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Best I Faced: John Mugabi

10
Jul

John Mugabi was one of the most exciting fighters of the 1980s. He was known for his all-action, seek-and-destroy style and bone-breaking power.

I was a knockout fighter,” Mugabi told RingTV.com. “I just knocked the guys out and I liked that.”

Mugabi came from a humble beginning. He was born on March 4, 1960, in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. Life was difficult after dictator Idi Amin seized power in 1971.

It was at the Junior World Championships that, as a 16-year-old, Mugabi first caught the eye of the boxing world, taking silver after losing to Herol Graham in the final.

Two years later at the Moscow Olympics, Mugabi knocked out three of his four opponents en route to the final, where he met Andrés Aldama, a supremely gifted Cuban who, four years earlier, had lost in the final to Sugar Ray Leonard. This time Aldama would claim gold, besting Mugabi at welterweight.

Mugabi wasted little time making the transition to the pros and signed with influential promoter/manager Micky Duff after the Olympics. The Brit orchestrated Mugabi’s early career as “The Beast” campaigned at both junior middleweight and middleweight, terrorizing everyone he faced.

He fought in several countries on the way up and learned on the job against seasoned campaigners such as Curtis Parker (KO 1), James Green (TKO 10) and Frank Fletcher (TKO 4).

Mugabi was scheduled to face Thomas Hearns for the WBC 154-pound title in November 1985. However, that fell to the wayside when Hearns elected to move up to 160 pounds to face Marvin Hagler in a superfight. Mugabi — who by now sported an exemplary record of 25-0 (25 knockouts) with 17 KOs coming inside three rounds — waited in the wings for the winner. Hagler would stop Hearns in a thriller.

The stage was set for Mugabi to challenge Hagler for the undisputed middleweight championship in March 1986. They met at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace and a brutal, back-and-fourth battle ensued. Ultimately, Hagler, though given the hardest fight of his championship tenure, stopped the game Ugandan in the penultimate round.

Many believe that it was after Sugar Ray Leonard watched the Hagler-Mugabi fight that he felt it was time to return and face Hagler, feeling the champion’s skills had eroded sufficiently to beat him.

It was a tough loss for Mugabi, who earned a career-high $750,000. He’d lost the aura of invincibility. However, the heavy-handed African was given a second shot at a world title, this time down at junior middleweight, when he met Emanuel Steward-trained Duane Thomas.

In a strange twist, in the third round Mugabi was caught with an accidental thumb that injured his left eye socket, forcing him to get counted out. Ironically, prior to the fight, Mugabi had argued against wearing gloves with the thumbs stitched to the glove.

John Mugabi (left) fighting Francisco Carballo in 1989. (Photo: THE RING)

A disenchanted Mugabi walked away from boxing for just over a year before returning and leaving a another trail of destruction behind him, winning eight consecutive fights, all by knockout inside four rounds, to earn a shot at Rene Jacquot. Mugabi vanquished the Frenchman, who suffered a twisted ankle, inside a round to win the WBC 154-pound title.

After two non-title bouts he took on Terry Norris. In a battle of gunslingers, Norris prevailed by first-round knockout. Mugabi became only the second fighter — along with Al Singer — to win and lose a world title in one round.

Two low-level wins set Mugabi up to face the younger, bigger, just as heavy-handed Gerald McClellan for the vacant WBO middleweight strap. Mugabi was dropped three times and stopped late in the first round.

With nowhere else to go and his appetite for the sport clearly diminished, Mugabi walked away from boxing. However, after a five-year hiatus, Mugabi, now living in Australia, returned. Although he won the Australia super middleweight title, he was no longer the force he once was and finally retired after losing to future Roy Jones Jr. victim Glen Kelly in January 1999. He exited with a record of 42-7-1 (39 KOs).

Mugabi, now 57, lives in Brisbane, Australia. He is divorced but has five children.

He kindly spoke to RingTV.com about the best he faced in 10 key categories.

Photo: THE RING

BEST JAB
Marvin Hagler: His jab was very effective because he was southpaw. It can destroy you. He also had a come-forward motion that helped him propel his jab with power and precision. The jab stung like hell.

BEST DEFENSE
James Green: This was my first fight that went past the halfway mark. Green was very efficient on the inside and distributed his punches with precision and had a Joe Frazier-like style. He literally knocked me out in one of the early rounds of our fight but I was saved by the bell, then rallied to beat Green in the 10th. His defense was cage-like and he simultaneously attacked with short, powerful punches.

BEST CHIN
Hagler: By virtue of the fact that he was the only fighter I faced who didn’t go down to my clean punches, especially an uppercut in the sixth round of our fight. My power would have woken up ancestors of other fighters I fought when I connected with the uppercut, but he barely wobbled after the punch landed.

FASTEST HANDS
Green: I found it hard to see his punches … that’s why I got caught in the early rounds of the fight.

FASTEST FEET
Curtis Parker: I had to chase him down to knock him out. He was a very fast and talented fighter from Philadelphia.

SMARTEST
Hagler: The fact that Marvin changed stance after losing the first round – he changed from being southpaw to orthodox and I made the mistake of changing to a southpaw and I got knocked out. I was never given a rematch because Marvin went through hell.

STRONGEST
Gerald McClellan: He was a Kronk fighter who had a title fight with me, knocking me out in the first round. My passion for boxing was lost in that fight. I was fighting to pay bills for that fight.

BEST PUNCHER
McClellan: The right hand that caught me was surgically trained and was the best recipe for a knockout.

BEST SKILLS
Hagler: Hagler’s experience, talent and toughness enabled him to show the best set of skills. I attribute this to Hagler’s length of time in the sport before becoming champion

BEST OVERALL
Hagler: He had too much experience for me. He had barely lost a fight from the start of his career.

Questions and/or comments can be sent to Anson at [email protected] and you can follow him at www.twitter.com/AnsonWainwright

  • philoe bedoe

    Another great article in the series.
    I can remember my father recording the Hagler v Mugabi fight and as a ten year old, me and my brothers watching it over again…………

    • wrecksracer

      I still have this fight on vhs. Nothing to play it on, though lol.

      • philoe bedoe

        We used to own a Betamax lol……….

      • Chris Stans

        I can’t even find the full fight on YouTube

        • James Anastasia

          And u won’t. The whole fight was on utube years ago, but for some reason it was taken down! Smh..Now only clips!probably top rank and bob arum doing!

          • aquib rahman

            https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ttRrZZAwAZ0
            Here’s the fight if you want to watch it again.

          • James Anastasia

            Tried the link. It’s blocked here in the states for copyrights! !Told you Bob Arum! !lol

        • wrecksracer

          That’s crazy! I checked and you really can’t find that fight on youtube. Just highlights.

          • Skins

            Go to Bing and it will connect you to daily motion which has the full fight

          • wrecksracer

            Yep, that’s it! What a great fight. Hagler was the man. I just can’t see a guy like Bernard Hopkins beating him. Or any recent Middleweight.

      • Orca

        The day I admitted defeat and trashed all my boxing tapes was a sad day.

        • wrecksracer

          Awww! I know I still have a box of boxing tapes around here. Hagler-Mugabi, Pryor-Arguello, Holyfield-Qawi…..I just kept the ones that I liked best. My plan was to dub them over to dvd.

          • Orca

            I had that plan too. I started to convert them but YouTube seemed to be a step ahead of me and had most of my fights. I kept the really rare or sentimental fights but they slowly rotted away in my garage and I threw them away last time I had a clear out. They gave me a lot of good times in a world before the internet.

  • FLOMATARD

    Hagler vs Mugabi

    Both men peed blood after the fight, damnnn

    • James Anastasia

      I heard Hagler say that! Smh..

  • Joey Junger

    Getting starched by Gerald McClellan in his prime is nothing to be ashamed of. Aside from Julian Jackson, he was probably the hardest punching guy outside of the heavyweight division. It’s a tragedy what happened to him in the Benn fight, though. Also not surprised to see that Hagler leads in the most categories. What flustered the hell out of people about Marvelous was that he not only could switch stance, but was fluid enough to do it in mid-combination.

    • Julio

      I give Mugabi props because after such a brutal clash with Hagler, he still manage to become a world champion. Not too many fighters have been able to resume their careers and find success after losing a fight like that.

    • James Anastasia

      Yes u are right! ! Not many or any fighters could learn that style.The kid Terrace Crawford does!!

    • John Grady

      Well said, Joey, as GM was an incredibly hard puncher who brought adversity to anyone who felt his punches.

      Also, MH’s versatility was incredible. A true all time great.

  • TMT NYC Da Real Ghostbusters

    Why no mention of Great Floyd? Disrespectful!

    • Chris Stans

      He can’t admit he’s still running from TBE

    • Bay Angustia

      no mention because the article is about great fighters… now if the piece is about boxers who made good money… his name will be mentioned in the same breath as foreman, leonard, holmes and michael spinks

  • Douglas Cohen

    Hagler-Hearns was brutal warfare over three rounds, but Hagler-Mugabi was one of the greatest battles of attrition I have seen in boxing. I distinctly remember Hagler absorbing the uppercut that Mugabi mentions in the interview and being shocked the first time I watched that fight Hagler not only stayed on his feet but kept fighting as if nothing had happened. There was also a barrage late in the fight from Hagler that Mugabi absorbed to the point that Hagler punched himself out and Mugabi started attacking. Every other boxer wilted before Hagler’s onslaughts, but not Mugabi. He stood there and took it …literally. Watch it if you haven’t seen it. It is a thing to behold. Granted, the referee got between them at one point, but it is still amazing Mugabi stayed on his feet let alone kept fighting …and the ending! The knockout punch from Hagler in the eleventh was nothing short of epic! I think that might have been the hardest I ever saw Hagler punch someone. And after the fight, I remember how much steam was rising off Hagler’s head. It took everything he had to beat John Mugabi. Granted, Hagler was past his prime at this point, but he was still an absolute monster who had to reach deep to win this fight. I consider Hagler-Mugabi every bit as much of a classic as Hagler-Hearns and Hagler-Leonard. The only difference is that Mugabi isn’t a hall of famer so the fight doesn’t get as much attention. But it was an absolute beauty!

    • Julio

      Mugabi was unproven at the time, which made his performance against Hagler all the more remarkable unlike busts like Steward vs Holyfield for example.

    • James Anastasia

      No doubt! An epic battle! !I believe Mugabi should be a Hall of famer for his impact on the sport.

    • John Grady

      Extremely well said, Douglas, and much agreed regarding the fight’s quality. It is a shame that the battle was not as anticipated as the other great fights of the era, and that history does not respect it to the degree of the other contests that you mentioned.

      The first observation seems odd since JM was an undefeated, powerful knockout artist (albeit one without great names on the resume) prior to the MH fight. I would think that would have captured the attention of many, even if neither fighter had the charisma of a RL.

      MG authored a terrific career, it was fun to read this article and to gain some insights into his perspectives.

  • IanF69

    Hagler-Mugabi….The best fight I’ve ever seen…..and in another 30 years it probably will still be.

  • John Grady

    Thank you for authoring such an educational article. I write this every entry, but this series is absolutely terrific.

    Mr. Mugabi’s honesty is quite compelling. His acknowledging that the GM loss led to his lost passion was very insightful. Such entries helps boxing fans to understand the psychology of the sport and the impact losses can have on fighters. This may be especially so after devastating knockout losses, where a fighter’s vulnerability is identified. It is an awareness that can plague a warrior unless sufficiently addressed (if possible).

    I also appreciated Mr. Mugabi’s respect for MH. It is discussed that the great RL saw a deterioration of skills in MH in this fight, but this does a disservice to the adversity that Mr. Mugabi brought to the fight. I have no doubt that perhaps MH’s skills may have been compromised by this time in his career, but Mr. Mugabi’s efforts, talents, and power exposed this reality.

    Thank you very much for the education,

    John

  • william ellis

    I watched Hagler-Mugabi live: it was an exciting fight. Since Mugabi was really a Light-Middleweight, he put up a tremendous effort. Too bad the rest of his career was so checkered. I don’t think he realized his potential: but at least he did win a title. The full fight with Hagler can be found on Daily Motion. This link should get you there: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x27nqet

  • robert white

    i would have loved to see mugabi vs julian jackson.

  • Black Oracle

    A true God of the Arena