Marvin "Marvelous" Hagler

08.11.05 - By James Sadler: In my opinion, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, as his official full name goes, is the best (not greatest) fighter ever to grace the ring. On film, I see nobody who could rival his all-round ability, toughness and determination. Marvin Hagler was the greatest middleweight of all time. He made twelve successful defenses of his title, and reigned supreme for seven years.

Almost all of Hagler’s title defenses were against the number one contender. Not a single rightful challenger to the crown was avoided, and each one got their chance to prove themselves. When Hagler reigned, people really knew who was the middleweight champion of the world.

A breakdown of Hagler’s title opponents:

Vito Antuofermo – A tough, rough and grizzled veteran, Antuofermo possessed a granite chin and an impossible workrate.. He possessed a record of 45-6-2 in his first meeting with Hagler, in which he held the challenger to a controversial draw. Many observers, including himself, thought Hagler was robbed. In the rematch, Marvin made sure there was no room for argument, dominating Antuofermo two years later in one of his most impressive performances.

Alan Minter – Minter was a good champion in his own right, winning the title off the rugged Italian, Vito Antuofermo. Minter had an imposing record of 38-6 when he faced Hagler, and all of his losses had occurred because of his fragile face. Minter had never been thoroughly beaten by anyone. He had several notable and credible victories over name opponents such as Antuofermo, Finnegan, Tonna, Griffith and Seales. Some say that if Hagler hadn’t been Minter’s mandatory challenger, he would have reigned for a long time. Hagler slipped, ducked and countered many a jab from the southpaw Brit before dragging him down into a brawl, which ended with Minter turning away in pain when Hagler broke his nose with a big right hook. Moments later the fight was stopped, Minter left bleeding and disorientated from the onslaught.

Fulgencio Obelmejias – A tall, long, rangy fighter from Venezuela, Obelmejias was deceptively powerful. He had knocked out twenty seven of his thirty opponents before meeting Hagler for the first time, and was the undefeated number one contender. Hagler knocked him out in eight rounds. In the rematch Obelmejias earned himself the number one challenger spot again, defeating his last eight opponents all by knockout. Hagler put on another display of efficiency, working his way inside the taller challenger and chopping him down in five.

Mustafa Hamsho – This guy was like Jake LaMotta. A rough, tough, granite chinned brawler with plenty of dirty tricks up his sleeve, and a mean streak a mile long. Hamsho was rightfully the number one contender in 1981, and earned that position with wins over Watts, Minter, prospect Parker and Scypion. Hamsho was also undefeated in his last twenty eight fights, and would go undefeated again in between his two fights with Hagler, beating Benitez and Czyz. In their first outing, Hamsho was thoroughly outboxed and cut up en route to a stoppage loss, in which Hamsho was left reeling along the ropes practically defenseless. In the second fight, Hamsho blatantly fouled Hagler, and the champion did not tolerate it – the previously unfloored Hamsho was battered from pillar to post and knocked senseless in three rounds.

William Lee – Although he once lost to Frank “The Animal” Fletcher, Lee had built up an impressive knockout streak and somehow got into the number one challenger spot. He was badly overmatched, and Hagler dispatched him in sixty seven seconds of the first round.

Tony Sibson – In what would be his most complete performance in sixty seven fights, Hagler dominated the durable, hard punching Brit in six rounds. Sibson was 47-3-1, and owned wins over such quality fighters as Salvemini, Minter, Amana, Cirelli, Davison and Cabrera. Hagler switched stances, doubled up on his punches, cut his man up, floored and humiliated him in savage fashion. On this night he really did look the perfect fighting machine.

Wilford Scypion – Scypion was a rugged fighter who had been put through the gruelling middleweight ranks without proper training, and so suffered a few setbacks along the way. Nevertheless, he possessed a solid record of 26-3 against fair opposition, and was catapulted into the limelight with his win over Frank Fletcher. Scypion was no match for Hagler, who started beating on the normally durable Scypion from the first round. Scypion, dazed, disheartened and outclassed, was counted out in the fourth round, on his back from a flurry of punches.

Roberto Duran – This man needs no introduction. A great fighter capable of pulling off some miraculous wins, Duran, while not the force he once was at lightweight and welterweight, was a tough and durable middleweight who had just beaten the hell out of young, fiery and strong Davey Moore, of whom Manos de Piedra was expected to lose to. Before this win, victories over hard hitting Pipino Cuevas and Jimmy Batten secured Duran’s place in the number one spot. Hagler was noticeably tentative on the night of their fight, probably wary of his opponent’s power and in awe of the great Duran’s presence. Nevertheless, the champion showed his strength and grit, outfighting Duran in the later stages and stealing the close but clear verdict. The fight was competitive, but not nearly the paper-thin decision as some will believe.

Juan Roldan – An awkward customer, the Argentine Roldan was known to be fairly durable and hard punching, and owned a gaudy record of 52-2-2. Roldan’s place at number one was decided after he created a string of impressive performances against some quality fighters from Argentina (a place known for its tough circuit) and then knocked out the highly regarded Fletcher. The unorthodox challenger troubled Hagler in the first few rounds of the fight, and it took the now slipping champion a few frames to find his rhythm. Once he did, he started to outfight Roldan and take him apart piece by piece, stopping him in the tenth round.

Thomas Hearns – In what would be the defining fight of his career, Marvelous Marvin took on the superstar knockout artist, Tommy “Hitman” Hearns. It was a much anticipated fight, and for good reason – Hearns had a record of 40-1, and had dominated at welterweight a few years before. He proved he could not only hang with the middleweights, but knock the crap out of them – Roberto Duran was destroyed in two rounds, while Fred Hutchings was taken apart in three. In a fight after Hagler-Hearns, Tommy also beat up James Schuler in one round at middleweight. Wilfred Benitez, Murray Sutherland and Luigi Minchillo were also defeated on the way to Hagler, proving Hearns was the best of a good bunch. The fight itself was wildly entertaining, if not too short. After an exquisite first round, Hagler stalked Hearns and gradually broke him down, before stunning him with a right hook in round three and following up with a subsequent pair of leaping rights.

John Mugabi – “The Beast” was undefeated in twenty five fights, and had a one hundred percent knockout ratio. It was thought he could be the one to catch a now past his prime Hagler and dethrone him, but that was not to be. The young, fast, hard hitting challenger had his moments and landed some real bombs on Marvin, but the champion didn’t budge. Instead, he dismantled Mugabi piece by piece with his superior skills and accurate southpaw jab, and in the tenth and eleventh, literally walked him down. Mugabi was knocked out by a combination of punches and a couple of leaping right hands.

Ray Leonard – “Sugar” Ray was a former welterweight star, a popular, slick boxer who was capable of anything. He was 33-1 at the time of the Hagler fight, with wins over excellent opponents such as Hearns, Duran and Benitez, albeit at lighter weights. Leonard had looked bad in his couple of outings, and this was his first fight at middleweight in years – but rumour has it, Leonard was participating in unofficial professional fights behind closed doors from ’86 to ’87, in preperation for Hagler. Leonard had been a ringside observer at the Hagler-Mugabi fight, and took note of how the now past-prime Hagler had slowed considerably. Come fight night, another year had passed, and the champion had been involved in several wars which surely must have taken their toll by now. The two stars duked it out in one of the richest fights of all time, and thrilling it was. While the split decision went to Leonard, many felt Hagler had won. Leonard’s punching had been pitty-patty and somewhat superficial, while the real solid, damaging work came from Hagler. Leonard was exhausted and demoralised when the final bell rang, while Hagler remained unscathed. Nevertheless, the great champion had finally been knocked off his pedestal.

Marvin Hagler was fearfully avoided on his way to the top. Valdez, Corro, Antuofermo and Minter wanted no part of him. If not for politics, Hagler may have won the title in 1977, had he got a shot. He was certainly the rightful number one contender in 1977, ’78 and ’79 – he was blatantly avoided.

Hagler’s significant pre-title oppositition:

Sugar Ray Seales – Seales was an Olympic Silver medallist and a hot prospect when he met Hagler the first time. The undefeated hopefuls battled it out in 1974, with Hagler coming out on top. Seales held Hagler to a draw in their next encounter, but was thoroughly dominated when they next met – Seales was floored three times by Hagler, and stopped in the first round.

Bobby Watts – Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts was another slick stylist from Philly, who, like Monroe, was one of the best the major city had to offer at the time. With a solid record of 26-3-1, Watts was on the right end of what was perceived as a hometown decision by the local newspapers. Basically, they felt Hagler won.

Willie Monroe – Willie “The Worm” was one of the best Philadelphia had to offer, at a time when the Philly professional circuit was a very tough one. Monroe was a slick boxer and a world ranked contender with a record of 32-3-1 when he first met Marvelous Marvin, and he eked out a decision over the less experienced fighter. Hagler, while disheartened, came back and proved his superiority over The Worm with a twelfth round technical knockout win and then an impressive second round knockout in ’77.

Eugene Hart - This guy was a natural southpaw, but he fought from an orthodox stance, and so he developed a wicked left hook. Another of Philly’s finest, and a damn hard hitter. A world ranked contender, Hart hit Hagler with some real bombs in their fight, although Marvin never budged. He later claimed Hart hit him the hardest of all. And few would argue – Hart was on The Ring magazine’s list of one hundred greatest punchers.

Bennie Briscoe – Yet another Philly fighter, Briscoe was the best of the bunch. Generally regarded as being one of the best never to win a title, Briscoe was a real tough nut with a superb jab and a Joe Frazier-type attrition style. Like Hart, he appeared on The Ring magazine’s list of one hundred greatest punchers.

Honourable mentionMike Colbert (suffered several fractures to his jaw), Kevin Finnegan (required sixty stitches), Norberto Cabrera, Marcus Geraldo.

Hagler never really lost at his best at all; he only ever lost controversially. Against Monroe he had bronchitis. He avenged that loss with two knockout wins. Against Bobby Watts, the verdict was thought to have been a hometown decision. Watts was blown away in the rematch. Many observers felt the well-past-prime Hagler deserved the nod against Leonard. His draw with Antuofermo was also considered a bogus decision, but the man was stopped in a rematch. The only other blotch left is that draw against Olympic silver medalist Sugar Ray Seales - but then again, this draw was suffered back in the ring blooding days when Hagler had not fully matured. Hagler smashed him in one round as payback.

A statistical analysis:

62-3-2 (52)

Undisputed middleweight champion of the world from 1980 to 1987. Hagler defended the lineal middleweight title twelve times successfully, before losing on a close decision to Ray Leonard.

Hagler was unbeaten in his last thirty seven fights before facing Ray Leonard, or eleven years. He avenged his first two losses more than once, and avenged his two draws, all with knockout wins.

Hagler's title opponents and their records at the time of the fight:

Vito Antuofermo 45-3-1
Alan Minter 38-6-0
Fulgencio Obelmejias 30-0-0
Mustafa Hamsho 31-2-2
William Lee 22-2-0
Tony Sibson 47-3-1
Wilford Scypion 26-3-0
Roberto Duran 77-4-0
Juan Domingo Roldan 52-2-2
Thomas Hearns 40-1-0
John Mugabi 25-0
Ray Leonard 33-1-0

Most impressive winning streaks: 17-0 (14), 20-0 (18; ) , 16-0 (14)
Longest knockout streak: 10
Times knocked down: 1
Other titles held: Massachusetts middleweight title
Record in world title fights: 13-1-1 (12)

Hagler's total title opponents' record at the time of the fight: 444-25-6 (93.1% win rate)

Hall of famers fought: Roberto Duran, Ray Leonard (2)

Unbeaten fighters fought: Terry Ryan (0-0-0), Sonny Williams (0-0-0), Dornell Wigfall (8-0-0), Cove Green (4-0-0), John Mugabi (25-0-0), Sugar Ray Seales (21-0-0), Johnny Baldwin (29-0-0), Ray Phillips (11-0-0), Mike Colbert (23-0-0), Fulgencio Obelmejias (30-0-0)

Among Hagler's wins were three multi-weight champions, five middleweight champions and five punchers who appeared in The Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time.

Marvin Hagler was rated at #35 in The Ring Magazine's 100 Greatest Punchers of All Time, and is generally regarded as one of the top three middleweights of all time. He was effectively the best middleweight in the world for ten years – he was the champion for seven of those, but was the number one contender for three years before he won the title. And we know he was better than Valdez, Corro, Antuofermo and Minter.

Marvelous Marvin also looks very impressive on film. He could do everything. To me, he was the most complete fighter ever. Nobody can name a single attribute that Hagler didn't have or didn't perform well. He could box or brawl out of either stance, retreat or advance, move or swarm. He had perfect poise and balance, and hit with an accuracy equalled only by Joe Louis. He had crunching power in each hand, and had deceptively fast hands. With long arms, bulging muscles and shavenhead, Marvin Hagler was an imposing figure, and was always relaxed and cool under pressure. He was schooled in the old school arts of feinting, parrying, blocking, slipping and ducking, and could release stunning combinations like a box of fireworks with excellent technique. Hagler trained like no other middleweight before or after him, and made sure he was in top shape for every fight. Determined and courageous, Hagler would step into the ring with the most devastating punchers - Hearns, Mugabi, Hart, Scypion, Leonard, Duran, Briscoe... With the footwork of Ali and the boxing skills of Gene Tunney, Hagler made mincemeat of any come-forward slugger, and on his best day, could outbox the best boxers. It is truly amazing, to see Hagler on film calmly but savagely dismantling his opponents.

After 1983, he started to become more of a swarmer, in my opinion, and some of his boxing skills seemed eroded. The Hagler from ‘77-‘82 was near unbeatable, he was a slick boxer with that iron chin and an airtight defence. Hagler's defence is one of the most underrated I've seen - he'd slip jabs with a twist of his hips, block body shots with his elbows, duck under his opponents punches to get inside. He always had his hands up and was a great judge of distance - he'd come in with that awesome double jab, and before the guy has even thought about getting off a counter punch, Hagler's out of range again, always with his hands high. Coupled with that iron chin, the prime Hagler was impossible to knock out.

Marvelous Marvin possessed one of the most effective jabs the game as seen. Against a guy like Hamsho, who stalked his opponent and swarmed over them, Hagler could approach the fight in a workman-like manner and methodically take his man apart with stiff right hand leads. Even in attack mode, like against Minter, he would slip jabs with his excellent head movement and pump the jab in his opponent's face with unerring accuracy.

Hagler showed that when the going got tough, he could get even tougher. If the fight started going wrong, Hagler would start to go all-out to end the matter. Against Duran, when he was behind on the cards, Hagler stepped up the pace and made sure the judges knew who to score the fight for. Against Hamsho in their second outing, where the challenger blatantly butted Hagler at least twice, the champion decided he would have no more of it, and proceeded to finish the fight in the same round. Also against Hearns, when referee Richard Steele called time to check Hagler's cut, he stepped up the pace and knocked Hearns out because he thought the fight was in danger of being stopped.

Handspeed, footspeed, footwork, power, combinations, stamina, infighting, boxing, technique, defense, chin, accuracy, timing, balance, strength, heart, determination, toughness, body punching, switch-hitting, reach, professionalism... Name what you like, I'll bet Marvin Hagler had it in spades.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was perhaps the greatest and most dominant champion within his weight class that the history of boxing has ever seen. On pure fighting prowess, there is nobody I've ever seen that can match Hagler's all-round ability - not even the likes of Robinson, Duran, Pep or Armstrong.

Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed the article. All feedback is appreciated.

Article posted on 08.11.2005

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