The boxing world lost an all-time great in world middleweight champion last week in Marvelous Marvin Hagler at the age of 66.
Hagler stopped Alan Minter in Minter's home country of England in three rounds in 1981 to win the WBA and WBC titles and would hold the titles through 1987 when he lost a still-controversial decision to Sugar Ray Leonard in Las Vegas.
Hagler would never fight again after the defeat to Leonard, but his twelve title defenses and his seventy-eight percent knockout percentage are the highest of all-time for a unified middleweight champion.
Hagler was one of the last of the old school champions that came up the hard way-through untelevised fights, winning and losing against tough opponents to build character and learn his craft through ring action, not through his talk on social media.
The Marvelous One wasn't afraid to go on the road with his legendary battles against Philadelphia's best middleweights in their backyard against Bad Bennie Briscoe (arguably the best middleweight never to win the title), Willie "The Worm" Monroe, slick-boxing Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts, and huge puncher Cyclone Hart (Father of super middleweight contender Jesse Hart) and he wasn't afraid to climb back on the ladder after losses either (Hagler was robbed against Watts, but he was clearly defeated by Willie Monroe).
And Hagler knew the worst side of the boxing game, battling through bad decisions before his title win (the aforementioned loss to Bobby Watts), attempting for the title (an awful draw against then-champion Vito Antuofermo), and losing his championship (the final fight of his career to Sugar Ray Leonard), but Hagler persevered and after the uproar from his draw with Antuofermo and three victories, Hagler was given his shot against Minter (who defeated and then defended against Antuofermo).
The title win wasn't exactly made for cinema as after Hagler chopped Minter up in three rounds, the crowd in the U.K. threw bottles into the ring, sending Hagler and his trainers racing to the locker room for their own safety rather than celebrating their championship victory.
Hagler began to rack up the title defenses with impressive victories over mandatory contenders that were both deserving (Mustafa Hamsho twice, Tony Sibson, and Wilford Scypion) and undeserving (Fulgencio Obelmejias twice) with a style that repelled the aggressive fighters (Hamsho and Antuofermo) with slicing counterpunches that slowed them down as a picador slowed a bull, and chopped down the boxer-punchers (Obelmejias and Scypion).
However, even as Hagler was becoming a mainstream star and among fighters with a claim as the best sport ( what an era with fighters such as Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Michael Spinks, Larry Holmes, Salvador Sanchez, Aaron Pryor, Alexis Arguello, etc, all with arguable claims for the top spot pound for pound), he lacked the type of formidable opponent to truly show his greatness.
Much as later middleweight champions Bernard Hopkins and Gennady Golovkin, Hagler looked to be in a position of merely cleaning out his division and perhaps never getting a mega-fight.
Enter Roberto Duran, who stunned undefeated WBA junior middleweight champion Davey Moore and suddenly appeared as a willing and name opponent for Hagler.
While Hagler pulled away late to win a unanimous decision over fifteen rounds, Hagler didn't look like the destroyer against the smaller Duran, and at times fought almost timidly against the charismatic Panamanian.
Things didn't look much better for Hagler against mandatory challenger Juan Roldan, who scored the only knockdown of Hagler's career with what was ruled a knockdown, but was more of a cuff and throwdown.
Roldan had some success against Hagler and although Hagler controlled the fight, closed Roldan's eye and stopped him in the tenth and even though Hagler rolled through Mustafa Hamsho, who had returned to the top contender spot, in three rounds, it wasn't that hard to see that perhaps Hagler was losing a step and when Thomas Hearns brutally stopped Roberto Duran in two rounds, doing what Hagler failed to do in fifteen, the natural fight to make was Hagler-Hearns.
Not many people remember that Hagler and Hearns were supposed to fight a few years before after Hearns had lost to Sugar Ray Leonard and with Hearns struggling to make 147 pounds, he moved to middleweight and won his debut over veteran Ernie Singletary as the co-feature on the Muhammad Ali-Trevor Berbick card in 1981, which was the final fight of Ali's career.
Hearns then stopped Marcos Geraldo in one (Geraldo had taken Hagler ten rounds just before Hagler defeated Alan Minter for the championship) and a stoppage over Jeff McCracken before signing for a fight against Hagler.
Hearns would suffer an injured finger in training and the fight was canceled with Hearns deciding to chase the junior middleweight title held by Wilfred Benitez rather than tangle with Hagler.
The fight was promoted as "WAR" and that's exactly what was received as the two put on arguably the best round ever in round one, and their three rounds of hell rank among the best fights of the all-time.
The Hearns fight has been written about often and deservedly so, so I'll skip on writing too much on such a great fight, but my brevity should not take away from such a phenomenal affair.
It might have been the best way for Hagler to leave the sport for him to retire after the Hearns fight, but there was a possibility of a rematch and with both men on the same card for their next fight against undefeated young contenders, it appeared very likely if both fighters looked impressive.
Hearns made his case with a first-round knockout over undefeated former Olympian James Shuler, but Hagler showed some signs of aging against the huge puncher John "The Beast" Mugabi.
Hagler's legendary chin didn't let him down on a night where almost anyone in the world could have been knocked out by Mugabi, but he was hit far more than usual and the fight was far closer than expected before Hagler wore Mugabi down before stopping him in round eleven.
The Hearns rematch would never happen as Sugar Ray Leonard decided to return from yet another retirement to challenge Hagler.
Leonard, like Hearns, had almost challenged Hagler years earlier, but after retina surgery, Leonard decided to retire for the first time and a Hagler fight was a dream matchup, although many questioned Leonard's decision to fight Hagler without a tune-up fight.
The Leonard-Hagler fight remains controversial to this day with many feeling Hagler was the clear winner and was robbed (I had Hagler a 116-112 winner), but Hagler allowed Leonard to land the flashier punches and his slow start made one think that his best days had passed.
Surprisingly, Hagler decided to retire when Leonard dragged his feet and wanted to call the shots for a rematch ( Not so surprisingly).
Some things in boxing never change with stars making demands, but Hagler's retirement stuck, even two years later when Leonard offered Hagler the rematch.
Hagler would spend much of his retirement living in Italy, where he starred in Italian films and rarely made appearances in the United States other than at the annual induction at the Boxing Hall of Fame.
For all that "Marvelous" succeeded in the ring, I respected him most for the refusal to fight that second fight with Ray Leonard.
Hagler wasn't going to give the younger fighter the satisfaction of a conclusive victory in the rematch or bow to his demands contractually as well.
Those principles meant more to Hagler than the millions of dollars for the fight.
Money Hagler had already, principle is far harder to buy.
The current trend in all sports is to refer to the term "GOAT" (Greatest Of All-Time) every time a great athlete retires or passes away.
It's a cute acronym, but one that already is extremely well-worn.
After all, there can be only one GOAT in a boxing division, all-time running back, starting pitcher, etc, and I've seen too many GOATs in the yard already.
I've been asked where I rank Hagler in middleweight history and I try to break history into two eras- before 1970 and 1970-present.
I rate him a solid second behind Carlos Monzon in the after-1970 era, and it's possible that had Monzon not retired in 1977 that he could have eventually defended the title against Hagler.
Monzon's final fight in a great one against Rodrigo Valdez was in July 1977 and one month later, Hagler avenged his loss to Willie Monroe.
One year later, Hagler defeated Bennie Briscoe, and in 1979 was Hagler's draw with Vito Antofuermo, so it's not out of the question that had Monzon carried on, the fight could have happened.
I lean Monzon for two reasons.
One, Monzon had two inches in height and an inch in reach on Hagler, so I can see Monzon using his strong jab to keep Hagler on the outside and not allowing Hagler to press forward.
Two, for the common image of Hagler as a destroyer, Hagler was far more calculating than attacking against opponents that he respected (other than against Hearns, where there was personal animosity entering the fight).
Hagler spent several rounds against Roberto Duran fighting in almost a timid style and I think he would fight Monzon in the same way.
The fight would almost certainly go the distance unless it was stopped on cuts, which Hagler was prone to developing at times, but Monzon has the edge.
I do give Hagler the advantage over the following great middleweights after his era.
Over Bernard Hopkins in what would be a foul-filled affair that would remind you of the early days of boxing.
Over Roy Jones, mainly because Jones didn't fight very long at middleweight and Hagler would have found a way over Jones, who spent most of his career at 168 and 175 pounds.
Over James Toney, I would have loved to have seen this one as each fighter pulls every trick out of their bag, but as in the case of Roy Jones, Toney's best years were at higher weights and Hagler uses his experience to grab a win.
Over Sergio Martinez, who might give Hagler issues for a few rounds, but Hagler's superior strength would wear Martinez down later in the bout.
Over Gennady Golovkin, in what would come down to this- Can Golovkin force Hagler to back up?
If he can, GGG wins, but I think Hagler does just enough to squeak out a close and maybe controversial decision.
Over Canelo Alvarez- Since I didn't think Alvarez beat Golovkin in either of their fights at middleweight, I cannot pick Canelo over the Marvelous One.
Marvin Hagler wasn't my favorite fighter of his age, but I respected him immensely and he was the type of fighter and person that put principle first.
Marvelous Marvin's class will be missed in a sport that often is in desperate need of class.
This took longer than I expected and I have another tribute that will take a while to write with the recent loss of the voice of the Cavaliers, Joe Tait.
Look for that sometime next week.