Yesterday a great man died. Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a great man, one of the greatest middleweights boxers of all time. His road was not an easy one. Smokin’ Joe Frazier once told him early in his career, “you have three things against you, you’re Black, you’re a southpaw, and you’re good.”
In his first attempt at the belt, Hagler battled Vito Antefurmo of Howard Beach to a highly contested draw. Many of the day called it a robbery. In Hagler’s second challenge for the middleweight championship of the world, leading up to the fight, the newly crowned Alan Minter of the U.K. stated that he, “did not intend to lose his title to a Black man.” Hagler responded only that Minter would, “pay for saying that when we meet at Wembley.”
After a long journey to the title, Hagler was booed as he entered the arena. Marvin Hagler, who had begun his career on undercards, was a consummate underdog and road warrior. He was used to the booing. He was determined to achieve victory. And take the decision out of the judge’s hands. For two and a half rounds, Hagler beat Alan Minter, bloody and senseless, until Minter’s corner coach intervened. Marvelous Marvin Hagler was now middleweight champion of the world. Hagler fell to his knees raising his hands to the light. The white audience hurled a storm of beer cans. His managers and trainers, the Petrelli brothers, who had been with Hagler since the beginning, had to shield the fighter as they all quickly made their exit to safety. It was one of the most disgraceful moments in boxing history. The year was 1980.
The racist Alan Minter is now no more than a footnote. Marvelous Marvin Hagler is a legend, a legend shaped by rivalry with other giants.
As one of “The four kings,” alongside Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and Tommy the Hitman Hearns, Hagler participated in what was considered by most boxing historians as the greatest round robin of all time.
Hagler’s fight with Duran is an underrated classic, a battle of will and skill contested at the highest level by two of the most cagey and misunderstood practitioners the sport has ever seen. It is a textbook study of infighting, feints, and push and pull counters with two masters in session.
Hagler’s long-anticipated clash with Sugar Ray Leonard amounts to boxing’s version of the “Rashomon,” leaving generations of fans still divided on what they actually saw. Leonard’s supporters are dazzled by the smooth stick and move stylings and staccato bursts of Sugar Ray, whereas the Hagler camp favor their champion’s landing of the cleaner more telling blows. What you see here, what you choose to see here, and what you choose to ignore says as much as about as much about you as it does the combatants. Picking a winner in this clash of styles amounts to more than the mere scoring of a boxing match; it is the confession of a worldview.
As to Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s showdown with Tommy the Hitman Hearns, is simply put, the greatest three rounds in boxing history. The courage, the skill, the battling through the pain that defines this sport has never been captured as it was here in these less than nine minutes. Going into the fight, Hearns was the betting favorite. Tommy was known for his devastating power, especially with the right, and had walked in with a four inch height advantage that looked far the more towering when the men were paired up. In preparation for the fight, Hagler would often be spotted in interviews with a hat that read “war.” Words fail to describe the clash that had simply been billed as “The Fight.” Through a mask of blood, when asked by referee Richard Steele, if he could still see, Hagler responded, “I am not missing, am I?” Steele granted Hagler one more round. Hearns had broken his right hand, punching Hagler sometime in the first round. Both men knew they did not have much time left going into the third. After the smoke cleared and the leather flew, the official result was Hagler KO3 Hearns. The impact “The Fight” had on the sport is that every great clash since has been compared to Hagler vs Hearns.
Hagler’s road was not a paved one. He came up the hard way. The victim of a few bad decisions, Hagler chased the knockout. Of his 12 successful defenses, only the great Roberto Duran saw the 15th round. His clashes with Leonard and Hearns define a decade of the sport.
Hagler was a man so driven to receive his proper recognition in this racist business, in this racist world that perceived him as just another good Black fighter, that he legally changed his name to “Marvelous.”
So with all due respect to the late great Joe Frazier, it must be said he was right about one thing but missed the mark on two others. Marvelous Marvin Hagler was not a southpaw. He was ambidextrous and he was quite a bit more than good.
Hagler was a legend. Long live the king. Long live the Marvelous one.
by Matt Sedillo for Public Intellectuals
Matt Sedillo has been hailed as “the best political poet in America” by journalist Greg Palast and the “poet laureate of struggle” by historian Paul Ortiz. He is the author of “Mowing Leaves of Grass” and the literary director of the dA Center for the Arts in Pomona CA. Visit his website: www.mattsedillo.com