On May 23rd 1954 Marvin Nathaniel Hagler came into the world at Newark, New Jersey [weight unannounced] and I think it’s probably safe to say that he bore little resemblance at that stage to the ferocious fighting machine that he would later become, although I do think it possible too that he did not have hair for that first occasion under the spotlight, just as his shaved and gleaming skull would become such a trademark feature of his intimidating persona later on.
Growing up without a father, but with a mother who would keep him [mostly] on the straight and narrow, Hagler relocated from Newark to Brockton Mass in his early teens following the race riots of ’67 when there was much destruction of property and a number of people were killed.
At the age of fifteen the young Marvin Hagler found his way into the boxing gym of the Petronelli brothers, who would train him and guide his career from his first fight to his very last, and Marvin took his first steps into the hurt business. A business in which he would ultimately prove to be the best of his era in his division and, in the opinion of many –myself included - right at the very top of the tree of the names regarded as the best ever.
Certainly, Marvin Hagler was simply the best fighter, the most complete fighter, that I have ever seen and that includes the likes of Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Junior, and any other name you might care to think of at any weight over the last forty or fifty years of boxing history. That is not to deny the individual gifts of any other fighter, but simply to state that Hagler was a fighter who had the best set of skills in all of the many facets that are needed to be a really good fighter, as opposed to having great skill or ability in just some of those facets.
In addition to his highly developed skills as a boxer-puncher, Marvin had all the basic physical gifts of the born fighter, as well as enormous natural talent, and he married those factors to extreme determination and desire to form himself into what he needed to be to achieve his goal.
There was simply nothing that a peak Marvin Hagler could not do in the ring, from the most subtle of feints and shifts to the most outright plainly physical imposition of his strength and power, and it is my belief that there was no aspect of boxing of which he was not the master. He had a terrific jab, was always perfectly balanced, could throw hooks, crosses and uppercuts from wherever you liked, and moved in and out of range while switching totally fluidly from southpaw to orthodox and back again, throwing wicked combinations without ever missing a beat or ever looking like it along the way.
He was enormously strong, tremendously powerful, would hurt you seriously with either hand without notice, and could fight just as well inside as he could outside. Maybe others can think of something that he wasn’t so good at, or identify a weakness in his repertoire or his defence, but that was something never apparent to me, and the way that he would dispose of top flight opposition lends strength to my belief that he was a fighter who was truly the complete package.
And tough. Oh my, oh my, was this guy tough. Marvin Hagler had one of the greatest chins in boxing history and it was a rare day when Hagler showed any sign that a shot had made him even blink, never mind hurt him.
The great Tommy Hearns, one of the most devastating single shot punchers the ring has ever known, managed it very very briefly in the opening minute of their famous first round [and we all know how that developed] and there were perhaps a couple of shots landed by Roldan and Mugabi that might have given him pause too. But in his whole career he only had one knockdown recorded against him and the legitimacy of that ‘knockdown’ which occurred in the first round of his fight with Juan Roldan was itself hotly disputed. Replays clearly show that Hagler was pushed down and had not been put down by a punch. Not that it really mattered as Marvin went on to do his usual thing and he stopped Roldan in the tenth.
But, of course, I’m talking about far more than his famed concrete chin when I talk about tough, I’m talking too about his discipline, his commitment, his iron will to win, and his ability to mentally overcome the way that he was avoided and robbed of rightful opportunity to fight for the title along the way and the way he was not given his rightful due when he got there. Marvin was too good for his own good and he was a man to be avoided in the worst kind of way when he was on his way up and, being a blue collar kind of guy at heart, he didn't go in for the image building stuff that the big TV interests liked and credit for his ability was only grudgingly accorded.
Always superbly conditioned, he was the possessor of a sculpted physique that was a living testimony to his commitment to training and, coupled with his shaven skull, this was something that afforded him an immediate psychological advantage over many an opponent. Fearsome in his appearance and the menace he projected, he had me wondering if he may have been Sonny Liston’s secret love child. Marvin was baaad!
Stories of the brutal intensity of his training regime are the stuff of legend, the way he would ‘’put himself in jail’’ as he would refer to his training camp, and it was more than common for his sparring partners, heavyweights included, to go home hurt well before the expected time. There were no prisoners taken in the Hagler training camp and, just as he would punish the hardy souls employed to be his spar-mates, Marvin could be relied upon to brutalize himself every bit as much in following a regime that would have had even Navy Seals or SAS troops cringing at the way he went at it.
Total discipline was the order of the day when Marvin was preparing for war and that, war, is exactly what each and every fight was to him. Nothing was allowed to interfere or get in the way of the victory he would envisage and Marvin trained and dedicated himself to winning in a way that few others could even dream of; excluding all else but the forthcoming fight from his thoughts and rarely engaging in conversation with anyone.
The record of Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s career is there for all to read and, even viewed on numbers alone – not an ideal way to look at a fighter’s career – it is immediately clear that Hagler stands right up there with the Grebs, the Monzons, the Hopkins and any other great middleweight of the past too. Moreover, those numbers are really only statistical evidences of achievement that give no hint of the road he had to travel to reach the objective and nor do those stats say anything about the quality of his opposition along the way to the title, or after he got there. The actual numbers of victories, rounds boxed, stoppage wins, defences made, can still mislead us if we do not look beyond the bare details that a written record shows.
The bottom line is that Hagler fought everyone, travelled to do it, ducked nobody, and beat all comers in the most convincing manner possible; most of his wins coming inside the distance and after delivering dominant and comprehensive beatings along the way.
When he lost his title in what I have always believed to be the most bogus of set-ups designed to favour a golden poster boy I was heartily sickened, and I remain so to this day when I think of it. But I do believe that those true boxing enthusiasts who can separate themselves from marketing hype know as well as I do who really won that fight. It’s interesting that the poster boy himself seemed to feel that Marvin was the rightful winner that last time too.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler will celebrate his 60th birthday in just over a week’s time and it seemed an appropriate moment to put the spotlight back onto a man who, in my opinion, was the finest fighter of his generation and whose like we shall wait a long time to see again. A man who was not given to the cheap trash talk that is sadly now considered to be a necessary for a fighter to be ‘a star’ or to ‘have charisma’, Marvelous Marvin let his actions in the ring do his talking for him and those deeds in the ring speak far louder to me than all the self promotion that is in fashion now.
Happy birthday Champ, and many many more of them, it was a privilege to be around to see you fight.