Hagler, Marvelous Marvin (1954—)

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Hagler, Marvelous Marvin (1954—)

Known outside of boxing circles for his bald head, goatee, menacing stare, and muscular physique, a ring announcer once told Marvin Hagler that if he wanted to be announced as "Marvelous Marvin," he should go change his name. So Hagler did just that, legally changing his name to "Marvelous Marvin Hagler." During the 1980s, when athletes' incomes skyrocketed and attitudes towards athletes in the media changed from idolatry to suspicion and scorn, Hagler came to symbolize the throwback fighter of yesteryear. Where his nemesis Sugar Ray Leonard fought his first professional fight in 1976 on national television for a five figure purse, Hagler began his professional career in obscurity, fighting for very little money. Hagler and Leonard fought for their first world titles on the same card but not against each other; Hagler fought the preliminary bout against middleweight champion Vito Antefermo for $40,000 and failed to gain the middleweight title when he was awarded a draw in a fight most observers felt he won, while Leonard fought the main event for $1,000,000 and won the welterweight title with a 15th round knockout against Wilfred Benitez. Leonard was the media darling whose career was carefully orchestrated, Hagler was the blue collar champion who earned everything he ever received.

As a struggling middleweight contender unable to get a title shot, Hagler was once told that he had three things going against him—he was black, he was left-handed, and he was good. In fact that statement was only partly true. Hagler is in fact African American, but while he could fight southpaw, he could also fight right-handed, and he was not just good, he was great. As a result of his being better than just good, he was able to rise above the obscurity to which most talented, black left-handers have been relegated throughout boxing history.

When Sugar Ray Leonard retired in 1982 due to a detached retina, Hagler, who was by then the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, took Leonard's place as the biggest star in boxing. Wins in highly publicized bouts against fellow Hall of Famers Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns lead to endorsement deals, most notably for Right Guard deodorant. Right Guard used Hagler's instantly recognizable face, and the association of his face with brutality, and made an ironic, comic television commercial in which Hagler, perched atop a horse and dressed in equestrian attire, declares that anything less than Right Guard would be "uncivilized." Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the everyman champion, had finally reached the superstar plateau that Sugar Ray Leonard had occupied in his own heyday.

When Leonard eventually returned to the ring in 1987, he and Hagler met in one of the most anticipated fights in the history of boxing. During negotiations for the bout, Hagler insisted on more money than Leonard. Leonard complied, and Hagler received $14,000,000 to Leonard's $12,000,000, instead of a $13,000,000 apiece split. In exchange for the million dollars, Hagler agreed to a 12 round rather than a 15 round distance. The shorter distance theoretically benefitted Leonard, the naturally smaller fighter who would have to expend more energy than Hagler in order to remain competitive in the bout. As it turned out, Leonard started the fight quickly and Hagler came on strong later. Marvelous Marvin's late rounds rally was not enough, and Leonard won the split decision, taking Hagler's middleweight title. Unlike almost all other former champions, Hagler never made a comeback. Instead he moved to Italy, where this blue collar throwback fighter became, of all things, a popular and successful Italian action-movie star.

—Max Kellerman

Further Reading:

Gloecker, Carolyn. Marvin Hagler. Mankato, Minnesota, Crestwood House, 1985.