In boxing today, being a champion does not mean what it once did. Sometimes a fighter is given the path of least resistance in order to hold a belt and get the recognition without really earning it. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler knows what it means to be a champion, as he had to wait to his 50th professional fight to get his shot at the title. I have been privileged through my radio show, "On The Ropes" to have had the chance to speak to Marvin Hagler, and talk to him about many of the great moments from his hall of fame career.
In part 1 of this 2 part interview, I discuss with Marvin the early part of his career and the long road he had to a world title shot. I also talked about his controversial first bout with Vito Antuofermo, and his decisive rematch. Additionally Marvin gave his thoughts on Carlos Monzon, Bernard Hopkins and his views on one of the most talked about fights in boxing history, his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. Here is what Marvin had to say.
JENNA: Marvin, it's great having you back “On The Ropes”. Today is actually a little bit of an anniversary of sorts for you. It’s actually 33 years to the day that you got your rubber match win against Willie Monroe. It’s been a bit of a long time, what do you remember of that trilogy?
HAGLER: Don’t make me feel old. (laughs) 33, I’m only 29. No, no, but the Willie Monroe fight, I think that was a big stepping stone for me. At the time fighting those Philadelphia fighters, they were all tough contenders so I had the opportunity of fighting them and just moved on from there. They taught me a lot and I believe that either one of those guys in Philly could have been champion of the world if I didn’t destroy them.
JENNA: Yeah, you certainly did well and that’s something you’ve been known for in your career is doing great in rematches. If you look at some of your losses, you lost to Bobby Watts. When you took him on again you took him out in two rounds. You had a draw with a guy by the name of Sugar Ray Seales, then you took him out in one round, and of course Willie Monroe in the final fight you took him out in two. Why do you think you were so impressive in those rematches?
HAGLER: Well I believe that I probably got madder and things happened in between the ropes there which I didn’t like, because there was a draw and whatever and I think we should do it again. That I think is the mark of a great champion, when either way, you give the guy another opportunity at you. So my thing was that if you didn’t believe that I beat you the first time, then we’ll do it again.
JENNA: Well that’s certainly a great sentiment to have. You’ve had a bunch of rematches and trilogies in your career and something that you’ve been known for is your character in the boxing ring and I wanted to talk a little about your career and character. It took you six and a half years to get a title shot. What was it like to have to go through that long wait being denied that shot and then to finally get it?
HAGLER: Well it was a sweet thing in a sense, because it showed that all of my hard work and everything really paid off. I believe what you’re talking about was the Antuofermo fight back in ’79 which I felt as though I won. That was a draw. I understood now that you can’t leave a champion standing. You got to beat him decisively or knock him out in order to take the title away from him. At least that’s the way it was back then in those days. Other than that, my other highlights I would have to say would be when I won the title from Alan Minter, and then I would have to say that the biggest highlight of my career would have to be Thomas Hearns.
JENNA: That certainly would be, but let’s go back to that fight with Vito Antuofermo. I mean you wanted that title shot, you pined for it, you finally got it, and in that fight you won the first ten rounds pretty dominantly. You were very dominant, and it seemed a little bit later in the fight that you stepped off the gas, you backed off, and you allowed him to get some rounds. Do you at all regret what you did in that match there and what was the reason that you took your foot off the gas?
HAGLER: No, I don’t believe so. I think when a guy’s fighting Antuofermo, he was a bull in a sense. Not to say that he was a dirty fighter, but he used his head a lot and you really had to be cautious about his head. In that fight, like I said, I felt as though that I won that fight and they denied me of that so I went on a rampage. I was mad and anybody that stood in my way, now that I learned that part of the boxing game, is that you can’t leave them standing and that’s what I was intending on doing—not let another one stand in front of me again. So I would say the second fight with Antuofermo, when I gave him the opportunity now that I was champion, and to say to Antuofermo, ‘Okay’. I just remember me jumping up in the air with my legs and my arms because I was so glad when this guy couldn’t continue the second time and he returned my belts to me. So that was a great feeling.
JENNA: Yeah, you literally did go on a rampage there. In your next sixteen fights you won fourteen by KO. I think people learned not to job Marvelous Marvin Hagler on the cards. It certainly upsets him.
HAGLER: (laughs) You don’t want to get me upset.
JENNA: Anyways Marvin, we’re also joined by my partner Ruben Martinez.
HAGLER: Hi Ruben.
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Hey Marvin. I’m happy you could join us once more.
HAGLER: Yeah, it’s great to be back on the show again.
RUBEN: It's a pleasure having you on the show. Now Marvin, it is often debated by fans who the best middleweight of all time is, many argue that it’s you and others make the case for men like Carlos Monzon and Harry Greb. On top of that you are also responsible for popularizing he middleweight division. What does it mean to you to be ranked amongst the elite of that weight class as well as having a hand in the development of that division?
HAGLER: Well you know those are great champions and because I think I was a throwback from the old days, like a Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer and guys I would say like Jake Lamotta, it was something that I had to do to bring back the respect to the middleweight division. At the time coming up, when the heavyweight division was really notable by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and all these tough guys in the light heavyweight division, you had Bob Foster. In the middleweights we were lacking something, so I was very honored in the sense that I finally started gaining my recognition as one of the top middleweights in the world. But for me still, I feel as though Carlos Monzon was a great champion. It took ten years and we would have loved to have fought him if we had the opportunity, but unfortunately that never happened. So just continuing and looking at guys like Emile Griffith and all these great middleweights. It’s always been the toughest division out there in the world of boxing I feel.
RUBEN: You mentioned you had interest in fighting Carlos Monzon. That’s one of those fights that many people to this day talk about and wonder how it would have played out. Personally how do you picture that fight going if you two were matched up in the prime of your careers? And what approach do you think you would take?
HAGLER: Well I believe behind my orthodox style I’d probably be fighting him on the inside to get inside his long reach. Just knowing that this guy had a powerful right hand, I mean Monzon had one of the best right hands in the business also besides Tommy Hearns. So I kind of learned a lot and I think I would have given him a lot of fits.
RUBEN: Marvin, I wanted to get your views on a fighter who has been a stand out in the middleweight division since your retirement, that is Bernard Hopkins. What did you think of Bernard and his run in the middleweight division that included a record twenty title defenses?
HAGLER: Well I give a lot of respect with Bernard because I met him one day. I believe that he’s going to be a future Hall of Famer. I like the fact that he’s another one like myself that tried to keep the middleweight division alive, which he did. As far as the twenty defenses, I was glad in a sense that I retired, because I probably would have continued on fighting again. So I think that was the best thing that happened for me.
RUBEN: You said you are glad you retired when you did, which was fairly young at 33 years of age. What do you think of fighters such as Bernard Hopkins who fight on well into their 40’s?
HAGLER: My opinion is the best thing is to get out of the game while you’re young so that you could basically have another life. Boxing was very good for me, but then knowing that after I got out of boxing it was the best move that I made. No fighter wants to really be where can’t speak and think positively. I feel very fortunate. My thinking is great, my speech pattern is okay, and I’m able to move on. So I believe that watching guys like Muhammad Ali and all these older fighters that were able to stay inside the ring so long, the physical aspect is deteriorating in time. Even I believe a guy like George Foreman at 42 years old I think that he won the title. I mean this inspires these young fighters to continue saying, ‘Well if George did it, I can do it too’ but I think that is a bad move for fighters because even though you think about it, the shot is not there. It’s only there in your mind. Then if your legs go, what do you got? The best way is to leave the game with respect and without making yourself look bad or regretting anything that you have done.
RUBEN: You left boxing while you were still near the top of your game. I know you said you’re happy with your decision to retire when you did, but did it ever cross your mind after retiring to maybe make a comeback and seeing if you could pull off another run?
HAGLER: Well you know, in my opinion, when I started watching these younger fighters in my division coming up and then you start thinking I can take that guy and whatever like that. You got to smack yourself in the head, ‘Hello Marvin! You’re retired! Let them guys do their own thing’ and it’s great entertainment for you. But hopefully there’s somebody who will try to do the same thing I did and bring the dignity into my middleweight division. So that’s basically what I was looking at, but again, I’m glad that I’m out of there. I’m tied up in chains. No more ice. I think ice was my best friends. I’d sleep with it every night.
JENNA: Now Marvin, you fought some of the best fighters out there from any era. You fought Roberto Duran, you fought Thomas Hearns, you fought Sugar Ray Leonard. What was it like to fight all these great names and how do you think they would do in today’s division?
HAGLER: Well you know, that was a tough time in a great era in a sense because I believe that all these guys could fight. You weren’t going to have a field day like with what they’re doing today. I mean all these guys had like over forty fights or whatever, where these guys now today have only like twenty fights and they’re world champions? I mean, come on! It took me fifty fights to get a shot at the title, which was probably the best thing so I was able to hold onto it a lot longer. Most of the fighters today, I think they hold the title from about six months to one year and then all of a sudden they lost it. So I still feel as though for the throwbacks in the old days that that was the best lesson for me, to go through the hard way, which I did, and then when you retire it’s knowing that you have fought the best in the world. You got nothing else to prove.
JENNA: Marvin you mentioned how long you held on to the title. You were champion for over 7 years by the time you faced Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring. To make that fight, you made certain concessions. You allowed the fight to be only 12 rounds, instead of the usual 15. How much do you think this played a factor in terms of the result?
HAGLER: Well, first of all I think that I gave him everything only just to get this guy inside the ring. As a matter of fact I told him that I’d even fight him in his living room because he wanted everything—he wanted the bigger ring, he wanted bigger gloves, I mean, come on! Do you want to fight, yes or no? I had been waiting like four years for this guy. I don’t talk behind anybody’s back, but I feel as though I won the fight and I feel as though that I don’t think there’s any way in the world that you can beat the champion on a close fight decision. I believe that it should go to the champion, which they did to me years ago when I fought Vito Antuofermo, as you know. So they taught me that you cannot leave the man standing, and I’ll tell you something—I came out of that ring with not a scratch on me for the first time out of any of the tough guys that I fought, and I felt that anyone of those guys that fought me, they had the ability and the opportunity to become champion of the world. I’m very satisfied, I’m very happy, and I’m pleased with my accomplishments, because with the Leonard fight, it just showed me that he wasn’t really a champion because a real champion would have gave me a rematch just to show the public that it wasn’t right. If it was me, and the shoe was on the other foot, I automatically felt as though that if you felt as though you got a raw deal, “Okay, let’s do it again!” That’s the way that a real champion is about. Today, you don’t got these real champions.
Stay tuned to Doghouseboxing.com for part 2 of this exclusive interview with Marvelous Marvin Hagler