Modern Classics: Hagler-Duran
By: Sean Crose
It was a turning point fight for both men. One, defending middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, had been chomping at the bit for a big money, highly touted match-up. The other, iconic challenger Roberto Duran, was still looking to fully redeem himself after inexplicably quitting in the middle of a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard roughly three years earlier. In what proved to be a rare happy ending in the sport of boxing, both men emerged from their 1983 battle on top – though there was only one winner. Sometimes fights become classics for the stories around them as much as for their in-the-ring action. This was one of those fights.
A product of Brockton, Massachusetts, Hagler was from the same city as Rocky Marciano. Unlike the acclaimed heavyweight, however, the bald headed fighter was far from fame and acclaim in the early 80s. Told by Joe Frazier that his skills, southpaw style, and skin color would be problematic, Hagler didn’t win the middleweight title until his 49th fight. He finally became a popular television fighter by besting the likes of Mustafa Hamsho and Caveman Lee. These were no slouches, but the big name fights every boxer craves had still eluded Hagler as he headed towards his third full year as middleweight champ.
And then along came Duran.
Everyone knew who Roberto Duran was. Known as perhaps the greatest lightweight to ever live, a national hero in his homeland of Panama, Duran was a legendary boxer if ever there was one. Duran had a problem, however. And that problem was himself. After besting Ray Leonard in a terrific welterweight title fight in 1980, Duran inexplicably gave up when the two men met again later that year. It wasn’t as if the man was hurt. It wasn’t even as if he were being routed. Duran had simply – quit. And so for a time he was subsequently seen as a disgrace – to boxing, to Panamanians, and most likely to himself.
Despite having won his last three fights when he stepped into the ring to face Hagler (including an extremely impressive performance against Davey Moore), Duran was still a man in need of redemption.
And so, on November 10th 1983, both Duran and Hagler answered the opening bell at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas with much to prove. Hagler had to prove himself a big name boxer, while Duran had to prove he was worthy of the respect he once had. Battling before close to 15,000 people in attendance (as well as who knows how many others watching via closed circuit broadcast elsewhere), both men showed they were in prime form. Yet it was Duran who was the surprise. Walking in as the underdog, the 33 year old gave the durable Hagler all he had.
Just how impressive was Duran that evening? Impressive enough to be leading on points heading into the fourteenth round of a fifteen round fight. Hagler, however, was not to be denied. Duran may have already fully redeemed himself before the world, but the New England battler was determined not to let his golden opportunity slip away.
Performing brilliantly until the final bell, the 29 year old Hagler was able to walk out of the ring that night with a unanimous decision win, and both the WBA and WBC middleweight titles still in his possession. Duran was forgiven. Hagler had found stardom. In a sense, there was no real loser.