There was no fanfare whatsoever, there was no big payday and there were hardly any fans taking notice, but today, 45 years ago at the Brockton High School gym, Marvin Hagler boxed as a professional for the very first time. It would prove to be a great and hugely lucrative career choice – eventually.
For Hagler the road would be long and hard, most of it uphill. Fighting for $50 paydays, the future Marvelous Marvin, having had a veritable handful of amateur fights (Hagler famously saying years later when looking back, how a trophy cannot buy a bag of groceries – a pro payday can) worked as hard as can be as he chased the big money that could secure his life.
The shaven-headed southpaw fought at a tremendous rate ducking nobody. Often fighting in the hometown of his opponent, Hagler was to grow accustomed to a bitter taste – that of being robbed. It happened at least twice during the future middleweight king’s early career – in decision losses to Bobby Watts and Willie Monroe – and the anger and the paranoia of being stolen from and the possibility of it happening again stayed with Hagler forever.
Little did he or his growing number of fans know at that time, but a robbery (or at least Hagler’s perception of one) would end his career one day. For now the goal remained: that of conquering the 160 pound division. But first yet another debatable decision went against him and prevented Hagler from reaching his goal.
Having had to wait so long to get his first cracking at a world title (Ted Kennedy amongst others assisting Hagler in getting his deserved shot) Marvin was in no mood to let it slip. To many he never, but defending champion Vito Antuofermo was awarded a controversial 15-round draw. The familiar taste resurfaced once more. Hagler was in tears and almost inconsolable. Only the great, the immortal Joe Louis, who told the embittered Halger how he had been robbed (Marv alerady knew), managed to persuade Hagler to carry on.
Eventually, after having had 54 pro fights – an entire career and then some by today’s standards – Hagler claimed the coveted belt. Ripping it (the only accurate description when it comes to this slaughter) from Britain’s Alan Minter inside three bloody rounds, Hagler was at last the champ. Twelve retentions followed, with Hagler cementing his greatness with wins over Roberto Duran, John Mugabi and, in what is often called the greatest middleweight title fight in history, Thomas Hearns. Then came the fight that continues to haunt Hagler and his fans and will do so forever: the Hagler-Leonard fight of 1987.
Who really won, Sugar Ray or Marvelous, is an old questions; prompting the return of an even older debate, but the fact is, Hagler still burns over this fight, or its result: a split decision win awarded to the returning Leonard.
Hagler may or may niot have been robbed, but he wa now a rich man, a great man, and an idolised man. Hagler’s millions of fans know who won that night in Las Vegas and Hagler sure had come a long, long way from the day when he stopped a guy named Terry Martin inside a couple of rounds inside a school gymnasium.
Is Hagler THE greatest middleweight ever? Is he today the greatest living fighter?