearing that, Leonard began dancing to the left, out of reach of Hagler, circling the ring while raising his right hand in the air. Hagler moved in, raising his right hand, too, and maneuvered Leonard onto the ropes again. He drilled Leonard to the body and then landed a crackling left that sagged the challenger. The bell then rang to end it.

That last round, in certain key particulars, reflected the ebb and flow of the bout. And if the outcome was a surprise to the legions who backed Hagler and gave Leonard no chance, the manner in which the two men went at each other was not. Leonard had said all along that he would box Hagler, move around him, give him more angles than he had ever seen, try to frustrate him, make him miss, tie him up. For himself, citing Joe Louis's old dictum—"He can run, but he can't hide"—Hagler insisted that he would stalk Leonard, cut off the ring on him and beat him inside.

As part of his psych game, Hagler waited for Leonard to appear first in the ring, and the challenger did so at 8:02 p.m., wearing white trunks with a red stripe, and red tassels on his white shoes. Leonard shadowboxed in the ring, spinning low and twisting quickly, and to that performance the crowd howled. Ray Charles Leonard was back.

"Go get him, Ray!" shouted Dunlap. "You got him!"

Three minutes later Hagler ascended the steps into the ring, dressed in a purple top with a hood pulled over his head. He threw punches at the cool night air. Symbolically, this is the way they fought much of this fight, Leonard with tassels flying freely in the wind as he boxed and Hagler moving robotlike beneath a hood that allowed him only tunnel vision.

Leonard came out dancing and moving and making Hagler lunge and miss. In the early rounds he was the consummate boxer, firing combinations as he kept from harm's way. Leonard put on a show, twisting and turning and popping Hagler—here an uppercut, there a jab, at one point grabbing the rope in his right hand and mugging at the champion, at another point delivering a low-blow bolo punch sure to further inflame an already frustrated opponent. Hagler was having a devil of a time connecting with anything close to a serious blow. Leonard was getting off more quickly, consistently stealing a march on Hagler. Looking off-balance and disoriented, Hagler missed frequently and often wildly.

Leonard won the first four rounds outright, but by the fifth and sixth, Hagler was beginning to find the range and Leonard was no longer moving with his early verve. In the seventh, a Hagler hook rocked Leonard and the challenger briefly sagged. Now, Hagler battled Leonard to the ropes, firing shots up and down. He had Leonard in trouble as the bell sounded.

But the champion was still behind in the scoring, and it was patently clear that, if his legs held up, Leonard would win. In the eighth round, an impatient Hagler snarled to Leonard, "Come on, slug!"

"No chance," said Leonard.

But Hagler was beginning to catch Leonard on the ropes, and the challenger was growing weary. In the ninth, surely the best round of the fight, Hagler pinned Leonard in the latter's corner and was whaling at him ferociously with both hands, rocking the challenger and looking to finish him.

But no, double no! In an instant, Leonard retaliated with a flurry that had Hagler's head snapping left and right. Leonard then spun away and escaped. Hagler pursued, thinking he still had Leonard in trouble. But when Hagler caught up, Leonard flurried again, drawing upon reserves he had no right to have. Throughout the fight, even with Leonard right in front of him, Hagler had problems solving his foe's rich boxing style. He couldn't seem to put combinations together, and whenever he seemed to have Leonard in trouble, he couldn't muster the savvy to put him away.

The 12th round underscored that failing as well as any other, and Leonard's spent condition at the end was testimony to the strength of character it had taken to score this upset of upsets. In the face of his long layoff and the odds against him—five to two in Vegas betting parlors—Leonard had fought magnificently and displayed great courage and resolve.

The fight was close and a difficult one to judge, but there were scattered boos from the crowd when ring announcer Chuck Hull declared that it was a split decision. After revealing that judge Lou Filippo had scored it 115 to 113 for Hagler and that judge Jo Jo Guerra had it 118 to 110 for Leonard (what fight could he possibly have been watching?), Hull then intoned that judge Dave Moretti had scored it 115 to 113.
Hull's next line made history and brought down the house: "The winner, by a split decision, and new [WBC] middleweight champion of the world. Sugar Ray Leonard!"

Ecstatic, Leonard leaped up on the bottom ring rope, just as he had when he won his first world title on Nov. 30, 1979, defeating Wilfred Benitez for the welterweight championship. Moments later, in the dressing room, Leonard's wife, Juanita, was sobbing when their son, 13-year-old Ray Jr., went to his father's side.

"Son, your daddy was tough tonight," Leonard said to the boy. "You can go to school tomorrow with your head up."

When Leonard saw his manager and adviser, Mike Trainer, he walked up to him and kissed him, the first time in their 11-year association that Leonard had ever done that. "You're a tough little s——," Trainer said to him. "I'm so proud of you, it scares me."

"What should I say to the press?" Ray asked.

"Let's have some fun," Trainer said. "Let's not do the Kevin Howard thing again."

After Leonard won that lackluster fight with Howard in 1984, he had promptly announced his retirement.

As they left the dressing room, Leonard said to Trainer, "You know, Mike, I am a tough little s——."

In the walkway outside the dressing room, Leonard's brother, Kenny, was saying, "He wanted it so bad. That's what kept him going."

At the press conference as he prepared to address the media, some old animosities surfaced. Leonard refused to sit next to Bob Arum, the promoter of the fight. Trainer and Arum dislike each other intensely. "I don't want to sit next to that man," Leonard said. So, 20 feet away from Arum, he thanked Hagler for giving him "the chance to make history."

"I was never interested in his title," Leonard said. "Just in beating him. I still think he's the undisputed middleweight champion of the world.... Marvin never hurt me, but he shook me up. I felt his punching power late, but by then he'd given away six or seven rounds so he had to come on strong. My strategy was stick and move, hit and run, taunt and frustrate. I knew it would be a tough fight, but I beat him to the punch. He was calling me a sissy."

Then, abruptly, Leonard left. "I have no more to say," he said, and he was gone.
When Hagler appeared, he complained bitterly about the scoring, calling to mind the day in Vegas in 1979 when he drew with then champion Vito Antuofermo and thus lost his first chance at a title. He was not gracious in defeat. "I feel in my heart that I am still the champion," Hagler said. "I hate the fact that they took it from me and gave it to Sugar Ray Leonard, of all people.... I can't believe I have to go to sleep and wake up and have to believe all this again. The bell saved him three times. Leonard fought like a girl sometimes. His flurries meant nothing.... I think he should have to beat me more decisively to take the title."

But, in the end, Leonard had justified the characteristic prefight optimism of his trainer, Angelo Dundee. "My guy is not supposed to be fighting, but that's what gets you juiced up," Dundee had said. "This has never been done before. It's unheard of. We're rewriting the boxing record book. My guy is going to outbox him and outthink him. Believe me. Ray Leonard can't lose."

When it was all over, Ray Leonard hadn't. And now Trainer was recalling, with particularly keen relish, his own crucial role in the fight's outcome. During contract negotiations, Trainer had insisted that the bout go 12 rounds, not 15. He yielded to Hagler's people on their demands for Las Vegas as the site, Arum as the promoter and the majority share of the money to Hagler as the champion. (Hagler will earn at least $13.5 million, Leonard perhaps $12 million.) But he was determined that the fight be a 12-rounder. After all, he argued, Leonard had been out of the ring a long time and surely it was not too much to ask to give Leonard the three rounds. Ultimately, it was the Hagler camp that relented.

"We bought three rounds," Trainer says. "I gave them the money and they gave me the rounds. They wanted the money. We wanted the win. Ray retired Hagler tonight."
As the night wound down, Trainer met quietly and alone with Leonard in the fighter's room at Caesars. "You know what," Leonard said, "I don't really realize what I just did."

"Tiger, don't worry about it," Trainer told him. "The rest of the world does."



Walking Away




"Some day you know you're going to lose, but what I wanted to do was retire as the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. With all my belts. They didn't beat me. They took them from me. They took. That's what they did. They took. So that's the bitterness. I think time will help. That's all I'm asking. That's all I'm looking for. That's all I want, peace and time."

—MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER

He swerved into the parking lot of the small shopping center off Washington Street in Hanover, Mass., in a car that was far less a conveyance than a motorized advertisement for himself. A 1987 420 SEL Mercedes with a spit-shined black-and-silver exterior and miniature windshield wipers on the headlights, it bore license plates personally issued by a former governor of Massachusetts: WORLD MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMP/MMH.

If the plates were obsolete, the fighter did not appear to be as he swept through the front door of his store—Marvelous Marvin Hagler's Sportswear and Novelty Shop—a pair of designer shades perched on his bald head and a grin across his face. Dropping into a director's chair in the back of the shop, he patted a knee.

"Feel excellent," Hagler said. "Back to work! Staying busy. Trying to stay in touch with this here store. We have a bunch of movie things we're looking at. I'm running, playing volleyball and swimming. I'm only six pounds over—166! I feel a lot better about myself. As far as the fight game is concerned, I'm gonna sit back and watch and see what happens now. I want to let the world know I'm O.K."

Thus Hagler surfaced last week, appearing fit, speaking volubly and seeming quite like the Hagler of old, reports to the contrary notwithstanding, and he wanted the world to know that he was not 1) a wife-abuser, 2) a cocaine addict with an alcohol dependency or 3) a crazy recluse who, out of grief and pain over having lost a prizefight, had dived into the deep end of life's pool, never to be heard from again. Not that the above haven't been well reported by the media.

On April 6, in a controversial split decision, Hagler lost his middleweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard, and with it all he had ever sought in his professional life. Hagler had always been the consummate pro—disciplined, almost monomaniacal, in the way he pursued the title. Finally, after eight years and 53 professional fights, he won the unified WBC-WBA crown from Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, and then over the next 6� years he successfully defended it 12 times against all comers. Along the way he picked up the IBF portion of the championship.
Of his title defenses, 11 ended by knockout; only a shifty, clever Roberto Duran took Hagler 15 rounds. And then came Sugar Ray. Leonard fought him as Duran had fought him, showing Hagler angles and lateral movement that confused him and left him relatively ineffective. And, ultimately, shorn of the title that meant everything to him.

Hagler can still taste the bile in his mouth. "It was unfair," he says. "You can't take a champion's title away like that. Leonard didn't beat me. I can't understand the judging. There are millions of people watching and seeing what is happening, and they can do this right in front of television. I think it's really bad.
"I felt I fought a very good fight. I trained for three months. I sacrificed like hell for that fight. I think what happened to me is this: When I don't knock a guy out and he's left standing, everyone thinks, 'The guy did great! He survived.' That's what Leonard did. He didn't come out there to try to win the title. Leonard came out there to look pretty, and just to show he wasn't scared, and to get in the ring with me. But, hey, he didn't come out to try to knock me out. He knew he couldn't do it."

Upon being reminded that Leonard had said he was there to win by points, not by a knockout, Hagler said, "No! Leonard didn't win points. Leonard went in there to show the world he wasn't afraid of me. He ran!" That movement, of course, frustrated Hagler, who chased Leonard while urging him to fight. "Come on, little bitch!" he had called to Leonard.

"I never talked so much to a fighter in the ring in my life," Hagler says. "He was just running. This man was exhausted. How are you gonna win a title like that? I saw him look over my shoulder at [his trainer] Angelo Dundee, and Dundee wouldn't let Leonard quit. Leonard wanted to quit. I had him three times!"
But...but..."I don't blame myself," Hagler says. "I beat the man. He wants to talk about points? Why don't you give me points for aggressiveness? I think I scored just as much.... I think I did very well. The only thing I didn't do was knock him out. In my heart, I feel I won the fight.... I know it was the judges who decided.... I have to be a man about everything."

To be sure, Hagler certainly has been every bit a man when it comes to his trainer and his manager, Goody and Pat Petronelli. For $2 million more, Pat agreed to make the fight 12 rounds instead of 15. Many experts believe this crucial concession contributed to Hagler's loss because the very active champion would presumably have benefited more from a longer fight than a challenger who had fought only once in more than five years. Goody's ring strategy for Hagler was more conservative, which also may have been a mistake.

Perhaps the most galling thing of all was that Leonard, for years Hagler's obsession and nemesis, was ultimately the man who took the title from him. "Marvin didn't like the media hype, the showboating," says Pat Petronelli. "The showboating drove him crazy."

"You know—pretty boy," Hagler says.

The very image of Leonard as the establishment's choice had driven Hagler to distraction in the years before the fight and had fueled his intensity to the very moment he stepped into the ring against Sugar Ray. Hagler had fought brutally for the acceptance that had come to Leonard so easily and naturally. To Hagler, Leonard was forever the showman—quick, pretty, flashy and glib—moving in the ring as he moved through life. To Hagler, he was a form without shadow, a shadow without form, and all Hagler had to do was reach out and catch him, if he could.

Hagler had caught everyone else, of course. He'd dominated his division by the sheer force and discipline of his might and art. And though he was making mounds of money and though he eventually grew bored with the show, he never took his eye off Leonard. He seemed to sense that he would not be whole unless he beat Leonard.
After the loss to Leonard, but not just because of it, his old secure world began crumbling around him. The fight was only one link in a chain that fell apart. The progression actually began a week before the bout, when Hagler's beloved mother-in-law, Anna Washington, died of heart disease in Brockton, Mass., leaving him and his wife, Bertha, to grieve together long-distance on the telephone. "He wanted to go to the funeral, but he couldn't," Bertha says. "It was hard. I had my kids but no husband to come home and hold me."

Still grieving, Bertha flew out for the fight and suddenly found herself mourning for Marvin, too, and his lost title. These were not easy times for them. One minute you lose your mother, and the next your husband loses his job. It was a bit much for any soul to take. Marvin and Bertha were married on June 21, 1980. It was a love match, but there had been problems during the last year.

Women were throwing themselves at Hagler, so the stories went, and he was not throwing them back. Bertha thought the loss of her mother and the loss of the fight would bring her and Marvin back together again. "Instead," she says, "it drove us apart."

When they returned home to Hanover, Hagler was an emotional wreck. "He cried a lot," Bertha says. "I got him to talk about it a little. He felt he did get robbed. He said, 'I'll never be able to get my life and marriage together until I get my belts back.' " In the end, she says, he grew colder and more remote.

"I was trying to get him to talk to me," Bertha says. "He'd say, 'I don't want to talk about it.' I'd say, 'You have to talk about it. You can't go on like this.' It was frustrating for me because I couldn't get to him. The more I tried, the more distant he became." Hagler grew further from her, physically as well as emotionally. He spent more time away from home. "I thought, Maybe he'll wake up and find there's more to life than drinking and partying," she says.

She believes that her husband's central problem was the outcome of the fight and that he remains angry with her and the Petronellis over it. "He's bitter toward all three of us," she says. "He's going to have to come down to reality. He knows the mistakes he made in this fight, and he has to deal with them."

The differences between Marvin and Bertha became public in late June, when Bertha filed an abuse petition in Hingham (Mass.) District Court that claimed, "Marvin threw me out of the house. He pushed me. He hit the car with a boulder. I am in fear of him." A judge issued a temporary order barring Hagler from their house and gave Bertha custody of their five children, for the time being. Hagler did not contest the order and moved to an apartment in Boston. The incident was, she says, the first and only time he had ever been violent with her. And now she thinks she may have acted too hastily.

The story made all the papers, of course, but that was only the beginning. A few days later, sports anchor John Dennis of WNEV-TV in Boston reported that Hagler was involved in "widespread abuse of both alcohol and cocaine." Dennis went on to say: "Those closest to Marvin Hagler say it was that decision on April 6 that started him on the downward spiral. Almost immediately after his return home to Boston, they [friends and family] say Marvin's despair over the loss steered him toward alcohol and cocaine."

Dennis, an old friend of Hagler's, insisted his sources were solid. "They came to me," he said.

On all counts, except for that of excessive drinking, Hagler now pleads innocent. He says he did not abuse Bertha. Yes, they had an argument, and he did throw a rock at her car. "I thought I was handling things in the proper way," he says. "I wasn't putting my hands on her or anything like that." And, yes, there was a time he was drinking heavily: "I've put it back in moderation now." But, no, he says, he did not "abuse" cocaine: "If I do cocaine, I can lose all those things I worked very hard for...."

He says that the trouble in his marriage has nothing to do with his loss to Leonard: "There's no connection. Things were heating up before the fight. I don't see why people are making a big thing out of it. Because I lost the fight, they said I was going crazy. That's bull.

"Everything tumbled down on me at the wrong time. My mother-in-law's death, the fight, my marriage—everything was on top of me. I admitted I was drinking a lot more than what I normally do. It was me trying to understand what was happening with my marriage.

"Bertha and I need some time away from each other. We've been together since we were 14 years old. I love Bertha. I always will. If people were to leave me and Bertha alone, maybe we could figure out our own problems and maybe we could put it together ourselves."

Asked if the Hagler fortune was really worth some $20 million, as some sources have suggested, Bertha raised her eyes and said, "More." So after Marvin heaved the rock, it was no small matter that moved her to call the country's most celebrated divorce lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, in California, seeking a legal separation. Mitchelson urged restraint, telling her not to act rashly.

"He could hear in my voice that I wanted to be separated but I didn't want to be separated," she says. "He said, 'If you're really sure what you want to do, give me a call.' " She hasn't called back.

"I love him, and the kids love him, and they want us to go back together," Bertha says. "I still have my wedding ring on. This is a cool-down period for Marvin and me."

"I don't know," Hagler says, speaking of going home again. "I'm still undecided about a lot of things."

So far, he has not gone back to the gym, either. The Petronellis see him only sporadically. And his promoter, Bob Arum, does not think he will or should ever fight again. "I think he would be nuts to do so," Arum says. "Why would anybody with that kind of money fight?" With Leonard back in retirement, three middleweight title fights have been scheduled to redistribute the pieces of the undisputed championship Hagler once owned. Arum has hired Hagler to do commentary on the telecasts of two of them.

"If I were to walk out of this game of boxing, I'd hate to walk out with this bitterness," Hagler says. "But I'm going to take time out. I don't know if I'm gonna fight again. Leonard doesn't have anything I want right now, except the satisfaction of whupping him. But that ain't what I want. I want my belts that they took...."
So Hagler says he wants peace and time. He certainly has the time, and plenty of it. Peace is another, more elusive goal.


Retirement




Marvelous Marvin Hagler is an actor living in Milan, Italy. Right, you say, and I'm the Duke of Earl.

But here is Hagler, the boxing barbarian whose T-shirts used to read DESTRUCT AND DESTROY, now subdued and dignified, drinking mineral water at the sedate, book-lined London Bar in the Hilton Hotel in Milan's business district, discussing his new life, his new direction, his new avocation. He has been in Milan for almost a year now and has two action movies, Indio (now available in the U.S. on video-cassette) and Indio 2, under his belt. A third film, Nights of Fear, is set to go into production in the Soviet Union in September. At 36, Hagler is leading a quiet life away from booze, domestic trauma, the sweet science, rumors and, most of all, away from Sugar Ray Leonard.

You may have lost track of Hagler, but if you're a fight fan you must remember April 6, 1987. That was the night Hagler had his undisputed middleweight crown snatched from him by Leonard on a 12-round split decision that sucked the life-blood from the shaved-headed terror, turning one of the world's most savage fighters into a lost dog. Everybody said that Hagler needed boxing to remain sane, that he needed to be the champion of the world in order to keep his demons at bay and to sate his immense pride. Now he had lost his title of nearly seven years, the one he had defended a dozen times, to a dancing, back-pedaling little pretty-boy—a con artist, hardly a man at all, by Hagler's standards.

Leonard had never hurt Hagler, and hurting was what Hagler's game was about. Sugar Ray had skittered around and punched in harmless flurries, while an enraged, cursing Hagler had stalked and thrown one blow at a time at an elusive target. Two of the judges went for the flurries. Hagler was stunned at the decision. "He never hurt me," he said after the fight, again and again. But what was he going to do about it? What could he do now? There would be no return match. Leonard sure didn't need him. Who needs a wounded beast?

"Where does he go now?" Leonard asked after the bout. "I feel sad for him. I really do."

Indeed, Hagler went off the deep end for a while. He drank heavily—there were reports in the Boston press that he used cocaine, which he denied—and watched his marriage end and began sinking like a rudderless ship in high seas. But then, slowly, Hagler righted himself. He didn't return to the ring, but he got his life together, pursuing some business ventures, some commercials, some endorsements, some charity stuff. He and his wife, Bertha, are divorced, but they have made peace with each other. He tried to explain his needs to his five kids. Then he split to Italy, alone, to become an actor. That's how people lost track of him.

But now, suddenly, it is the pretty-boy who needs the killer for one more battle. The 34-year-old Leonard wants to fight Hagler again and then re-retire. Leonard wants everything to be clean, untainted by a split decision that has begun to haunt him, too. And, of course, Leonard wants the money that such a rematch would bring. Promoter Bob Arum has offered Hagler a minimum of $15 million for a re-turn bout, and Hagler's trainers, Goody and Pat Petronelli of Brockton, Mass., think he should take it.

Hagler came back to the U.S. in early June to attend his daughter Celeste's high school graduation, and he talked to the Petronellis during his stay. The threesome goes way back, back to when Hagler first arrived in Brockton from Newark after the 1969 riots in the New Jersey port city and walked into the Petronellis' gym as a mean, tough, raw 15-year-old ready to beat people up. The Petronellis are almost kin to Hagler now. What's their cut if Hagler were to take the fight? "A third," says Pat. "Hey, what can we say? We want it more than anything. But there's respect here. I said to Marvin, 'If you want it, it's there. Think about it.' He said something amazing: 'God, I wanted to beat him so bad—you know that, Pat. But now, for the first time in my life, I'm happy with myself. I'm retired.' "

Now as he walks down a sidewalk in Milan, Hagler has an almost beatific glow about him. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite compute. There is the 5'9�" body that is all shoulders, arms and fists, and, of course, that menacing, shining head that he still shaves daily. "My stand-in during the last movie had to shave his head, too, and he asked me how I get mine so smooth, with no bumps," says Hagler. "But it took years to learn the secret, and I didn't tell him."

Hagler laughs. His dark face is a mixture of statements. His eyes are placid, but his brow is furrowed. And there are those scars that reveal his former craft. Four of the stitches on his forehead came from the legendary Tommy Hearns brawl in 1985, the first round of which was perhaps the most brutal slugfest ever to start a title bout. "Hit Man, my ass," Hagler said before he beat Hearns into submission. The five stitches above his right eye came from Mustafa Hamsho in 1981; Hamsho himself needed 55 stitches. But now Hagler is a mellow man.

"I considered the $15 million, but it didn't come close to changing my mind," he says. "Financially, I'm in good shape. My health is good, my brain is good. One more fight and you never know what might happen. I'm not going to win an Oscar, but I'm getting better. In five years maybe I could be a world-known actor."

But this is Ray Leonard, your nemesis, the man who stole your crown, the man who will lurk beside you forever because he outfoxed you. Like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner, you two are forever associated, movie career or not.

"A while ago, yeah, I wanted him so bad," says Hagler evenly. "But I'm over that. And the problems I had after the fight had nothing to do with Leonard. I was drinking a lot—I wasn't using cocaine—but it was because my wife and I were having problems, not the Leonard situation. Basically, I was just drinking with a lot of other men with the same problems. Plus, I was doing some things I hadn't been able to do in 17 years of training, taking some of the fruits of my labor. I realized I was hurting myself, and I snapped out of it. But it had to take time. You have to like yourself. I like me now. I love me. I think I'm a very nice guy carrying himself well."

He is as pleasant an ex-fighter as anyone could hope to meet, always writing more than just his name when fans ask for his autograph, opening doors for everybody, paying attention to the people around him. It's nice that he has gone through what might have been an early mid-life crisis and come out in good shape. Still, he is a fighter. And fighters fight. Even old ones, like George Foreman. Hagler doesn't like that, though. "I think he's setting a bad example," he says.

Hagler laughs again. "I'm laughing at Leonard," he says. "I used to be the old man, but now look at him—he's getting old. What goes around, comes around."

It does, and it is ironic now that Hagler can most readily punish Leonard by not fighting him. "People saw that fight," says Pat Petronelli. "They have to be saying, 'Give Hagler another chance.' Ray's a proud guy, and he wants to clear the air."

But if Hagler is really through as a fighter, why was he pounding a heavy bag in Manila last month during the filming of Indio 2? Why is he in rock-hard shape at 168 pounds, right where he should be before razoring down to a middleweight's 160?
"I was working out in the Philippines because Sergeant Iron has to be very strong," he replies. "That's my character. When my body's in top shape, my mind is, too. And the only way I know to get in shape is doing my regular routine. A fighter's routine."

Hagler explains that his movie characters see a lot of heavy action and that he has to pull punches in most of his scenes, something he has never done. "For a fighter, that's bad," he says. "If you do it outside the ring, you'll do it inside."
But when Petronelli recently asked him if he could still fight, Hagler said simply, "Yes."

But Hagler is retired now—for whatever that's worth. Leonard has retired twice himself.

"If I didn't understand what happened in that fight, then it would bother me," Hagler says. "But I understand they took the fight from me. I don't know if they paid anybody off, but I beat Leonard. I look at the film and think, 'What are these people talking about?' I almost had him out in the ninth, but the bell saved him. Hearns had him out twice, but didn't finish him. Hearns has never been the same since I finished him. None of my fighters are ever the same. And Leonard is not the same, either."

Hagler was conservative with the roughly $40 million in purses he earned. In Milan he lives in a two-bedroom apartment and gets by, he says, on "$10,000 a month for everything." He is embarrassed by the sad financial state in which so many former fighters have found themselves. "I saw Joe Louis at the door at Caesars Palace, just shaking hands, and that left a bad taste in my mouth," he says. "Then I saw Jersey Joe Walcott doing the same thing in Atlantic City. Great champions. That keeps me moving."

But why Italy?

"I like the country, the culture, the people," he says. "And I knew Milan had people who could help me get into movies. What happened was, I wanted to move. I needed a change in my life. People said I wouldn't last a week here, and, I'll tell you, this was a challenge. The first day I was here I got locked in my room because my landlady didn't speak English, and I had to jump off the balcony, and then I had nothing to eat and no lira, and I'm this black guy who doesn't speak Italian, and, you know, I stuck it out because I'm a survivor. Now I love it here."

Hagler speaks decent Italian, and he says that when he has mastered it, he may move to France and master that country's language as well. "I want to learn how other people live," he says. A ninth-grade dropout, Hagler has become the eager student. But isn't there a score to settle before he can be truly at peace?

"The boxing game is over," Hagler says almost gently. "Now is the time to shake hands with your opponents."

The Petronellis don't know exactly what to think of their old fighter these days.
"Once in a while Marvin sends us a postcard picturing him in the jungle, riding in a Jeep," says Pat Petronelli. "He looks happy."

Maybe he is.