While everyone is still buzzing about the pulsating battle between Leigh Wood and Michael Conlan, I wanted to devote this column to something that occurred a year ago. It was on the afternoon of March 13, 2021, while most boxing fans were eagerly awaiting the rematch between Roman Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada, that some troubling news began to circulate.
Word was that the great Marvelous Marvin Hagler had passed away.
It's something you really didn't want to believe since Hagler seemed to be a man of great vitality and strength, even at his age. But unfortunately it was confirmed by his wife, Kay, on that afternoon that he had indeed died at the age of 66. ( Just want to make this clear, the circumstances in regards to all this are irrelevant to me.)
I wasn't penning this column for SNAC.com at that juncture, so there wasn't really much of an opportunity to get into what his life and career meant to me as a boxing fan who grew up in the 80's.
But that day last year, it felt like a piece of my childhood was lost. I still remember running to my mailbox while I was still living in Valencia, California, to get my Sports Illustrated to read the account of Hagler's victory over Thomas Hearns in 1985 that had him emblazoned on the front with the iconic headline, "Marvelous''.
Hagler made more cover appearances on SI in the 80's than Paulina Porizkova.
No death has hit me as hard in recent years outside of my father's passing in 2016. Many others, who like me, had never actually met him have expressed the same sentiment. Hagler was symbolic of something much more than just boxing, but an example of how to be steadfast and committed to your life's work. Pundits talk about 'blue-collar boxers' but this is a guy who actually worked on the construction yard to make ends meet at the beginning of his career.
One of my bucket list items was to finally interview Mr. Hagler(as I had never met him), or perhaps just shake his hand. Hey, we all have our idols growing up. Unfortunately, I never got to meet mine.
For me, Hagler represented what boxing -- and what it meant to be a boxer -- really was. It wasn't just his menacing look, or his hard-charging style, but his unwavering discipline to the sport and his mentality which was that of a modern day gladiator. There was a certain nobility to the way he carried himself. In an often unsavory and corrupt sport, he never lost his dignity.
Having just missed the heyday of Muhammad Ali, and with Sugar Ray Leonard taking long hiatuses from the sport, Hagler was the guy growing up. He just looked like a boxer. And in my view, he is how they should act and behave -- some thing that is oftentimes lost on this current generation.
If boxing had an official logo, he should be its Jerry West.
This is a guy who wasn't one of the chosen ones, he didn't have an Olympic gold medal around his neck, and wasn't signed to a brand name promoter. His pro debut didn't come at Madison Square Garden but at the Brockton High School Gymnasium in 1973. Hagler would fight there more than a few times as he cut his teeth under the direction of Goody and Pat Petronelli, who were with him from beginning to end.
Then Hagler willingly went into the Philadelphia gauntlet where he was forged by a series of fights with guys who had nicknames like 'Boogaloo'(Bobby Watts'), 'the Worm' (Willie Monroe), 'the Cyclone' (Eugene Hart' and a 'Bad' man named Bennie Briscoe. He didn't win them all, but he came out as the world's most feared middleweight contender.
He was blackballed to a point his real moniker should've been '8-ball' but with the backing of Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill and Massachusetts Senator, Ted Kennedy, who urged Bob Arum to help Hagler get into the middleweight mix (or else), he eventually became a player. Hey, who said politicians don't care about their constituents?
It took him till his 50th pro fight to get his first title shot(a very disputed 15 round draw with Vito Antuofermo in 1979), to put this into perspective, most careers nowadays will not span that many fights. After three stay-busy bouts (two of which took place at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine), he won the middleweight title by slicing up Alan Minter in three rounds in Wembley Arena. Instead of a champagne shower, a hail of beer bottles came raining down on him and his camp.
The rest as they say is history. His late championship run, starting with his 15 round scrap with Roberto Duran in 1983 is what he's best known for. Eventually he engaged in memorable bouts with Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard that netted him millions, as he became a cultural icon.
But his hard road up to the title is really the story to me. Hagler wasn't supposed to beat the system, but he did.
The man who was once thought be impossible to promote into stardom(Joe Frazier once famously told him he had three strikes against him: he was black, southpaw, and too good) ultimately became a corporate pitchman who had national endorsement deals with Pizza Hut, Diet Coke and most famously, Right Guard. He even got an invite to the White House from Ronald Reagan, and appeared on 'Punky Brewster' and '227' and sat next to Johnny Carson on 'the Tonight Show'.
This was an era when boxing was bigger, better and more important to the public at large. And it was guys like Hagler who made that way. The fighters fought more, and regularly engaged in more meaningful encounters. Their relevance didn't hinge on how many Instagram followers they had, or even the money that they made.
America and boxing fans may not have always liked Hagler. But they grew to appreciate and eventually love him.
Honestly, I really don't like what I see in today's game. The way it's run bothers me, as does the behavior of its combatants. Yeah, I'll say it, we have more prima donnas than actual prizefighters. I fully admit I'm becoming a bit of a curmudgeon -- move over Michael Katz!! -- and the guy that tells the youngsters to get the hell off my lawn. I don't fight this label, in fact, I embrace it.
But hey, can you blame me?
I grew up watching Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
He set a high bar. Hagler, spoiled all of us.
Another one of my favorites of the 80's till this day is the Miami Hurricanes football program. There really was nothing like that era which was lead by head coach, Jimmy Johnson, who was an avid fight fan. For years he was a regular in Las Vegas for the big fights.
And it's obvious that he also had an admiration for Hagler. He actually had him come into speak to the 'Canes.
Alonzo Highsmith, a star fullback on those star-studded teams -- who later became a pretty solid heavyweight, himself -- tells me that his teammates all watched Hagler's memorable bout with John Mugabi in March of 1986 at the close-circuit viewing at the Knight Center on the campus at Miami.
Years later, Al Golden, showed the Hurricanes the Hagler-Hearns fight before they played Ohio St. in 2011. This is something that many other coaches in other sports have done.
For my younger audience who may not be all that familiar with Hagler, last year 'Bored Films' from Joseph Vincent did a great job in capturing the essence of his career. Here is a link down below....
For those who haven't seen the Wood-Conlan fight, I would highly recommend you do. It had one of the most sudden and breathtaking conclusions you'll ever see....Keyshawn Davis has been pulled from his assignment next Saturday at the Hulu Theater versus Esteban Sanchez with what Top Rank is calling a ''non-covid related virus''. Word is that this bout will now be placed on the Oscar Valdez-Shakur Stevenson card at the MGM Grand on April 30.....John Bauza-Tony Luis will replace that bout on the upcoming ESPN broadcast....Olympic gold medalist, Bakhodir Jalolov, has signed on with Probellum. Currently, the heavyweight has a record of 9-0 (9 KOs) will be fighting on their March 18 card in Dubai....I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org....