(NNPA) – Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who ruled the middleweight boxing division in the 1980s, yet never received the recognition he deserved as an all-time great, has died.
Hagler was 66. Before Hagler’s death, former boxer Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns posted on Instagram that the legend had “taken ill.”
“A real true warrior,” Hearns wrote.
Later, Hagler’s wife appeared to confirm his death in a post to the boxer’s Facebook fan club page.
“I am sorry to make a very sad announcement,” Kay Hagler wrote.
“Today, unfortunately, my beloved husband Marvelous Marvin passed away unexpectedly at his home here in New Hampshire. Our family requests that you respect our privacy during this difficult time.”
A member of the boxing hall of fame, Hagler had a career record of 63-2 with 52 knockouts – many of them of the devastating variety.
He turned pro in 1973 and was arguably the most feared fighter in the 160-pound middleweight division. Although the media and fans showered much love on fighters like Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, and others, Hagler was largely ignored.
Even inside the ring, judges appeared to view Hagler with a skewed eye.
That was no more apparent than his bouts with Vito Antuofermo.
Despite Hagler brutalizing the then-champion in their first bout at the old Boston Garden in 1979, judges declared the lopsided contest a draw.
The decision allowed Antuofermo to retain his WBC and WBA Middleweight titles.
Antuofermo subsequently lost the titles to Alan Minter, whom Hagler destroyed in a September 1980s bout.
In the 1981 rematch with Antuofermo, Hagler punished his foe, scoring a fifth-round TKO.
Still, Hearns, Leonard and Duran – each a welterweight that would ultimately move up in weight class to challenge Hagler – were the media darlings and the sport’s favorites.
Hagler agreed to a 1983 bout with Duran, who was coming off his infamous “No Mas” loss to Leonard. Duran went the distance with Hagler, who won the decision, but the media still scolded him.
“Hey, how about giving me some credit?” Hagler pleaded after beating Duran. “I beat a legend. I thought I did a good job. I have to give myself a pat on the back.”
The 1983 Ring Fighter of the Year, Hagler had little competition in his division and contenders too afraid to offer up a challenge.
Then came the fight that finally earned Hagler the recognition he rightly deserved.
Hearns, the tall and powerful puncher from the Motor City, challenged Hagler for the Middleweight Championship on April 5, 1987.
It was billed as “The Fight,” but in boxing lore, it remains known as “The War.”
Although the match lasted only three rounds, it was arguably one of the most violent fights in boxing history.
Hearns and Hagler traded vicious blows, never taking a break.
Both fighters were bloodied and, after an accidental head-butt that caused the ring referee Richard Steele to consider stopping the fight in Hearns’ favor, Hagler unleashed a nonstop flurry to finish his foe.
After several more title defenses, Hagler sought the biggest of paydays, and there was just one name that could fulfill that desire for the Broxton, Mass.-based warrior, and to quench his thirst for acceptance as the sport’s premiere superstar.
That person was ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, who had retired in 1982 after suffering a detached retina.
Always calculating, Leonard had intently watched and even served as a commentator for HBO during several of Hagler’s bouts.
Last year, Leonard told NNPA Newswire that he spotted Hagler’s weakness and wanted to fight him.
“I called my business partner, Mike Trainer, and told him I wanted to fight Marvin Hagler, and he asked me had I been drinking,” Leonard reminisced about the time leading up to his April 6, 1987 bout with Hagler.
“When I told my brothers that I wanted to fight Hagler, they couldn’t believe I would even think of it,” Leonard recalled.
“They asked, ‘Who would be my tune-up (for Hagler)?’ and I told them, ‘Hagler.’ I fought Kevin Howard before fighting Hagler, and he knocked me down, and people thought Hagler would kill me. Back then, I was on the wrong side of the street, doing cocaine and drinking heavily,” Leonard revealed.
Hagler was regarded as a brawler with incredible power and the sport’s most dominant slugger. Leonard needed Hagler to believe that he had to prove to the world that he could also box.
However, Leonard went on to win a 12-round decision over Hagler and claim the world middleweight championship.
Hagler, who never fought again after the Leonard loss, was still named the Boxer of the Decade.
In retirement, he finally received a measure of acclaim that escaped him during his memorable career.
Hagler is survived by his five children, Charelle, Celeste, James, Marvin Jr., and Gentry. He and his widow, Kay, met in Hagler’s adopted hometown of Milan, Italy.
“Marvelous Marvin Hagler has gone, a true great, a chin made from granite, the winner of the greatest fight of all time. RIP Champ,” Hagler fan Robert Kelly posted in a Twitter tribute that featured a video of Hagler’s demolition of Thomas Hearns.
By Stacy M. Brown / NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent