Hagler, Marvin

views updated May 08 2018

Marvin Hagler


American boxer

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a hard-hitting lefty who could switch his stance and also box right-handed. The world middleweight champion from 1980 to 1987, Hagler was a gutsy, aggressive fighter. Over the course of his 14 years as a professional boxer, he posted a record of 62-3-2 and successfully defended his title 12 times before losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in an controversial split decision in 1987.

Road to the Title

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was born on May 23, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey. He was the oldest of six children. His father, Robert Sims, left the family when Hagler was young, and he was raised along with his siblings by his mother, Ida Mae Hagler. In 1969, wanting to escape the race riots that plagued Newark at the time, Hagler's mother moved the family children to Brockton, Massachusetts, the hometown of hall of fame boxer Rocky Marciano . When he was 15 years old, Hagler began working out at a boxing gym in Brockton, where he met brothers Guareno ("Goody") and Pat Petronelli, who trained and managed Hagler throughout his career.

Hagler won 57 bouts as an amateur. In May 1973, a week after winning the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) middleweight championship, he turned professional. On May 18, 1973, he won his first professional fight, with a technical knockout (TKO) of Terry Ryan in the second round. Hagler walked through his first 14 bouts with little trouble. He scored a total of three knockouts (KO; one in the first round, two in the second) and nine TKOs. He faced his first serious challenge on August 30, 1974, when he fought former Olympic champion, Sugar Ray Seales. Going 10 rounds, Hagler earned the decision in a closely matched bout. In a rematch on November 26, the two fought 10 rounds to a draw.


1954Born in Newark, New Jersey
1967Moves with family to Brockton, Massachusetts
1973Turns pro
1973-75Wins first 26 professional fights
1976Loses first fight on January 13 to Bobby Watts
1977-86Doesn't lose a fight in 10 years
1980Marries Joann Dixon
1982Legally adds "Marvelous" to his name
1986World Boxing Association (WBA) withdraws recognition of Hagler as world middleweight champion
1987Loses World Boxing Council (WBC) middle weight to Sugar Ray Leonard
1989Divorces; moves to Italy; stars in action-adventure movie Indio
1992Stars in Indio 2: The Revolt

On January 13, 1976, with a record of 26-0-1, Hagler experienced the first loss of his career, failing to earn the decision in a 10-round bout with Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts. He lost a second time two fights later, again by decision after 10 rounds, to Willie "The Worm" Monroe. Hagler later avenged both losses by beating Monroe twice in 1977 and knocking out Watts in two rounds in 1980. He would not lose again until the final bout of his career ten years later.

Finally, on November 30, 1979, Hagler entered the ring with a record of 46-2-1 to face Vito Antuofermo for his first shot at the world middleweight title. The fight went 15 rounds, and, much to Hagler's consternation, the bout was called a draw, thus Antuofermo retained his title. Eleven months later, after four more wins, Hagler got his second shot at the title, facing England's Alan Minter, who had taken the title from Antuofermo. Hagler pounded Minter during the first round, opening cuts around the boxer's left eye. By the third round Minter was bleeding profusely, forcing the referee to call the fight. Hagler had his first world middleweight title.

In his next seven bouts, Hagler defended his title via three TKOs and four KOs. Despite his dominating presence in the ring, Hagler, who legally added "Marvelous" to his name in 1982, felt as though he wasn't getting the respect, or the big prize fights, he deserved. That changed in November of 1983 when former lightweight and welterweight champion Roberto Duran resurrected his boxing career to challenge Hagler for the middleweight title. The fight itself, much hyped by the media, was itself anti-climactic. Duran, known as an aggressive boxer, worked conservatively against Hagler, throwing the champion off his game plan. Only by forcing the action in the final rounds was Hagler able to retain his title by a narrow margin on points after the full 15 rounds.

Hagler defended his title twice in 1984, knocking out both opponents. His next big fight came on April 15, 1985, when he took on challenger Thomas Hearns, a big name fighter with big-fight experience. Known for his powerful right hand, boxing analysts touted this as the bout that would prove Hagler's worth. The fight, thought by many to be one of the greatest bouts in boxing history, went three rounds. At the bell Hagler attacked with vengeance. Disregarding any boxing technique and defensive strategy, the two pummeled each other throughout the first round. Hearns had a longer reach, but Hagler was stronger. Because Hagler was willing to trade punches, he forced Hearns in close where he could reach him.

By the third round, Hagler was ahead on points but he had multiple cuts that were bleeding, opening the door for Hearns to win on a TKO. When the referee called time out to have a doctor examine him, Hagler knew his time was limited before the referee called the fight. Within a minute after the round resumed, Hagler chased Hearns across the ring and nailed him with three powerful rights. Hearns went down, and although he managed to stagger to his feet, he could not regain his balance, and Hagler was awarded the win on a TKO. It was the champion's defining moment and the highlight of his career.

Hagler vs. Leonard

In March of 1986 he defended his title for the eleventh time, knocking out the undefeated junior middleweight champion John Mugabi in the eleventh round. On April 7, 1987, Hagler slipped on his gloves and entered the ring for the last time. After a five-year absence from boxing, Sugar Ray Leonard announced that he was coming out of retirement to challenge Hagler. For his part, Hagler was so excited about the opportunity to prove himself against one of the best in the world, he conceded numerous advantages to Leonard, including glove size, ring size, and number of rounds (12 rather than 15).

The purse for the fight, which took place at Cesar's Palace in Los Vegas, was $20 million ($19 million for Hagler, $11 million for Leonard), the largest for a fight up to that time. Hagler surprised many by working conservatively against Leonard in the first rounds. Perhaps realizing that he was playing into Leonard's strength of dancing and circling, Hagler stepped up in the middle rounds to move in on Leonard. The fight was very close, and after 12 rounds, the title was awarded to Leonard in a controversial split decision that is still debated today.

Hagler, who was convinced he won the bout, wanted a rematch and waited a year for Leonard to agree to fight him again. Frustrated when Leonard continued to avoid a rematch, Hagler retired in 1989. He later told CBS Sportsline, "I felt as though I had accomplished everything in my career and the only thing left for me to do was to have a rematch with [Leonard]."

Awards and Accomplishments

1973Wins National Amateur Middleweight Championship; wins Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Middleweight Championship; receives Outstanding Fighter Award
1980-87Undisputed middleweight champion
1984Named Boxer of the Year by the World Boxing Council
1985Receives The Jackie Robinson Award for Athletes for simultaneously holding the middleweight title for the World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, and the International Boxing Federation
1993Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame

Like many professional athletes, Hagler struggled after he retired from the ring. He told London's The Times, "When I stopped boxing it drove me nuts. I started to feel like there weren't nothing else because boxing had been everything for too long." He divorced soon after his retirement and moved to Milan, Italy, to pursue a new career in acting. He starred in two action-adventure films, Indio and Indio 2, as well as several Italian-made movies and a television series. Hagler travels to the United States often and continues to pursue new opportunities in acting. He also has increasingly appeared ringside as a boxing commentator, receiving high marks from critics for his articulate, insightful remarks. However, after so many years out of the ring, Hagler still feels the pull in his heart. He admitted to The Boston Globe, "I don't go back to the gyms. I don't want to smell that smell and get that feeling again. I was born to be a fighter, I believe. Boxing was always my love, but that love is over. I moved on with my life."



Contemporary Newsmakers 1985. Issue Cumulation. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986.

Porter, David L., ed. African-American Sports Greats. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Porter, David L., ed. Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Basketball and Other Indoor Sports. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1989.

Roberts, James B., and Alexander G. Skutt. The Boxing Register: International Boxing Hall of Fame Official Record Book. Ithaca, New York: McBooks Press, 1999.

Who's Who Among African Americans, 14th ed. Detroit: Gale Group, 2001.


Borges, Ron. "World Apart in South Africa: Divergent Paths of Ex-champions Hagler and Duran Intersect Again." The Boston Globe, (December 31, 1997): E1.

"Brains, Not Brawn, the Secret Says Marvelous Marvin Hagler." United Press International, (May 2, 1983).

"Hagler: Marvelous Pugilist with Bitter Sweet Memories." Agence France Presse, (December 5, 1999).

Kervin, Alison. "Fighting Talk Puts Hagler Ahead on Points." The Times, (May 21, 2002).

Vega, Michael. "New England's Top 100. No. 19, Marvin Hagler." The Boston Globe, (December 13, 1999): D2.


"Marvelous Marvin Hagler." International Boxing Hall of Fame. http://www.ibhof.com/hagler.htm (January 30, 2003).

Turner, Allyson. "Now and Then: Marvin Hagler." CB Sportsline.com. http://cbs.sportsline.com/u/thennow/marvinhagler.html (January 30, 2003).

Sketch by Kari Bethel