Aaron S. Bayley
On December 31, 1985, my family and I went to Rexdale Plaza in Etobicoke after attending New Year's Eve mass at our church. It was around 7:00 pm when my father and I walked into Coles bookstore and browsed the coffee table bargain books that were usually on display at the front of the store. My dad picked up a book called Boxing Legends by Angus G. Garber III and pointed to the cover. "That's Marvin Hagler," he said to me. "He's a good fighter." We bought the book. I still have it.
I was 10-years-old and had not yet seen the three-round war of attrition between Hagler and Thomas "Hitman" Hearns eight months earlier, round one of which is still considered the most brutal round in boxing history. But I quickly became a Hagler fan. What wasn't to like? With his glistening bald pate, chiseled torso, and devil's goatee, he had the cartoonish image and fame shared by my heroes Hulk Hogan and Mr. T. In his post-fight interview and after he'd knocked out Hearns, Hagler told ShowTime's Al Bernstein, "I told you I was gonna eat him up like Pac-Man." Hey, it was the '80s.
On Saturday afternoon, the boxing community was hit with the devastating news that Hagler, former undisputed middleweight champion, icon, and legend, died at the age of 66. Before Saturday's main event between Roman "Chocolatito" Gonzalez and Juan Francisco Estrada in Dallas, Texas, a clearly emotional Michael Buffer delivered a eulogy to Hagler, followed by a ten-bell salute. The two fighters went on to deliver a scintillating scrap that would've made Hagler proud.
After hearing of Hagler's death, I scoured the Internet for tributes on social media, noting the many adjectives his fans and peers used to describe him. Many called Hagler a "warrior," an oft-used and overused label that Hagler certainly earned throughout his career. Lennox Lewis referred to him as a "wrecking machine," Barry McGuigan noted Hagler's "ferocity" and "grit," Teddy Atlas called him "real, honest, and reliable," and Top Rank promoter Bob Arum said Hagler was "a man of honor and a man of his word."
But I think the most fitting adjective to sum up Marvelous Marvin Hagler is "hard." Hagler was simply a hard man.
Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey, where street violence led his mother to move the family to Brockton, Massachusetts. Hagler's hardscrabble roots infused his boxing style: he was a blue-collar, no-frills fighter who could both box and bang. He left it all in the ring and was handed nothing for free. Trained by Pat and Goody Petronelli, Hagler rose up the ranks beating solid fighters like "Bad" Bennie Briscoe and Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts. In 1979 he beat Vito Antuofermo but was handed a draw. He went to England and fought middleweight champion Alan Minter, who stated he'd never lose to a black man. Hagler laid a hellacious beating on Minter and took his title, as boos and bottles rained down on the new champ as he left the ring with a police escort.
Hagler's hard road out of hell ran parallel to Sugar Ray Leonard's American Dream. Often fighting on the undercard of a Leonard main event, Hagler watched Leonard rake in millions while he made a fraction of that. Hagler kept on trucking, beating the legend Roberto Duran fairly handily in 1983, and KO'ing Hearns two years later at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas in The Ring Magazine's Fight of the Year. In 1986, a ferocious battle with Uganda's John "The Beast" Mugabi—who was 26-0 with 26 knockouts—ended with Hagler KO'ing Mugabi in the 11th round, but left him vulnerable and exposed. Ever the opportunist, Leonard talked Hagler out of retirement to set up their 1987 super fight, which Leonard won via controversial split decision. Hagler was so disgusted by the outcome that he retired, moved to Italy, and never fought again. For someone who felt throughout his life that he was never paid his dues, the loss to Leonard must have been a devastating blow.
Of the Four Kings—Hagler, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns—Marvelous Marvin Hagler was the only one who went out on his own terms. He never tainted his legacy by fighting on past his prime, never suffered the embarrassment of getting knocked out by lesser fighters, never fought charity exhibitions for cash. Hagler is the antithesis of the current era, where many athletes seem more concerned with their social media footprint than putting in the hard work and dedication required to be the best.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler will always be a symbol of dogged determination. Whenever I work out, whether I'm doing chin-ups, hitting the heavy bag, or lifting weights, I think of Hagler when I need to push myself beyond my limits. I picture him with those striped white socks pulled up to his knees, doing roadwork or hitting the pads, sweat pouring off his ripped body. He was an all business, no-nonsense fighter. He came, he saw, he conquered. His legendary career may not have had a fairy-tale ending, but what did Hagler want with fairy tales? He was a hard man.