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Fighting Words — Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s Mother Invites Public to May 23 Memorial

03
May

For nearly seven decades, Brockton, Massachusetts, has called itself the “City of Champions.” It is an appropriate nickname.

Brockton, some 25 miles south of Boston, is home to about 95,000 people and has produced two legendary boxers: heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, who first inspired the slogan, and middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who made it even more fitting.

Hagler died on March 13 of a heart attack at his home in New Hampshire. This month, Hagler’s life will be celebrated in Rocky Marciano Stadium.

That word — celebration — is important. As painful as it is when our loved ones pass, when our heroes are suddenly gone, that grief often comes because we recognize how much that person meant to us.

This is not a funeral. This is a memorial, a tribute to the champion Hagler was inside of the ring and the man he was outside of it.

It will take place on Sunday, May 23, beginning at 2 p.m. The gates to the stadium will open at 1 p.m.

“Marvin didn’t want a funeral. He didn’t want a wake. He wanted to be cremated,” said Mae Lang, Hagler’s mother, as we spoke on the telephone this past weekend. “The mayor of Brockton was on TV saying how he wished there was something he could do to show Marvin’s family how much they miss him. After that, I called the family.”

The memorial is on the day that Hagler would have turned 67 years old. Confirmed speakers include Hall of Fame boxing broadcaster Al Bernstein of Showtime, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, and longtime Boston-area sports anchor Mike Lynch.

Other notable names from the worlds of boxing, sports and media are expected to be there as well, according to the event’s master of ceremonies, Peter Czymbor, a Brockton native who wrote about boxing when he was younger and now promotes fights in New England.

The event is open to the public. Attendees are asked to follow the COVID-19 guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The memorial will be televised on a local channel and, hopefully, streamed for those elsewhere in the country who cannot attend. (More details on that will be posted on RingTV.com when the information becomes available.)

“The city of Brockton and Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s family would like for you to join as they celebrate Marvin and honor him for his birthday, and also for what he accomplished around the world and in Brockton,” Lang said.

The stadium is located outside of Brockton High School. The school’s interior is a familiar place for those who recall Hagler’s earliest days as a professional prizefighter. The building hasn’t seen significant renovations since opening 51 years ago, so that very gym is where Hagler made his debut in 1973, knocking out Terry Ryan in two rounds. It is where Hagler fought nine of his first 23 fights, back in his modest beginnings, when there were limited opportunities and paychecks that continued on for frustratingly long.

Brockton is where Lang, a single mother, brought her children to escape the crime and violence in Newark, New Jersey. It is where a teenaged Hagler met Goody and Pat Petronelli, who trained and mentored him, who gained his trust and earned his lifelong loyalty. Hagler developed a relationship with the city as well.

“He got his start here. They backed him. They showed love towards him,” Lang said. “He was our champion.”

Hagler celebrates before things turn very nasty. Photo from The Ring archive

It took Hagler seven long years to become a champion outside of Brockton, thanks to the politics and shadiness that has long afflicted the sport and business of boxing. He had to leave with a draw after a fight with then-champ Vito Antuofermo in 1979, then traveled to London 10 months later to face new champ Alan Minter. Hagler took his fate out of the judges’ hands, scoring a third-round technical knockout.

There was little time for a true celebration. Wembley Arena truly turned out to be hostile territory, as Minter’s supporters threw bottles and other projectiles into the ring.

“I was close by. They rushed us and my daughters into the locker room for safety. It was really scary; that’s the only way I can really put that,” Lang said. “After [Minter’s fans] saw us in the limo, they started throwing at the limo. … It hurt to see such anger, you know, against my son and family.”

Only once they returned to the hotel was there a chance for taking in what the victory meant.

“We were able to enjoy ourselves, but not to go out on the streets that night, ” Lang said. “We grabbed him, we hugged him. I was so happy for his success.”

There was also some levity. Given the damage that the enraged fans had done to the limousine, Lang and Hagler (now in a suit) and others took Polaroid photos that made it look as if they had punched through the windshield. Lang still has one such photo of Hagler in her home.

As serious as Hagler was in the ring and in training — “Destruction and Destroy” was his mantra — there were other sides to the man, including lightness and humor and love.

“He could make you laugh,” Lang said. “He liked to be funny, have everybody laughing. He could really sit there and tell you some stories and make you laugh. No matter how bad you felt, you’d end up laughing.”

Lang recalled a year where she wanted a new bedroom set. Hagler arrived for Christmas Eve dinner with a huge box.

“He set it down and said, ‘Mom, you can’t look at that.’ He said, ‘You’ll find out after dinner.’ Marvin went and had someone bring the box up front. It was loaded with rocks. He said, ‘This is your bedroom.’ But at the bottom of that was the picture of a bedroom set that he had already gotten me. It was so comical. He had us in tears laughing. He was so serious, and we opened it up and there were all the rocks.”

Lang has several stories like these — the fun and funny moments, yes, but also the anecdotes of the people Hagler helped.

“All the calls that were coming in [after Hagler died] saying they knew Marvin and so forth and what he had done, it made me feel happy and it also made me cry. Happy tears and sad tears,” she said. “That was all private to him. He didn’t go around boasting about what he did for anybody.”

There are so many good memories. There was a memory of one of Hagler’s young daughters grabbing jellybeans from the desk of President Ronald Reagan. There are the scholarships Hagler has long funded for students attending a local community college. There was the time Hagler’s loved ones surprised him with a visit from former heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, one of the fighters who inspired Hagler to become a boxer. There was the man at a graduation who didn’t realize he was in Hagler’s seat.

“Marvin said, ‘Excuse me, that’s my seat,’” Lang said. “The guy said something smart and then he turned around and looked up and said, ‘Oh, Marvin, take your seat.’”

And Lang remembers a time she ran with Hagler and another fighting son, middleweight Robbie Sims, as they did roadwork in town. Afterward, Hagler went to the boxing gym to train.

“I got in the bed and said, ‘Oh, my poor aching legs.’ And then when he came back from the gym, he said, ‘How do you feel?’ I said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’” Lang said with laughter.

But then there is another story of Hagler checking in on his mother, one that is incredibly touching and, in hindsight, incredibly symbolic.

Poignant. The great Hagler’s original WBC bracelet.

It is the last time that Lang saw Hagler, when she was in the hospital about a week before her son’s heart attack. Hagler presented her with a bracelet, a replica of the WBC championship belt.

“He never took that off his arm,” Lang said. “But he took it off his arm, he said, ‘I want you to have this.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I don’t want that. Not the way you love that bracelet.’ He said, ‘Mom, I want you to have this.’ I said, ‘Since you insist.’ He took it off his arm and put it on my arm. I said, ‘Why are you doing this?’ He said, ‘Because you are just as strong as I am.’”

Hagler soon said his goodbyes and left the hospital.

“I got a feeling that he knew that he was having a little problem with his heart,” Lang said.

The bracelet now sits in Lang’s home, another cherished memory of her son in a house full of them, and in a life full of them. She looks at it and thinks back to that visit, to Marvin’s words that day, to his actions. She looks at it and knows what that bracelet meant, what it represented in a Hall of Fame career that was fueled by ambition and a desire for validation.

“He was determined,” Lang said. “He said, ‘Mama, one of these days I’m going to be on top of the world.’ And he lived to see it. And I thank God for it.”

The 10 Count

1 – Shortly after I got off the phone with Marvin Hagler’s mother, my Words With Friends app notified me about its word of the day. I don’t know whether it was a coincidence or yet another sign that technology is tracking our conversations, but…

Simply Marvelous.

The word of the day was “Marvelous.”

2 – There will soon be a new road in Brockton, and that new road will have the only name that a new road in Brockton should have:

Marvin Hagler Drive.

According to the Brockton Enterprise, this new road will be right by Petronelli Way, named for Goody and Pat, the brothers who took Hagler under their wings and whose gym was in a building on that block until it closed in 2011.

There continues to be talk about a possible statue of Hagler. (A statue of the city’s other boxing hero, Rocky Marciano, was erected in 2012.)

“I think it would be a fitting tribute for someone that has done, in my opinion, a great deal for this community,” said Brockton City Council member Moises Rodrigues. “I hope that we do a lot more than just naming a small portion [of road].”

3 – For several reasons, I retired “Boxers Behaving Badly” as a regular feature when “Fighting Words” made its return last year. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the terrible story out of Puerto Rico involving former lightweight contender Felix Verdejo.

Verdejo’s girlfriend, Keishla Marlen Rodriguez Ortiz, was reported missing last week and was later found dead in a lagoon. Reports say that she’d told Verdejo, who is married to another woman, that she was pregnant with his child. Verdejo is accused of being involved in Keishla’s disappearance and death.

Verdejo turned himself in to police late on Sunday night. The allegations, detailed here by Jake Donovan of BoxingScene.com, are terrible. (As damning as the police narrative is, Verdejo still has a right to defend himself in court.)

But whatever happens from here on out, nothing will bring Keishla back. Let us remember that the most important thing to talk about isn’t a fighter’s career. It’s a young woman’s life, taken senselessly and too soon.

4 – There’s no easy transition from that story. But I’ll do my best to go back to talking about the fights.

Two months ago, I vowed that I’d be willing to spend one buck on the Andy Ruiz-Chris Arreola pay-per-view for every pound below 250 that the oft-rotund heavyweights dropped.

To their credit, Ruiz and Arreola both showed up in much better shape than had tended to be the case.

Ruiz arrived at 256 pounds. It wasn’t the lowest of his career, but it was definitely far lighter than what he weighed in his disappointing rematch loss to Anthony Joshua in late 2019 (283.5 pounds), and also lighter than he’d been when he shocked Joshua earlier that year (268 pounds). Ruiz looked better physically. He performed better against Arreola, at least later on after some very rough early moments. He clearly had more stamina and an ability to throw combinations. He’d need both.

That’s because Arreola, long maligned for his lack of discipline, showed up at 228.5 pounds, half a pound below his previous low of 229 pounds, all the way back in 2006. At the age of 40, with a long career in his rearview mirror and a potential role as a gatekeeper ahead of him, Arreola showed up motivated and, for a few rounds, particularly dangerous.

Arreola dropped Ruiz in Round 2 and hurt the former heavyweight titleholder multiple times in that round and again in the third. Ruiz steadied himself, adjusted and earned the victory, even if the scorecards were wider than they should’ve been. I don’t know that the show was worth its $50 price tag, but I enjoyed both the early action and the continued suspense.

5 – There’s only so much improvement that trainer Eddy Reynoso can make with Ruiz. You’re not going to turn Ruiz into Canelo Alvarez. But Ruiz will continue to benefit from being on that team. The rematch loss to Joshua was his rock bottom and his reality check. The move to Reynoso has provided a fresh start.

There’s talk that Ruiz could face Luis Ortiz (who was in the arena for the main event) or Deontay Wilder next. I’d enjoy either of those fights. Ruiz is hittable. He’s been dropped by Joshua and Arreola. He’s gotten up to beat both. I want to see what happens when Wilder hits Ruiz. I also want to see what Wilder is like in his first fight back since his TKO loss to Tyson Fury.

If the Wilder fight doesn’t happen next, then Ruiz-Ortiz is, in essence, an elimination bout to see who still belongs in the picture.

Arreola has now dropped two in a row, including his entertaining battle with Adam Kownacki in 2019. He’s fighting like his back is against the wall. It’s unlikely that he’ll ever fight for a world title again. There are still good fights in him and for him, and that makes entertaining fights for us, whether he comes in as a B-side or is evenly matched against another lower-tier big man.

Lara decimates LaManna. Photo by Frank Micelotta/ Fox Sports/PictureGroup

6 – Whether or not you bought and enjoyed Andy Ruiz vs. Chris Arreola, there was still far more value for your money than whatever FOX paid to televise Erislandy Lara vs. Thomas “Cornflake” LaManna.

Lara (who was guaranteed at least $300,000) vs. LaManna (at least $100,000) was part of the undercard for Ruiz-Arreola, but it was also the main event of what amounted to a “pre-show” ahead of the pay-per-view.

Cornflake LaManna was the most notable combination of boxing and cereal since the time Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. ate a bowl while wearing nothing but a pair of briefs as he stood next to his father, who was trying to discuss strategy for Junior’s fight with Sergio Martinez. (I can’t confirm whether Chavez Jr. smoked a bowl beforehand.)

Alas, Cornflake was very quickly toast, crunched. He got (corn) popped by Lara less than halfway into the opening round, sent flat on his back by a single left hand that seemingly took the Life out of him. It was a Total annihilation.

You’d have to be cuckoo, and not on Cocoa Puffs, to think this fight could’ve gone any other way. LaManna had never beaten anyone of note. He’d been stopped by Antoine Douglas in 2015, outpointed by Dusty Harrison in 2016, TKO’d by Jorge Cota (more on him later) in 2020 and lost a decision to some dude named Brian Mendoza last August.

No amount of Lucky Charms would give LaManna a chance against the likes of Lara, even this 38-year-old version of Lara. LaManna had no Trix up his sleeves. Admittedly, he had no sleeves. What he did have was Pebbles, or rather some stones, to challenge the former junior middleweight titleholder.

Somehow this fight was for a secondary WBA belt. But LaManna wasn’t going home with any Alpha-Bits titles. At least he was able to pick up his Chex.

(And yes, I realize there was a cereal called Punch Crunch in the 1970s.)

7 – Here’s a question to which I have no answer:

Which is the better televised lead-in for a pay-per-view? To have a highly competitive fight, or to have a blowout like Lara-LaManna that leaves more time for the broadcasters to market the PPV?

8 – Of course the World Boxing Association would be involved in this kind of BS.

How was LaManna in a fight for the WBA’s “regular” middleweight title given that his only two recent performances in the division were victories over some 30-26 dude named Jorge Pimentel and some 22-14 dude named Juan de Jesus Angulo Gonzalez?

Lara hadn’t been fighting in the weight class either, so that’s also some bullshit, but at least he was a fighter who could, you know, fight at a high level.

Somehow LaManna went from being unranked in any division in November to being ranked No. 10 at junior middleweight by the WBA in December. He was somehow inserted at No. 8 at middleweight at the beginning of this year and then somehow elevated to No. 6 by April.

Something stinks here. I know it’s likely not at all unusual, but that doesn’t make it any less likely that something foul is afoot.

If you are a fighter, a manager, a promoter, a whistleblower, or anyone else involved in the business who wants to speak anonymously about the shady ways that the WBA or other sanctioning bodies do their ratings, please send me a message on Twitter (my DMs are open).

9 – The most entertaining undercard fight on the Ruiz-Arreola pay-per-view was the battle between unbeaten prospect Sebastian “The Towering Inferno” Fundora and the aforementioned Jorge Cota.

Fundora, amazingly, is 6-foot-6 and 154 pounds. He doesn’t use his height and reach as well as he could, and bless him for that. He’s fun to watch and will remain so until, like his fitting nickname, he goes down in flames.

Cota tried to make that happen. And he came in with decent experience, albeit in defeat. His only other losses had come against Marco Antonio Rubio (in 2012), Erickson Lubin (in 2017), Jeison Rosario (in 2019) and Jermell Charlo (also in 2019). Cota threw haymakers, ate big shots, was wobbled plenty, fought back, and was on very unsteady legs in the fourth round. Cota had just landed another flush shot when the referee stepped in. The stoppage was timed poorly but would’ve been excusable a little earlier, given how rough Cota looked.

Fundora landed 141 of 365 punches in a little less than four rounds, according to CompuBox. All but two of those landed shots were power punches. The two fighters only landed a combined three jabs but scored with a combined 200 power shots in the span of 11.5 minutes.

It won’t happen, but I can still daydream about Fundora vs. Erislandy Lara or even the 46-year-old version of Sergio Martinez. Both of those men had success against a tall, lanky fighter in Paul Williams. Fundora is five inches taller than Williams was.

10 – We end this week with Robert De Niro, which is somewhat boxing-related given how many movies he’s been in that involve The Sweet Science (at least four).

It seems like De Niro is like too many past-their-prime fighters — in need of money and having to keep stepping under the bright lights. According to De Niro’s attorney, the 77-year-old has been taking roles because he owes back taxes and has also been ordered to continue providing for his wife while the couple heads toward divorce.

In other words, he’s gone from “Raging Bull” to aging, bills…

 

Follow David Greisman on Twitter @FightingWords2. His book, “Fighting Words: The Heart and Heartbreak of Boxing,” is available on Amazon.

 

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