Modern Classics: Hagler-Mugabi
By: Sean Crose
Marvelous Marvin Hagler is primarily remembered for three bouts. The first was his hard fought victory over a rejuvenated Roberto Duran in 1983. The second was his stunning third round knockout of Thomas Hearns in 1985. And the third was his still controversial split decision loss to Ray Leonard in 1987. Three major fights against three legendary fighters. There’s a reason the Marvelous One is regarded as an icon of the fight game to this day. There was, however, another Hagler fight that serious fans consider a legitimate classic – his 1986 title defense against John “The Beast” Mugabi.
The two men were supposed to meet later the same year that Hagler had bested Hearns in their classic battle, but an injury put things off until the following March in Las Vegas. Hagler was the favorite walking into the ring that night, but Mugabi, although by no means a household name, certainly wasn’t seen as a tune up. For the Ugandan had a 26-0 record heading into the bout with Hagler. What’s more, he had won every single professional fight he had been in by knockout. There was good reason this fight would be aired via pay per view and closed circuit television. It promised to be a hard bitten battle…and it lived up to people’s expectations.
Mugabi looked sharp right off the bat. Early on, both men landed well. There was no doubt that Hagler had a legit opponent on his hands, one who might well beat him. In fact, steam could be seen rising from the champion’s head. The sixth round was so high octane it was comparable to the action of Hagler-Hearns. Both men banged away. Then Mugabi got hurt. Then Mugabi survived and fired back. It was some kind of chapter.
In the seventh round, referee Mills Lane took a point away from Hagler after repeatedly warning the defending champion not to hit low. Hagler banged away at his man throughout the remainder of the fight, slowly – very slowly – breaking Mugabe down. Finally, in the eleventh of a scheduled fifteen rounds, Hagler sent Mugabi down at out. Hagler later admitted that, had Mugabe gotten up before Lane had reached the count of ten, he’d have been in serious danger. It would be the middleweight great’s last win. The controversial Leonard battle would come just over a year later, and after that, Hagler would retire from the ring, never to return.