Just learned a few minutes ago that Marvelous Marvin Hagler is dead. He was 66.
Over the next few days, you’ll hear one Hagler story after another after another. He was a brilliant fighter; a toughie out of Massachusetts who threw punches with legitimately cruel intent and boasted a jaw that absorbed blow after blow after blow. Hagler’s head was shaved to the scalp, and he dodged no man. The guy is top-shelf boxing royalty.
For me, however, when I think of Marvin Hagler I think of April 6, 1987, when he defended his WBC middleweight title against Sugar Ray Leonard.
The fight was held in Las Vegas, but—thanks to a local radio giveaway—I won two tickets to watch on closed circuit TV on the campus of Westchester Community College. This was a huge deal for me. First, because I rarely won anything. Second, because Sugar Ray was on the small list of my childhood idols. So my dad (who knows nothing about sports) and I made the 25-minute drive to WCC’s Valhalla campus, snagged some bleacher seats and watched—on a couple of large screens—as Hagler and Leonard exchanged blows for 12 terrific rounds.
The fight was neither man’s best—if you wanna see the ultimate in Hagler, check out this display against Tommy Hearns. And Leonard’s masterpiece has to be his dismantling of Roberto Duran. But it was gripping entertainment, and it allowed me to sit alongside my hero (my dad) and show him a world he knew nothing about. I actually don’t recall whether Pops got into the fight, but (if nothing else) he never sought to dampen my enthusiasm. I was a kid who cheered and yelped and moved his arms along with the punchers. Dad didn’t mind.
Leonard won a controversial-yet-just split decision, and as I left the campus I’m sure I wondered how long it would take for Hagler-Leonard II to occur.
But here’s the best part: At age 33, Hagler had had enough. He was disillusion by the decision, but also, it seems, tired of the grind. The fighter walked away from the sport, moved to Italy and dove into the world of acting.
Yes, he has died too young. But we never saw Marvin Hagler stumbling over words, or fighting at pop-up gym in his early 40s, or even longing for the golden days.
He had moved on.