By: Sean Crose
Thomas Hearns entered the ring at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas that night in 1985 in a celebratory mood. He had much to be pleased with. Less than a year earlier, the fighter known as the “Hit Man” had destroyed the legendary Roberto Duran in highlight reel fashion – and now he was ready to battle for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. Hearns was the highly touted challenger that night. When the champion made his way to the ring, however, the mood became completely different. Bouncing, throwing punches, his features difficult to make out under his hood, the reigning middleweight king came across as a serious man indeed. This event, one suspected, could be something special. No one, however, knew at that moment how special it would be.
Both fighters exploded upon each other in the first round, hurting each other, firing away, shocking fans and journalists alike. The second round might not have been as wild as the first, but the volume was still up to 11. Then came the third, where the referee halted the action to check a cut on the defending champion’s face. Some may have thought at that moment that Hearns was on the cusp of winning the middleweight crown. If so, they were proven wrong seconds later. For, after being allowed to continue fighting, Marvelous Marvin Hagler went in for the kill. A thunderous shot sent Hearns stumbling across the ring. Two more shots sent the famous Detroit fighter down on the mat. Moments later, the referee stopped the fight.
It was the high point of Hagler’s career – and of a golden age of boxing.
Sadly, Hagler’s widow, Kay, announced on Facebook Saturday that the 66 year old legend had died. “I am sorry to make a very sad announcement, she wrote. “Today unfortunately my beloved husband Marvelous Marvin passed away unexpectedly at his home here in New Hampshire. Our family requests that you respect our privacy during this difficult time. With love, Kay G. Hagler.” Although no cause of death has been made public, Hagler left the sport’s world with generation’s worth of high-end memories.
Perhaps the most telling thing about the man was that “Marvelous Marvin” wasn’t a nickname. His legal name truly was “Marvelous Marvin Hagler.” He had it changed in an act which showed just how truly self-confident he was. The Brockton, Massachusetts based fighter had to be self confident in order to make it in the world of boxing, where talent is rarely enough to break through to the sport’s highest levels. “You have three strikes against you,” the great Joe Frazier reportedly said to him. “You’re black, you’re a southpaw, and you’re good.” Frazier was right, but Hagler kept on plugging, finally winning the undisputed middleweight crown in 1980 when he bested defending champion Alan Minter in Minter’s native England.
Even that moment was tarnished for the bald headed American when bottles were tossed into the ring immediately after his victory, causing team Hagler to rush their man to safety. Things didn’t get much easier from there for Hagler, as big fights continued to elude him. Names like Mustafa Hamsho and Caveman Lee filled the champion’s resume as he spent time as a network broadcast attraction. It wasn’t until Hagler met the great Duran in 1983 that Hagler finally got the kind of high-level fight he had long dreamed of. Duran was game as could be, but Hagler was able to keep his crown via decision.
Three fights later, Hagler had his classic war with Hearns. Almost a year after that, the defending champion engaged in a brutal battle of attrition with John “The Beast” Mugabi. Hagler was able to stop his man in the eleventh, but the fight may well have taken a lot out of him. Although he didn’t look his best when finally got to meet Sugar Ray Leonard in one of the biggest matches in history, many felt – and still feel – the decision which ultimately went to Leonard should have gone to Hagler.
No matter. Hagler was through with boxing forever after the Leonard fight. He moved to Italy, tried his hand at movies, and in his last years was treated as the legendary athlete he truly was. Acclaim didn’t come nearly soon enough for Hagler – but it did indeed come to a man who was unquestionably one of boxing’s all-time greats.
*cover photo: Associated Press