Marvin Hagler was a true fighting man. Marvelous Marvin defined toughness, incited violence and encouraged war inside the ring, so much so that the former middleweight giant would have looked down at the American Airlines Center this weekend with a mischievous snarl across his face.
Juan Francisco Estrada and Roman Gonzalez delivered what was expected. In their second meeting, “Gallo” and “Chocolatito” ignited round 13 of their rivalry without a single thought of retreat. Two and a half thousand punches were thrown between two small men with gigantic hearts, underlining their status as two of the most respected and fiercest competitors of the modern era.
It was beautiful brutality showcased without the guts and gore of previous encounters. 36 minutes raced by without chance of catching your breath, as 12 hellacious rounds momentarily distracted the boxing community from the heart-breaking news of Hagler’s passing.
The action and the occasion were fitting. As Michael Buffer led the ten-bell tribute to the Hall of Famer, the baton was passed from one of the original ‘Four Kings’ to two of the modern-day incumbents.
Estrada, Gonzalez, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai and Carlos Cuadras have now met a combined ten times over the past nine years, each tasting victory, each tasting defeat and all four defining a generation of warriors in the lower, less glamorous weight classes.
Despite recent hyperbole claiming that the lightweight class of Teofimo Lopez, Gervonta Davis, Devin Haney and Ryan Garcia are the next-in-line for such status, these little lionhearts have all proven their willingness to fight and proven their worth over a thrilling decade of action.
The 10th installment was one of the very best. Gonzalez once again demonstrated his exceptional skill in the pocket, throwing endless front-foot timber at Estrada from close range, and enabling his sixth sense head movement to stay out of serious trouble. Estrada fired back, mixing up his attacks well earlier in the fight, and was often quicker to the punch despite maybe lacking the accuracy of ‘Chocolatito’. Estrada looked way more comfortable in the rematch with an additional seven pounds – as comfortable as any fighter could possibly look against the four-weight world champion.
Of course, these punch-fest fights are often hard to score. It was a thrilling back-and-forth encounter with both men earning every drop of respect thrown their way, but the 117-111 scorecard in Estrada’s favour proved particularly hard to swallow. Judge Carlos Sucre – now under investigation with the WBA – scored the final five rounds the way of the Mexican, despite Gonzalez turning on the heat down the stretch and connecting with some of his best work. Gonzalez threw 158 punches in the final round, landing 55.
Gonzalez is always remarkably composed and humble, but even he was keen to express his disappointment with the decision in the post-fight interview, claiming he now owns two wins over Estrada. But the history books will read differently. Estrada is 4-2 against the other ‘Kings’, Sor Rungvisai: 3-2, Gonzalez: 2-3 and Cuadras: 1-3, with more instalments expected over the next couple of years.
The beaten champion was visibly emotional inside the ring, with this contentious scorecard reminiscent of the lopsided 118-110 card that Hagler was handed in his final fight against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. Hagler would walk away from the sport in disgust following the split decision that would see his seven-year reign as middleweight king come to an end, with no amount of money big enough to lure him into a future rematch.
The 33-year-old Gonzalez is no stranger to having his career questioned – most notably following back-to-back losses to Sor Rungvisai – but his near future in the sport looks as secure as his place in the annals of boxing history. Canastota may be eagerly awaiting his handprint, but this version of ‘Chocolatito’ is more than capable of regaining his throne.
Hagler’s passing will be mourned across the boxing community over the coming weeks. His fighting style defined a generation, plugging a much-needed gap between the reigns of Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson for the casual viewer. The ‘Four Kings’ were the stars. They’d make no excuses and would enjoy the entire spotlight that accompanied their rivalries. Less talk, more action.
Hagler, Leonard, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns’ foursome tapped out at nine bouts after the electric 80s, with thirst quenched and bank balances loaded. “It’s difficult to get up to do roadwork at five in the morning when you are sleeping in silk pyjamas,” ‘Marvelous’ famously mused in relation to his diminished fighting appetite.
But the future of the modern-day ‘Four Kings’ looks less conclusive. As Hagler passes on the baton to the next generation, it looks as though they’ve got plenty of track left to run. And boy is that exciting.