Marvin Hagler's One Vulnerability

29.12.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - If I only knew then what I know now. How many times has that been said by all of us when looking back through the wisdom of time? It seems in the context of looking back, we can see things more for what they really are then what we thought they were. And some things we didn't appreciate at the time, are now recalled more fondly. This also happens to apply when looking back at past great fighters and champions.

It wasn't that long ago Larry Holmes was viewed as nothing more than a cheap imitation of Muhammad Ali. The thought that one day he would mentioned among the greatest of the great heavyweight champions in history, as he is today, was unfathomable at that time. That's why I refuse to rank fighters historically before their career has heard it's final bell. That's why NFL players must be retired five years before becoming eligible for hall-of-fame nomination.

The passage of time allows us to more objectively analyze the overall body of work, and the strengths and vulnerabilities of any fighter/athlete. I would be willing to bet there is a generation of middleweight's who fought in between the years 1973-1987 who would agree with me. They are the middleweights who had the misfortune of fighting during the Marvin Hagler era. I say this because a common thought in boxing circles at the time was that a fighter had to back Hagler up to beat him.

The thought that trying to force Hagler back was the best way to fight him, was a fallacy, but was a prevailing thought and seemed justified at the time. In August of 1978 Hagler fought Bennie Briscoe who was about four or five years past his prime. The fading Briscoe carried the fight to Hagler and lost a unanimous decision. However, before the fight many thought old Bennie would be taken apart by Hagler, who was entering his prime. Only Hagler backed away from Briscoe and seemed to avoid exchanging and fighting inside with Bad Bennie. After the Briscoe fight, slight rumblings could be heard indicating Hagler didn't like to be pressured or forced to fight inside.

In November of 1979 Hagler fought undisputed middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo. Antuofermo was a very tough face-first brawler who was the aggressor in every fight he ever fought. The Antuofermo-Hagler fight was declared a draw after 15 rounds, resulting in Antuofermo keeping the title. Although most who saw the fight felt Hagler deserved the decision, it was obvious that being rushed to punch in order to keep Antuofermo off him took something off his punches, and disrupted him a little bit offensively. What was overlooked was Briscoe and Antuofermo were two of the toughest middleweight's of that era. Most middleweight's would get their head taken off fighting Hagler like that. Something history would prove over the next five or six years.

This will no doubt shock a lot of boxing fans, but Marvin Hagler was the least effective when he had to force the fight. Hagler's two best punches were his right jab and right hook. He set them up and landed them best when his opponent came to him. When he had to go to his opponent, he nullified his ability to land with full impact. Opposed to his opponent committed and moving to him. Look at all the fighters Hagler ate up who went to him, Hamsho twice, Antuofermo in the rematch, Sibson, Sypion, and Mugabi. His fight against Hearns was a war and all strategy went out the window. Against Hearns, Hagler didn't press he attacked.

Only two fighters went the distance with Hagler while he was the defending Middleweight Champion, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. And it was Duran, almost by sheer luck that exposed a slight vulnerability in Hagler and help Sugar Ray Leonard form his fight strategy when they fought four years later. Throughout Duran's entire career he was the swarmer and aggressor. However, when he challenged Hagler for the Middleweight title, he no doubt knew that he couldn't go at Hagler and try to out-muscle him, forcing him to retreat. He knew he didn't have the physical strength or punching power to make Hagler back off.

So Duran moved away from Hagler and looked to counter him. And for 12 rounds Duran had Hagler lunging and missing, not mention had the fight been fought today, Duran would've won since he led on the official scorecards. How could that be, Hagler was taller with a longer reach and in his prime fighting at his natural weight? That's because Hagler, despite bald and bulging muscles, wasn't at his best when he had to become Joe Frazier and fight as the aggressor. Hagler was at his best when his opponents went to him allowing him to counter punch.

Three and a half years later Sugar Ray Leonard took Duran's blue print and added some leg movement and some more right hand leads and took the title from Hagler as a 4-1 underdog. Look how awkward and amateurish Hagler looked missing Leonard sometimes. Another thing that benefited Leonard greatly in his fight with Hagler, he knew Hagler couldn't punch as hard when he was forced to lead. He was a much better puncher when he set up his opponents as the opponent came after him.

Think about how Marvin Hagler is considered one of the greatest Middleweight Champions of all time, and probably among the top five. Yet the only two fighters who went the distance with him as undisputed Middleweight champ, built their legacy and are most identified with what they achieved as Lightweight and Welterweight champions. Simply because they knew they didn't have the size or strength to confront Hagler and fight him, they moved away and made him force the fight. And in the process forced him to fight the type fight where he was most vulnerable.

Don't misinterpret this, when Hagler had his opponent hurt, he could go after them and finish them. But, he definitely not as effective when he had to go after his opponent fighting a catch and kill style. When people look at Marvin Hagler they see this fearsome physical specimen. But he wasn't a natural monster in the ring. He was a thoroughly professional fighter who prevailed through a combination of terrifying conditioning, a phenomenal chin, good power in both hands, and sound technique. Not to mention an indomitable will to win.

Article posted on 30.12.2004

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