During the induction weekend at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota New York, I took the time to talk with Marvin Hagler, Alexis Arguello, Dwight Muhammad Quai, Jake Lamotta, and Gene Fullmer. Although this is a little behind, I thought the fans would still be interested in reading how some of these living legends of the sport of boxing are doing.
The first person I got to talk with was none other than 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler, Middleweight champion from late September 1980 until 1987 when he lost a controversial decision to Sugar Ray Leonard. Hagler’s overall record stands at 62 wins, 3 losses, 2 draws with 52 knockouts.
This very special interview with the Marvelous One is the first installment of a four part series.
DHB: Let’s talk about the fight with Alan Minter... You weren’t given your just due in that fight?
HAGLER: That was the most memorable moment of my career. I first won the title from Alan Minter in 1980 by knockout in the third round. I landed some pretty clean shots and knew in the second round that I had a real good shot of getting him out of there early. The situation right after the fight wasn’t too good; I believe I’m still the only champion in the world who never received the belt inside the ring once you’ve won the title. I held that against the English fans for a long time but I felt that also motivated me.
DHB: How much did that affect you? I remember they were throwing full bottles of beer in the ring and you and your people had to be rushed into the locker room.
HAGLER: I thought it was a real classless act by the fans over there. Sitting here now today, I can forgive a lot of the English people because it only takes a hand full of bad people to do something stupid like that and it can make the whole country look bad. You know looking back on it now I used the fight and after the fight as motivation, to make sure I was going to be the best middleweight in the world for a long time.
DHB: I’ve come to understand you didn’t trust many people in the sport because of some poor decisions that went against you throughout your career. Can you talk about that a little.
HAGLER: Well, you can’t trust most people in this game, period; it can be a very shady business. I do trust the Petronellis (Goody & Pat), they were very good people like a father and a brother to me, but even then it took me a while to warm up to them. Once I did it was pretty smooth from then on.
DHB: If you could do it all again what’s one thing you would do differently?
HAGLER: Do what all again? (laughter) Basically I think I had a great career, I did it the hard way and having the 3 strikes against me that I did...
DHB: Being good, black and a southpaw…
HAGLER: Exactly! You know, I think I had a great career; there’s not much I think I'd do different other than get a title shot much earlier. I didn’t get one till 49 or 50 fights into my career. I do think had this happened, I could have set the middleweight title defense record and had close to 25 to 30 defenses. Also, I would have loved to fight Carlos Monzon, I think it would have been a great fight, a clash of styles and wills. I’m still upset that our paths didn’t cross.
DHB: Do you think that because you had to put so much work in to become a champion... I mean like you said, fifty fights in and finally a title shot, you had to go to “jail” during your training camps.. Did it all make you appreciate it that much more and make you want to work that much harder to keep the title?
HAGLER: Oh yeah, I mean every fighter has got be dedicated, learn how to sacrifice, know what the devotion is all about, make sure you're paying attention and studying your art. There are a lot of things and in order to be at the top and maintain your focus you have to have something that motivates you. For me, it was what I perceived as a lack of respect from the boxing world as well as the media, which made me want to work so hard and be great.
DHB: Let’s talk a little bit about your fight with Ray Leonard. You had to give up so much to fight him. The rounds went from 15 to 12, thumbless gloves, the right size, the venue and so on it seemed like you were setting yourself in a way that the only way you were going to win that fight was by knocking him out.
HAGLER: Well, you know the whole thing was... I was finally happy to get a chance to get him in the ring, you know. We had been chasing him for about five years; I think before I left the boxing game that was the one thing I wanted, to be able to fight Sugar Ray Leonard and to be able to walk away from the game knowing that I gave everyone the opportunity to dethrone me and that I didn't duck anyone. See, the only way I was going to get him in the ring was to give up all that stuff and do you know the only thing I ever wanted from him in the contract and after the fight?
DHB: A rematch, which you never got...
HAGLER: A rematch which I never got. So after that, I was done with the sport. I was able to walk away and never come back. I knew myself that I had given it my best.
DHB: What I find funny is, and off the record I had you winning I think 115-113 or 115-114, but I didn’t understand why you fought the first couple of rounds the way you did, but you fought Leonard on his own terms and the fight still ended in a controversy. Had he fought you on your terms, it would have ended in a knockout.
HAGLER: Probably so, I almost had him 4 or 5 times in that fight and lucky for him it seemed like every time he was hurt the round ended (laughter). It was like I was fighting him and the timekeeper as well.
DHB: What are the top moments of your career?
HAGLER: In the boxing game you know everything is serious and what a lot of people don’t know or fail to remember because I had so many other great fights, but my knockout over Vito Antuofermo would have to be a great moment for me. He was a tough guy, very awkward and a student of the game, but he had a lot of courage, maybe a little too much. He was so willing to go head to head with me, but that was a huge moment in the second fight.
Tommy Hearns was a huge moment because he had a big mouth and he kept telling me he was going to knock my bald head off -within three rounds no less- and I turned around and knocked him out and he was lucky that the fight got stopped when it did because he might have never fought again. Plus after that fight I felt like the public really embraced me and understood how much I was willing to sacrifice to be great.
Of course another huge moment for me was the fight with John “The Beast” Mugabi because -again- he didn’t give me any respect. He had that big poster in the press conference and he was walking around with that big cowboy hat on and then he punches a hole in my picture... I told him “punching a hole in the picture isn’t me, that picture isn’t going to be in the ring with you, I am.”
That really got me going about that fight and you know he was never the same after I was finished with him.
Even though the outcome wasn’t the way it should have been, publicly I still feel in my heart I won the Sugar Ray Leonard fight. People still look at me as the champion and that’s very important to me. I think the way you carry yourself in and outside of the ring makes you that way, so those are the best moments for me.
In some ways that fight gave me more respect around the world and helped me be even more popular because so many people felt my pain and saw that I was robbed.
Oh, and one last one was versus Mustafa Hamsho the first time, because he was a very shrewd, tough, and dirty fighter and that was the first time I made a million dollars in a fight. I stopped him in the 11th round and then I gave him a rematch and we fought in Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of boxing. That was a real treat in my life and I stopped him in three rounds.
DHB: Marvelous Marvin, thanks so much for taking the time out to do this interview, see you in the future.
HAGLER: Thanks as well, I enjoyed it.