HAGLER VS. DURAN AS WITNESSED BY THE EDITORS OF THE RING MAGAZINE
It’s always the anniversary of some big boxing event. I was just part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo fight in New York’s Polo Grounds (no, I wasn’t rinside for that fight!). Now it’s time for another anniversary. This one took place 40 years ago, not 100. And, for this one, I was ringside.
This one took place on Thursday, November 10, 1983. Yes, you read that correctly. The fight was on a Thursday night!
It wasn’t just the undisputed middleweight champion against the WBA junior middleweight champion. It was Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. the already legendary “Hands of Stone,” Roberto Duran.
On Tuesday, November 8, 1983, The Ring’s publisher Bert Sugar and I were on an early-morning flight from JFK in New York to McCarran International Airport (now Harry Reid International Airport) in Las Vegas. We wanted to have a few days of boxing talk and interviews in “Sin City” before Thursday’s big championship fight.
The flight was packed with boxing fans and writers all headed to Vegas. On the flight with Sugar and me were noted boxing writers Dick Young (N.Y. Daily News), George Kimball (Boston Herald), Barney Nagler (President of the Boxing Writers Association), and novelist Budd Schulberg, among others.
The Hagler-Duran fight generated so much talk and interest that The Ring put out a special “Hagler-Duran Program.” Hagler even came into our New York City offices to pose for the cover shot.
The nearly five-hour flight seemed as if it took five minutes, with boxing talk dominating nearly every moment. Boxing talk and something else.
That “something else” was a food fight … a one-round, fast and furious food fight! Had this flight been recent, there would have been an emergency landing for sure, as the food fight was highlighted by a cross-aisle, over-the-seats tossing of airline food, mainly the cheesecake dessert. The main protagonists were Sugar, Young, Kimball and a few others. Despite pleas from the flight attendants to “cease and desist,” the battle only increased – until all parties ran out of cheesecake ammunition!
From the moment we stood on the check-in line at the Dunes, where most of the media was staying (the fight was being held across the street at Caesars Palace), Bert began holding court with anyone and everyone. “Shy.” “Inhibited.” They are two words which were not in Bert’s DNA.
Someway, somehow, he convinced the front desk manager to put a copy of The Ring’s “Hagler-Duran Program” on display along the check-in counter.
As soon as we checked in, Bert and I headed to our respective rooms to get out of our cheesecake-splattered clothes (even though I wasn’t involved, I was hit by “friendly fire” cheesecake), shower and head to the Press Room at Caesars, where Bert could do what he did best – be Bert Sugar.
In that press room, microphones and cameras converged on both of us.
“Does Roberto Duran deserve this shot at the middleweight title,” was a prevailing question.
“Who will win and how?” was another FAQ.
“Do you expect a knockout in this fight?” was yet another.
My answers were “Yes,” “Hagler,” “Decision” and “No.”
Many in the media believed Duran – the former lightweight and welterweight champion and now holding the WBA belt at 154 pounds – didn’t belong in the ring with Hagler because they didn’t view him as a middleweight. In fact, this was his first fight at 160.
Also, it was tough picking against Hagler, who was making his eighth defense of the title he won three years earlier against Alan Minter – and had won every previous defense by a KO or TKO.
On the other hand, Duran, in almost the same time period, had gone 5-3.
Yet, because of his incredible skill level, and the one-sided beatdowns I saw him put on Pipino Cuevas and Davey Moore, I believed he belonged in the ring against Hagler.
While I thought Hagler would be too big and strong for Duran, I didn’t think Hagler would stop him. Hagler, I thought, would win a decision. Convincingly.
While he did indeed win a unanimous decision over 15 rounds, it was anything but convincing. The day before the fight, my longtime friendship with Duran got me a one-on-one interview before dinner in his suite at Caesars Palace. During the interview, Duran exuded confidence. I went into the interview thinking he stood little chance. I emerged with the feeling he might win.
“He has never faced a boxer as good as me,” Duran said of Hagler. “He thinks he will walk right through me. I hope he does bring the fight to me. That will make it easier for me.”
I asked Duran what he thought of Hagler’s constant references to him as a dirty fighter. Two weeks earlier, I had driven to the middleweight champion’s Provincetown, Cape Cod, training camp to visit with him and his managers/trainers, the Petronelli Brothers (Pat and Goody). All three of them talked of Duran being a very dirty fighter, especially with low blows, use of his thumbs and rabbit punches.
Duran laughed and waved his hands when I told him what the Hagler camp said. Then he tapped his head.
“They should put a glove on his head!” Duran said of Hagler. “I am more concerned about his head than I am of his fists.”
On several occasions he emphasized, “I am not worried. I’ve got something for him.” When I asked what that something was, he smiled and said, “Just watch!”
As I left his room, he hugged me and whispered, “I can outbox him. I will outbox him.”
I know I wouldn’t have told Hagler anything about what Duran said to me had I spoken to him, as I felt then, as I feel to this day, that Duran was trusting me to keep his fight plan quiet. Duran was confiding in me, and I never would have said anything to Hagler.
It didn’t matter, because Hagler was talking to nobody – me included. It was “Fight Week,” and during the week or so before any fight of his, Hagler became surly, ornery and withdrawn.
“He’s tough to be around,” Goody Petronelli told me about Hagler years before. For this fight, Hagler was at his surly best.
Through the undercard, the crowd was filing in. The celebrities – and there were many – didn’t arrive until shortly before the main event.
Singer Frank Stallone was among the celebrities who were there early, but that was to be expected. He had – and still has – a voracious appetite for boxing. Besides being a terrific singer and entertainer, Stallone is a boxing historian, as well. He understood the significance of Hagler vs. Duran.
John and Bo Derek were there. So was comedian Redd Foxx and singer/songwriter Paul Anka.
The boxing world was also well-represented. Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes was in attendance. So were former world champions Gene Fullmer, Jake LaMotta, Bob Foster and Joey Maxim. Sugar Ray Leonard was there as part of the HBO announcing team, which was taping the fight for broadcast the following week.
Tickets for the fight were priced from $600 ringside to $100 for lofty bleacher seats in the makeshift stadium, where, one year earlier, I sat for the Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney fight. Outside the gates, those tickets were being scalped for four and five times the price – and getting it.
As the last of the undercard fights was wrapping up (with middleweight contender Juan Roldan knocking out a fan favorite, the gap-toothed Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, in the sixth round), I took out my papers for the main event. I glanced at the amazing records Hagler and Duran were bringing into the ring. Hagler was 57-2-2. Duran was 77-4. You won’t see opposing fighters with records like that any more.
One of my colleagues sitting ringside that night, future IBHOF inductee Michael Katz, had said to me earlier, when I asked for his pick, “Hagler will win. He’s the bigger man. He’s younger (29 to Duran’s 32) and he’s got far more tools. Plus, he’s not intimidated by Duran.” I didn’t agree with that last line.
I believe Hagler was intimidated. Or, at least he was ultra-respectful and aware of who he was in against.
That’s why there were no “Destruction and Destroy” – Hagler’s plan for every fight – tactics used by him to start the fight. He was worried – or at least concerned – that a fast start by him would be met obligingly by the one-time street fighter from Panama. So, Hagler boxed Duran. It is what Duran believed he would do. So, he happily boxed with Hagler, occasionally stepping in to apply inside pressure.
Duran’s tactics confused Hagler.
He never looked like himself in the fight – not until the final two rounds. He didn’t look the accomplished finisher he was, when he hurt Duran in the fifth round with a right, and he looked bewildered after taking an accidental (or was it?) Duran thumb to his left eye in the seventh. He never looked like the Marvin Hagler who changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler until the 14th round. That’s because he believed he was on the verge of losing his title.
He came out blasting in Round 14, looking ready to go out on his shield if he had to. He did the same in the 15th round.
Judge Guy Jutras’ card was 144-142, Hagler.
Judge Ove Ovesen’s card was 144-143, Hagler.
Judge Yusaku Yoshida’s card was 146-145, Hagler.
Many rounds were scored even by the judges. That’s copping out!
The Ring’s card was 144-141, Hagler. We had no even rounds!
At the Atlantic City Boxing Hall of Fame Weekend in September, I had the chance to spend time with Duran. I reminded him that the 40th anniversary of his fight against Hagler was fast approaching.
He smiled softly and shook his head slowly.
“Where did the time go? Where did the time go?”
I asked him about the right hand he injured in the ninth round of that fight and if it affected him.
“It did,” he said. He pointed to the knuckle he said was dislocated when he landed on top of Hagler’s head.
“If not for this,” he said, holding up his right, “I would have been champ that night.”
He was the champ that night. He always will be.
Thank you, Roberto. Thank you, Marvin.
You gave this guy memories that have lasted a lifetime!