Marvelous Marvin Hagler: 1954-2021
For nearly a decade, boxing fans reveled in the exploits of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran,” collectively dubbed “The Four Kings” by author George Kimball for what they did during what arguably was the most celebrated four-man round-robin in boxing annals. Their nine fights built the foundation for their individual legends, and as great as they were individually, they were even more so as a group, so much so that fans continued to celebrate their collective deeds more than 30 years after the final fight of their series.
One would have reasonably thought that the quartet would remain linked in life for at least several more years, but on Saturday, the boxing world was shaken to its core with the news that the first member of this fraternity had passed away. On the Marvelous Marvin Hagler Facebook fan page, his wife Kay wrote the following words:
“I am sorry to make a very sad announcement. Today, unfortunately, my beloved hustand Marvelous Marvin passed away unexpectedly at his home here in New Hampshire. Our family requests that you respect our privacy during this difficult time. With love.”
Hagler, the second-oldest of the quartet behind Duran, was just 66.
Born Marvin Nathaniel Hagler May 23, 1954 in Newark, N.J., he owned the prize the three others coveted most — the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. He earned that distinction on September 27, 1980 when he traveled to London and destroyed Alan Minter in seven minutes and 45 seconds of savagery, and his first entry into the “Four Kings” sweepstakes — his November 1983 showdown with Duran — was preceded by seven consecutive KOs that showcased his exquisite conditioning, his switch-hitting prowess and his single-minded pursuit of excellence. Before every fight, he locked himself inside his Provincetown, Mass. training camp — a place he called “jail” — to fine-tune his sculpted physique and to maximize his “destruct and destroy” mindset.
Because of the long and arduous road he had to travel in order to become world champion — seven-plus years, 54 fights and one previous title opportunity against Vito Antuofermo that resulted in a debatable draw– he clung to his title belts with an iron grip. He left nothing to chance, and his philosophy was confirmed by his three entries in the “Four Kings” series: A close decision over Duran, a career-defining three-round TKO over Hearns in April 1985, and a split decision loss to Leonard in April 1987 that remains deeply divisive.
No matter how one feels about the Leonard verdict, one fact is beyond dispute: Even before Hagler’s six-and-a-half-year, 12-defense title reign reached its peak, he was deemed worthy of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Ketchel, Greb, Zale, Robinson and Monzon because he was cut from their old-school cloth. He believed in 15-round fights against the best available challengers. He believed in entering the ring in the best possible shape. He believed that the mark of a great fighter was to clean out the division he ruled and to do so in the most dominant manner. Because he turned his beliefs into reality — and because he built his legend brick-by-brick in the blue-collar manner that mirrored his fan base — he became among the most beloved and revered of champions.
The proof of this was how Hagler was received whenever he appeared at the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s Induction Weekend. The mere mention of his name provoked throaty, heartfelt cheers, and no matter who shared the stage with him, it was he who received the most love. That’s because he was an accomplished athlete who chose to maximize his gifts instead of resting on them, and he treasured the intangible rewards of legacy as much as he thirsted for the biggest possible paychecks. He was willing to travel to Philadelphia to face men he called “The Iron,” and two members of that august group — Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts and Willie “The Worm” Monroe — permanently pockmarked his previously perfect record with an arguable majority decision (Watts) and a decisive points victory (Monroe). The Monroe setback eventually would become a touchstone, for he would not lose for another 11 years.
The images Hagler created over his final 38 fights are legion. His no-nonsense ring walk. The intimidating image he projected with his shaven skull, his chiseled physique, his lethal stare and his goatee. The way he banged both gloves against his abdominal wall and his pate as he awaited the opening bell. No frills. No extras. Just him — and, for most, that was more than enough. If ever a man defined the ideal visage of a championship-level boxer, it was Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
His look was amplified by the arc of his extraordinary career. The ingredients include his constant demands to fight Hugo Corro in post-fight interviews and magazine articles, demands that switched to Antuofermo — who he dubbed “Vito the Mosquito” — after the Italian-American dethroned the Argentine in June 1979. The late-round slide that cost him his first fight with Antuofermo, then the demolition of Minter four fights later. The move to legally change his name to “Marvelous Marvin Hagler” after the ABC announcers referred to William “Caveman” Lee’s moniker but did not grant him the same courtesy. The memories of Hagler’s HBO-televised defenses with Fulgencio Obelmejias (twice), Antuofermo, Mustafa Hamsho (twice), Tony Sibson, Wilford Scypion and Juan Domingo Roldan — many of which were witnessed by Leonard, who served as the network’s analyst. His less-than-scintillating points win over Duran and the ultra-scintillating crushing of “The Hit Man.” The way Hagler dug deep to repel John Mugabi’s inspired challenge, a challenge that ended with a beautifully executed KO in Round 11.
As he awaited the announcement of the judges’ scorecard following the Leonard fight, Hagler was thoroughly convinced he had done enough to retain his championship and to continue his pursuit of Monzon’s then-divisional record of 14 successful defenses in a single reign. He even broke into dance. But that joy turned to disgust, and that disgust ran so deep that he walked away — and never came back. He spurned all attempts to lure him back into the ring, and because of that, he retired with a record of 62-3-2 (52 knockouts).
His accomplishments include being named The Ring’s Fighter of the Year in 1983 and 1985 (co-winner with Donald Curry), being involved in the magazine’s Fight of the Year in 1985 (KO 3 Hearns) and 1987 (L 12 Leonard), and he was deemed the fourth greatest middleweight of all-time by the publication. Boxing Illustrated named him their Fighter of the Decade for the 1980s — the decade he shared with Leonard, Hearns and Duran. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993, a first-ballot inductee if ever there was one.
Many words can be used to describe Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Versatile. Durable. Rugged. Skilled. Proud. But one word best defines who he was inside the gym and inside the ring, and to everyone who knew and loved him: Marvelous.
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 19 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.