Hagler, Marvin Nathaniel

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HAGLER, Marvin Nathaniel

(b. 23 May 1954 in Newark, New Jersey), boxer who was the undisputed middleweight champion of the world from 1980 to 1987.

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Hagler was raised in Rocky Marciano's hometown, Brockton, Massachusetts. In Brockton he met the Petronelli brothers, Goody and Pat. Hagler worked at their construction company during the day and trained at their boxing gym at night. The Petronellis trained and managed Hagler for most of his career.

Hagler, known for his incredible physique and his powerful left hand, stood five feet, nine inches tall and weighed 160 pounds. Early on, Hagler clearly understood that what he did in the gym translated to victories inside the ring. In an interview with CBS in the 1990s Hagler commented, "For me, I loved the training. That was the easiest part about the fight game because I loved being in shape, and I loved training.… The main thing is not trying to leave all your fight in the gym." His training and work ethic permitted him to achieve a record of fifty-seven amateur triumphs. After he was awarded the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) middleweight title in 1973, he turned professional.

Hagler won his first professional fight, a second-round technical knockout of Terry Ryan, in 1973. As his career progressed he frequently traveled to other fighters' home-towns for bouts. Many of his pre-title competitions took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. There he met contenders such as Bobby Watts, Willie "The Worm" Monroe, Eugene "Cyclone" Hart, and Vinnie Briscoe. After one fight, Briscoe—a world ranked contender—encouraged Hagler, telling him "You're going to be champion."

After six years in the ring, Hagler was ready for his first title fight. In 1979 he boxed world middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo to a fifteen-round draw. Nearly a year later, on 27 September 1980, Hagler finally took the world title from Great Britain's Alan Minter in a third-round knockout. Racial tension loomed over the fight, as both Minter, a white fighter, and Hagler, an African American, were reported to have made derogatory racial statements prior to the bout. Both men fought hard, but the referee stopped the fight when Minter was bleeding badly from a cut over the eye and a bloody nose. British fans reacted angrily to the decision, throwing bottles into the ring. Hagler exited with a police escort.

Hagler went on to defend the title twelve times from 1981 through 1987. His victims included names from all across the spectrum of middleweight fighters. Antuofermo, who had denied Hagler's first title attempt, fell in five rounds. With his shaved head and sculpted body, Hagler was all business in the ring. In 1982 he knocked out William "Caveman" Lee in sixty-seven seconds. He won a rematch with Obelmeijas, ending it in the fifth round. Early in 1983 he knocked out Tony Sibson and Wilford Scypion, in the sixth and fourth rounds, respectively. He scored a unanimous decision over Roberto "Hands of Steel" Duran to retain his crown on 10 November 1983. This bout was held before nearly 15,000 fans in the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, as were many of his fights, due to Hagler's burgeoning popularity.

While Hagler was on top of his game, his success was not without controversy. On 19 October 1984 Hagler scored a third-round technical knockout of Mustapha Hamsho. The bout was scheduled for fifteen rounds, an illegal length, for the World Boxing Council had previously restricted title bouts to twelve rounds. Hagler was stripped of his crown on 20 October. Undeterred, Hagler regained his championship with a ten-round knockout of Juan Roldan on 30 March 1985 in Las Vegas.

Regarded as "one of the most exciting fights of all time," Hagler retained his title when the referee stopped his fight against Thomas Hearns on 15 April 1985 in Las Vegas. The match saw both fighters fight ferociously from the opening bell. In the third round, the ringside physician was called to examine cuts above and below Hagler's eye. The doctor determined that the champion could continue. When the brawl recommenced, Hagler used two of his famous rights to put the contender on his back. According to the trainer, Angelo Dundee, the combatants, "fighting like the end of the world, managed to compress fifteen rounds into three."

Hearns had previously only lost to Sugar Ray Leonard; Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion, would also succumb to Leonard. Before meeting Leonard, however, Hagler retained his title for the twelfth time in an eleventh-round knockout of John "The Beast" Mugabi. The Ugandan-born Mugabi had won twenty-six fights, all by knockout, before falling to Hagler.

Hagler's last fight was on 6 April 1987: the long awaited showdown with Sugar Ray Leonard. Leonard, who came out of retirement for the match, out-boxed Hagler. It was an intense fight in which each man landed over 100 punches. The fight went twelve rounds and the decision went to Leonard. Hagler was adamant that he deserved a chance to regain his title from Leonard, but unable to secure a rematch, Hagler retired in 1987.

After retirement, Hagler pursued an acting career and appeared in several films. He moved to Milan, Italy, and pursued acting with the same determination that he gave to boxing. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York, in 1992.

Disciplined and fierce, Hagler represented his adopted hometown well. He felt it was important to bring the wins home to Brockton, Massachusetts—a town otherwise known only for the manufacture of shoes. Following in Rocky Marciano's steps, Hagler was the second world champion from this otherwise lackluster suburb of Boston. Despite his self-anointed title of "Marvelous"—he legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1982—and his local heroics, Hagler maintained a concise philosophy, "I always took one fight at a time." That attitude produced a record of 62–3-2, with fifty-two knockouts, and estimated earnings of $30 million.

For further information about Hagler, see Jet (8 Feb. 1993). An announcement of Hagler's induction to the Boxing Hall of Fame is in Forbes (6 Apr. 1987), and Carolyn Gloeckner and Howard Schroeder, Marvelous Marvin Hagler (1985), covers Hagler's fight with Leonard.

Molly Boyle