MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER passing away suddenly at the weekend jarred the boxing industry like one of his trusty right hand leads. Hagler, even at 66, was such a force of nature one presumed he’d be immune to any of those cruel and unexpected visits from the Grim Reaper for the foreseeable future.
In recent years, Hagler – aside from a bit of extra weight on his jaw and around his waist – looked remarkably similar to how he used to when he was terrorising middleweights and seducing new fight fans in the 1970s and 80s.
The last time I saw him was in Miami as 2017 came to a close. He held court by the hotel pool, telling the kind of stories you’d pay serious money to hear. He was a man who was exceptionally content in his own skin, a man enjoying the fruits of his labour without regret. Sitting cheerfully on the sun lounger next to him was Roberto Duran, the man Marvin had pipped over 15 absorbing rounds in 1983, eating pizza and enjoying the show.
Hagler was the archetypal fighter: The relentless dedication; that fearsome stare; a concrete chin atop a physique perfectly designed for combat; the ambidextrous combination punching; supreme infighting prowess (watch him launch uppercuts at Duran in the final round of their scrap) and his limitless courage in the pursuit of victory. Hagler looked the part, too. Boxing gloves suited him – like, really suited him – as they sat at the end of his arms poised and ready like an arrow on Robin Hood’s bow. His velvet shorts and high socks were classy in the extreme and that iconic shaved head-goatee beard combo was infinitely cooler than the Chuck Wepner approach to baldness. Hagler, in short, had it all.
He had to work hard for it. That of course was the mantra he lived by. Nothing fell on his lap, though sitting down and waiting was not his way. Marvin Hagler was tireless, focused and devoted to his trade like few can claim to be. Take a look at his ring record before he became world champion and the esteemed names he battled in unkind hometowns. In the early days, without an amateur medal or influential promoter behind him, he didn’t just knock on the door he hammered with all his might. His seven-year reign atop the middleweight division is among the greatest in history and those furious wars with Thomas Hearns and John Mugabi are right up there, too. He also made excellent fighters like Alan Minter, Tony Sibson, Juan Roldan and Mustafa Hamsho look ordinary. His one-punch finish against Fulgencio Obelmejias is worthy of another viewing.
But that Hearns firefight showed us Hagler at his most furious. Watch that famous first round again; Hagler dispensed with his jab altogether as he stalked the man who had opened a gash on his forehead. By the third, Marvin was running at his enemy. It’s likely that nobody could have beaten Hagler that night, so intense was his desire to win.
Even so, Marvelous Marvin might already have been in decline by then. Sugar Ray Leonard, the rival who had seemingly got away, watched carefully on the sidelines. When he saw Hagler again, in that 11th round triumph over Mugabi, he knew it was time to come back. Though still an almighty competitor, the middleweight king’s feet had slowed, some of his finesse had gone. In Hagler’s final outing in 1987, Leonard shocked everybody when he won an eternally contentious decision after 12 rounds. Marvelous Marvin Hagler did not fight again.
His unexpected death, with beloved wife Kay by his side, is tragic and shocking but brings into sharp focus what a legend he was and will forever remain. Those of us who fell for his charms in the eighties have been missing him since that last fight in 1987. Today, we miss him even more.