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Judgment Day: Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler. (Photo by The Ring Magazine via Getty Images)
Fighters Network

This article is one of the main features in the November 2023 issue of The Ring, which is live now to subscribers.



November 10 marks the 40th anniversary of the much-anticipated showdown of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, two living legends and future Hall of Famers who were fighting for so much more than Hagler’s bejeweled Ring Magazine, WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight championship belts. On a chilly night in the temporary outdoor stadium at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace periodically erected for just such occasions, two inordinately proud men also were spurred by the need to receive, in addition to multimillion-dollar paydays, the recognition, respect – and, in Duran’s case, redemption – that each figured were their just due.

There sometimes are things more important in boxing than financing a lifestyle of the rich and famous, deeply personal motivations that can help produce the sort of confrontations that are the stuff of legend. Was Hagler-Duran a great fight worthy of the hype? Well, maybe. Although Bobby Chacon’s epic 12-round unanimous decision over Cornelius Boza Edwards got the nod as The Ring’s 1983 Fight of the Year, Hagler-Duran was stirring enough in its own right for blow-by-blow commentator Sal Marchiano to say, during a 14th round in which the razor-thin outcome may well have hinged, “Fight of the year? Yes, I think so.”

When ring announcer Chuck Hull read the final tallies of the judges, the significance of Hagler’s furious bid in the 14th and 15th rounds to score the knockout he had predicted but didn’t get became apparent. Judges Guy Juras, Yusaku Yoshida and Ove Ovenson all gave those rounds to Hagler, which allowed the champion to retain his titles by respective margins of 144-142, 146-145 and 144-143. Had Duran won one of those two closing stanzas, he would have not only dethroned the favored Hagler on a majority decision, he also would’ve become the first fighter to win world titles in four separate weight classes, having previously reigned at lightweight, welterweight and junior middleweight.

Recognition and respect? Hagler, the shaven-skulled destroyer from Brockton, Massachusetts, had been claiming for years that he had yet to be as completely acknowledged by the public as what he believed himself to be, which was one of the greatest 160-pounders ever to tug on a pair of padded gloves. Defeating so prestigious an opponent as Duran, even if the Panamanian was making his debut in the middleweight division, surely would do much to advance his cause.

(Photo by John Iacono /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)

Duran, the “Hands of Stone,” had been attempting to scrub clean the taint of two image-damaging embarrassments.

All that and redemption as well? At 32 years of age and with much mileage on his pugilistic odometer, Duran, the “Hands of Stone” who came in with a 77-4 record and 58 KO victories, had been attempting to scrub clean the taint of two image-damaging embarrassments. First and foremost was his shocking eighth-round “No Mas” surrender against Sugar Ray Leonard in their November 25, 1980, rematch in New Orleans, an outcome so unexpected and out of character for Duran that one pundit joked that some Panamanians were moved to claim their erstwhile national hero was actually Guatemalan. Nearly as detrimental was his split-decision loss to club fighter Kirkland Laing on September 4, 1982, in Detroit, which prompted Duran’s longtime manager, Carlos Eleta, to drop him as damaged goods.

Realizing that his future as a top-tier fighter was clouded and his glorious past was now fraying around the edges, Duran turned to a past acquaintance, Luis Spada, with a request that he serve as his new manager. Spada agreed, but he promptly laid down the law to his hard-partying new charge: If their collaboration was to work, Duran would have to train longer and harder and show up on every fight night as prepared as possible to remind everyone of what had made him such a special talent in the first place. A revitalized Duran rebounded from the Laing debacle to reel off a points win over Jimmy Batten and, much more impressively, stoppages of former welterweight champ Pipino Cuevas and Davey Moore, the last triumph so savagely attained that it brought him the WBA junior middleweight title and a near-full restoration of his past prestige. Next up would be Hagler.

Hagler was on a streak of eight knockouts, most recently a fourth-round stoppage of Wilford Scypion. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Hagler was indisputably devastating inside the ropes, having won his last eight bouts (seven of which were title defenses) inside the distance, but he was never quick with a sound-bite quip. It’s one thing to have the punch, but it’s also helpful for any would-be superstar to have the panache. In his hotel suite in the days leading up to the Duran fight, Hagler acknowledged that his dour, all-business personality was such that he wasn’t likely to become the sort of crossover attraction that future archrival Sugar Ray Leonard long had been.

“They said, ‘Marv, you’re just not colorful enough,’” Hagler complained to a Boston columnist. “They said, ‘Marv, there’s just nobody out there for you to fight.’ They said, ‘Marv, the big payday’s just not going to come.’

“Well, you know what? I’m here.”

Billed as “Judgment Day,” Hagler-Duran quickly became so compelling an attraction that it resulted in a sellout crowd of 14,600 (including such celebrities as Kirk Douglas, Susan Anton, Jim Brown, baseball’s Rod Carew and boxing luminaries Larry Holmes, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello and Thomas Hearns, who, anticipating a bout with the winner, was at ringside in a tuxedo). The closed-circuit telecast also did some nice numbers (there would be a replay of the fight days later on HBO), with opinion as to how the bout would play out sharply divided. Hagler opened as a 4/1 favorite, but that was trimmed down to 3/1 as a lot of bets came in for Duran from Latin fans who had seen him upset the odds before.

Whatever the outcome would be, Duran was clearly not intimidated by Hagler. (Photo: The Ring Magazine)

A confident Hagler reckoned, “I am going to bust Duran up” with a display of dominance that would more than justify his guaranteed $5 million take, which could get bumped up to $8-10 million if the closed-circuit sales were robust enough.

Among those analysts coming down strong for Hagler was the Boston Globe’s Steve Marantz, who wrote that “Marvelous Marvin Hagler defends his middleweight title tonight against a lighter, shorter, older, weaker and less-conditioned opponent.” Edwin Pope, of the Miami Herald, was just as convinced that Hagler was a sure thing, noting that “Duran is not equipped to KO Hagler at any time. The Magnum power of his 135-pound days turns to buckshot up around 160.”

Non-media predictor Arguello chimed in that “giving up weight is terribly, terribly difficult. It’s even harder for Duran because he can’t hit hard enough to go toe-to-toe with Hagler. He would have to make a perfect fight to win.” Leonard, on hand as a commentator for the HBO rebroadcast, waffled a bit, admitting that “Hagler has all the advantages. But you can’t count out Duran, simply because he is Duran.”

But Duran, his legendary status having gained some of its old, glossy sheen with the romps over Cuevas and Moore, had a fair share of support. Former champion Carlos Monzon, of Argentina, perhaps influenced by his own desire to be regarded as a more historically important middleweight than Hagler, opined that “Duran will win because of experience in fighting the best fighters.”

Hagler’s eye was badly swollen in the championship rounds. (Photo by Manny Millan /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

As might be expected, it was Duran who did the loudest yapping in still another attempt to get inside an opponent’s mind and gain a psychological edge. He announced that he saw “fear in Hagler’s eyes,” which, if it was a ploy to significantly discombobulate the Marvelous one, probably did not achieve its goal. Which is not to say Duran’s posturing didn’t have at least a slightly beneficial effect.

“Duran is the Latin Muhammad Ali with his pre-fight psyche,” said noted trainer Angelo Dundee, weighing in on the fight. “He’ll do a number on you second to none, and there’s a good direction to his madness. He does it to upset his opponent. Hagler is a nice kid. I don’t know how he’s going to react to all this.”

Hagler flirted with a knockout, or at least a knockdown, in a very strong sixth round and seemingly had a comfortable cushion through 10, but a huffing Duran appeared to catch his second wind and won the 11th, 12th and 13th on the cards submitted by Jutras and Ovensen; Yoshida gave two of those rounds to Duran and scored the other even. And although Hagler felt he had already banked enough rounds to win on points if it came to that, entering the 14th his corner team of brothers Goody and Pat Petronelli told him they thought the outcome was still in doubt. They urged their guy to go after Duran as if that were indeed the case – and it was.

“I couldn’t see [Duran] beating me,” Hagler said, post-fight, of where he thought he stood through 13 rounds. “But Goody and Pat told me, ‘We’ve got to win these last two rounds big.’”

Hagler cranked up the intensity when the fight’s outcome was in doubt. (Photo by Heinz Kluetmeier /Sports Illustrated via Getty Images)

Had Hagler bought into Duran’s sneering putdowns to the point where it influenced the way he fought? He said that was not the case, but he did admit that he “didn’t expect to come out looking pretty. I started loosening up very late. I realized I had to get my combinations off faster.”

Perhaps it was Hagler’s ability to seamlessly switch from a southpaw to orthodox posture, sometimes in the middle of a flurry, that proved the difference. He first did that in the fifth round, and for the remainder of the bout he continued to do so, achieving more success as a righty. Although he did not get the emphatic, exclamation-point stoppage that he so desired, Hagler said he was content to win on points even if it was by the narrowest of margins. The Duran he had just shared the ring with, Hagler conceded, was not the same one who had turned his back on Leonard in the Louisiana Superdome or somehow managed to lose to the likes of Laing.

“I’m very proud of myself to beat a man with three world titles,” said Hagler, who finished the fight with his left eye nearly swollen shut (from, he claimed, a thumbing in the 12th round and a head-butt in the 14th). “I give him a lot of credit. But give me a lot of credit, too. This man’s a legend. … He’s a very gutsy warrior. He was tougher than I expected.”

For his part, Duran – who was guaranteed $1.5 million with an upside to $4 million, contingent on closed-circuit buys – also professed to be reasonably content with his near-miss, even though he was hoisted onto his cornermen’s shoulders at the final bell, as if his team expected to be victorious when the scorecards were read.

“I hit him on the head [in the fifth round] and felt pain in my right hand,” said Duran, who winced when promoter Bob Arum tried to grasp that same hand immediately after the bout. “In the 12th round, I had Hagler in bad condition, but I was too tired to finish the job. I am not disappointed, though. Marvin Hagler was better. That’s it.”

Hagler didn’t destroy or destruct Duran, but the victory was sweet nonetheless. (Getty Images)

No complaints were issued by Spada, who figured that at the very least, “the fight proved to everyone that this wasn’t the mismatch everyone tried to say it was going to be. The fans, everybody, we were satisfied. Duran isn’t disappointed, either. He did his best and was leading after 13 rounds – then he just got a little tired.”

Tom Archdeacon, the veteran sports columnist for the Dayton Daily News, figured Duran’s crusade to cleanse himself of past humiliations was about as good as he could have hoped for, even in defeat.

Click to visit our Marvelous Marvin Hagler tribute issue.

“Duran showed his comeback, though not victorious last night, is legitimate,” Archdeacon wrote. “At age 32, he was able to move up in weight without turning into a lifeless slug and ended up fighting gallantly against a man considered the best boxer, pound for pound, in the world today. The effort should blow away that ‘No Mas’ cloud that has hung over his head since that ill-fated night he quit in the ring against Sugar Ray Leonard. Most of all, Duran was able to dust the cobwebs from the legend and show there was still some of that fierce, glaring pugnaciousness living in his soul.”

There was, as might be expected, some talk for a Hagler-Duran II, a reprisal which Hagler appeared to endorse when he said, “Next time I fight Duran, I’ll knock him out. He’s made for me. Nobody’s ever knocked Duran out.”

But that proposed do-over never came to be, and, curiously, Duran finally was floored and counted out in his next fight, on June 15, 1984, at Caesars Palace, when he was caught flush by a Hearns right cross that had him pitching face-first to the canvas, unconscious. He did not let that disappointment keep him down for long, however, as he fought on for 18 more years and 30 more fights. His last true moment of glory came on February 24, 1989, in snowy Atlantic City, when the then-37-year-old dethroned WBC middleweight champion Iran Barkley and, again by extension, the ravages of Father Time. 

Hagler’s remaining time as an active participant in the fight game was far briefer. He remained champion for successful defenses against Juan Domingo Roldan, Mustafa Hamsho, Hearns and John Mugabi but, after losing a disputed split decision to Leonard on April 6, 1987, and not getting a quick rematch, he retired to Italy, where he became an actor. He was 66 when he passed away on March 13, 2021, in Bartlett, New Hampshire.