Marvin Nathaniel Hagler enjoyed one of the greatest reigns in boxing history.
Born in the Central Ward of Newark, New Jersey, on this date in 1954, he grew up in a tenement without a father. Following the Newark Riots in the summer of 1967, in which 26 people were killed and the city incurred $ 11 million in damage, his mother moved the family to Brockton, Massachusetts—hometown of Rocky Marciano [Daily Dose, September 1], the only undefeated heavyweight fighter in history. Hagler dropped out of school in ninth grade and worked construction, “running a lot, stealing a little.” Two years later, he walked into a gym owned by brothers Pat and Goody Petronella and took up boxing. The brothers became Hagler’s lifetime trainers and managers. In 1972, Hagler outpointed Wilber Cameron of Lowell, Massachusetts, in the light middleweight final of the New England AAU tournament. The following year, he outpointed Marine Corps champion Terry Hobbs of Atlanta to win the national AAU championship while being named Most Outstanding Fighter of the tournament. In May 1973, he turned pro.
After winning 67 amateur bouts, Marvin Hagler made his professional debut in the gymnasium of Brockton High School. His opponent was Terry Ryan, who he knocked out in the second round. After winning his first 14 bouts, Hagler faced 1972 Olympic gold medalist “Sugar” Ray Seales in the first of three matches between them. Hagler won the first by unanimous decision, the second was a draw, and he knocked Seales out in the third. Early in his career, Hagler struggled to find quality opponents willing to face him. Former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier [Daily Dose, April 22] told him, “You have three strikes against you. You’re black, you’re a southpaw and you’re good.” Hagler’s first break came in March 1976, when he was offered—on two weeks’ notice—a chance to fight Willie “The Worm” Monroe, who was being trained by Frazier. Hagler lost a decision but the fight was close, so Monroe gave him a rematch eleven months later, and Hagler knocked The Worm out in the 12th round. The two fought a third and final time in August 1977, with Mr. Hagler dispatching Monroe midway through the second round. Hagler lost two of three fights in early 1976 before winning his next 20 bouts. During this stretch he broke the jaw of Mike Colbert, the top-ranked contender, with a 12th round knockout before stopping Kevin Finnegan in eight, punishing the Briton so badly he required 40 stitches to the face. Eleven months after fighting Vito Antuofermo to a draw, Hagler claimed the World Middleweight crown by knocking out Alan Minter in September 1980.
Between November 1983 and April 1987, Marvin Hagler fought in three of the greatest bouts in middleweight history. In the first, WBA Light Middleweight Champion Roberto Duran went up in weight to challenge Hagler’s crown. After 13 rounds, Duran was ahead before Hagler mounted a furious comeback to win a unanimous 15-round decision. Duran was the first challenger to last the distance with Hagler. In April 1985, Hagler met Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in “The War.” After eight action-packed minutes, including a first round that many consider the best in middleweight history, Hagler knocked the Hitman out with a devastating left hand. Commentator Al Michaels said, “It didn’t go very far, but it was a beauty!” The Ring magazine named it “Fight of the Year.” The biggest fight of Hagler’s career came two years later, when “Sugar” Ray Leonard came out of retirement for a shot at the middleweight crown. Marvelous Marvin came into the “Super Fight” with a 37 bout unbeaten streak. Leonard, who was two years younger, used his flashy style to win a controversial split decision, which remains hotly disputed to this day. Leonard retired after the fight and, when no rematch occurred, Hagler retired in June 1988.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler was the undisputed World Middleweight Champion from 1980 to 1987, one of the most competitive periods in the history of that division. At six years and seven months, his reign is the second longest of the last century, behind only Tony Zale. Hagler was a southpaw who was strong, intimidating and packed a ferocious punch. He made twelve title defenses, including wins over Thomas “Hitman” Hearns and Roberto Duran, and knocked out 78 percent of his opponents—the highest of any undisputed middleweight champion who ever lived. Mr. Hagler never enjoyed the same notoriety gained by Sugar Ray Leonard or Roberto Duran—two of the greatest fighters in middleweight history. In 1982, annoyed that network announcers often failed to refer to him by his nickname, “Marvelous,” Hagler legally changed his name to Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Marvelous Marvin was twice named Fighter of the Year—in 1983 and 1985—and could take punishment as well as deliver it. Hagler stood just over 5’9” tall, had a 75-inch reach and possessed one of the toughest chins of any fighter in history. Marvelous Marvin Hagler retired in 1987 with a career record of 62-3-2, 52 by knockout. Boxing Illustrated named him “Fighter of the Decade” for the 1980s and, in 2004, The Ring magazine listed him as the third greatest middleweight of all time. Mr. Hagler was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.