Thursday, April 18, 2024  |

By The Ring | 

World Beat

By Gareth A Davies

RECOLLECTIONS OF A LEGEND 

We all loved Marvelous Marvin Hagler. How could we not? It touched all of us when Hagler passed into his eternal second, and nary a person had a bad word to say about the man and the legend. 

I had several interviews with one of boxing’s gentlemen outside the ring but gained a real insight into the man on a trip to Morocco in 2007, where we had gathered in Casablanca one night on a visit to a sports school for girls in the countryside the next day. Sheep’s brain was on the menu in the plush hotel we were staying at and Hagler, there with his wife Kay, had seemed squeamish at the idea of partaking. It was an attitude “Marvelous” never showed any man in the ring in that remarkable and admired career, which has ranked him among the top four middleweights of all time by many observers (myself included). 



But we dined like kings that night, with two-time Olympic decathlon gold medalist Daley Thompson also in the company on the sojourn to the Courir pour La Vie project, which was being run as a pilot program at Imam Mouslim High School in Ben Abid, a dusty roadside village 20 miles outside Casablanca. The program promotes sports among teenage girls living in rural locations, using sport as the vehicle to empower the confidence and independence of the girls so that they have the resources to continue their education rather than following the traditional pattern of leaving school in their mid-teens and later entering arranged marriages. Hagler was uplifted and inspired by the project as one of the ambassadors of the Laureus World Sports Academy.

Hagler embraced life away from boxing, but he was always gracious with fans and reporters. (Photo by Ian Gavan/Getty Images for Laureus)

We talked, long into the night, of Hagler’s visit to London on the shameful night that fans threw bottles at him after he had eviscerated Alan Minter in September 1980 to claim the world middleweight crown at Wembley Arena. Hagler, a wry grin on his face, recalling that night two and a half decades earlier, had let the night of racism, booing and violence pass. “It was a long time ago,” he said. That night, in three violent rounds, Hagler had made his mark on the middleweight crown. We talked of referee Carlos Berrocal stepping in after Minter’s corner had asked the Panamanian referee to stop the fight, and with 1:45 gone of Round 3, Hagler was the new undisputed middleweight champion of the world. On his knees in celebration at his triumph with Goody Petronelli next to him, within seven seconds he was under a hailstorm of debris and bottles. There was no presentation of the belt as British police smuggled the fighter and his entourage out of the hall. 

The British Minister of Sport called the incident a “disgrace,” and promoter Mickey Duff later issued a public apology to Hagler on behalf of British boxing. Speaking to ABC’s Howard Cosell, Hagler, wearing a makeshift golden crown, declared “It’s sweet, Howie; it brings a tear to my eye. I knew that one day I would be here, and all the roadwork and the boxing all paid off. I felt as though I learned a lot from the [Vito] Antuofermo fight; I wanted it real bad and I think that’s what I did. This time, my motto was ‘Take it from him,’ and that’s exactly what I did. I only had two things on my mind, and that was ‘destruction and destroy’ and bring the championship back home.”

“It was a moment I will never forget for so many reasons,” Hagler explained to me that night. I had wanted to bring up Sugar Ray Leonard, but it did not seem to be the right time. There were other views Hagler expressed, of his admiration for Carl Froch, in his pomp: “Yeah, I like him. I think he’s a world-class fighter,” he said. “I see that he’s made it into The Ring Magazine as a top 10 pound-for-pound fighter after he won last year (against previously undefeated Lucian Bute). I’ve seen him in a couple of fights during his career.

“I understand that he’s a little cocky, but with a fighter you need a bit of that. I don’t know if he would have been one of the hits in my era, but what I will say is that he has a style that people like to see. He loves to go toe-to-toe, and the British, the Irish and the Mexican fans all love that.”

In another interview, he had views on boxers taking drugs and believed that the sport needed to return to the days of one champion in each division. 

“You don’t need drugs for courage, which is what a boxer really needs, so to take drugs and fight, for me, shows the person who does it is totally out of their mind and shouldn’t be boxing. Period. For me, it’s the same thing when people put stuff inside your gloves or use liniment on the gloves to get into their opponent’s eyes.”

In Casablanca the next morning, I found myself in the streets with Hagler and Thompson on a visit to the project run by Nawal El Moutawakel, the first Muslim, Arab, African woman to earn an Olympic gold medal by winning the inaugural women’s 400-meter hurdles event at the 1984 Los Angeles games. El Moutawakel was then Minister for Youth and Sports.

On the way there, I brought up Leonard. Hagler scowled and growled, and I’m sure he said “pussy” under his breath. It was 20 years since he had fought the American idol, and the anger was still there about the way Leonard fought him. For the record, I had Hagler winning that night, 115-113, but it was a fight that divided the world. After it, Hagler had saddled up and left for Italy and a career in spaghetti westerns. With fistfuls of dollars in the bank. And he was still living there when he came to Morocco.

We toured the school, and we all took part in a basketball match against the girls, who played fast and aggressive, most of them taller than us. The parents, who had brought lunch for the visitors, clapped and cheered. A local zouk band had turned up and played their instruments in a theatrical, celebratory atmosphere. The mood intensified as Hagler and Thompson joined the players on court. It got rough. When Hagler took a break on the sidelines, we sat together and he turned to me, showing the scratches on the inner soft flesh of his muscular forearms. “Look at my arms. Those girls mauled me like tigers out there,” he said. “They are fantastic. So committed. No man ever did that to me,” he said, grinning, his eyes wide and alive. It is a moment with the great man that will last forever.

 

By Droeks Malan

Marvelous Marvin Hagler will be fondly remembered by South Africans.

He visited the country in 1997 as a guest of promoter Rodney Berman, attending a card headlined by future WBO heavyweight titleholder Corrie Sanders, who was fighting tough gatekeeper Ross Puritty. Also on the card was Hagler’s old nemesis, Roberto Duran, who won a decision over journeyman David Radford at the ripe old age of 46.

Hagler, commentating at ringside as a guest blow-by-blow announcer for a local broadcaster, made no bones about it that he had no intentions of coming back as he watched Duran drag himself through the eight-rounder.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, Hagler and Lennox Lewis in Johannesberg in April 2001. (Photo by Nick Potts – PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)

After that, Hagler, Duran and Berman flew to Cape Town as lunch guests of then-president Nelson Mandela, who was an avid boxer in his youth and a massive fight fan. Berman recalls their time fondly. “I was really just a cockroach on the wall,” he chuckles. “It was the most incredible afternoon. We spent a long time [together]. It must have been over two hours. Obviously, they discussed all the great fights in detail. President Mandela even gave them a bit of advice on how he thinks they should have fought!”

Hagler was also a frequent guest of the promoter when they were putting on cards in Monte Carlo, Monaco. “I had a very affable relationship with him; he was a remarkable guy,” recalls Berman.

It would not be Hagler’s last visit to South Africa. He undertook a private visit as well, which included a tour of boxing gyms. He was back in the country as a guest once more in 2001 at the Lennox Lewis-Hasim Rahman fight, which of course ended in another visit to Mandela, this time with Lewis in tow.

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Another South African who will forever be linked with Hagler is referee and fellow Hall of Famer Stan Christodoulou.

“I had the good fortune to be the third man in the ring in Las Vegas in 1983 when he defended his crown against Roberto Duran and witnessed up close the superb ring craft and indomitable spirit of both men. It was not the most exciting fight,” Christodoulou recalls, “but it was a great fight, a classical fight. [Hagler] was a great tactician. To me, it was the biggest fight of my career, the one that really put me on the world stage as a referee.

“Hagler was a man I admired,” continues Christodoulou. “I’ve been even more privileged to share a long and lasting friendship with him over the years since his retirement. As majestic, fierce, and ruthless as he was in the ring, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was even more approachable and loyal as a friend. I valued our regular catchups at the International Boxing Hall of Fame conventions in Canastota each year. The boxing world has lost one of its absolute champions.”