Hagler tames The Beast but Sugar Ray is watching and he likes what he sees

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was making the twelfth defence of his middleweight championship of the world. With eleven successful defences under his belt he was chasing Carlos Monzon’s world record. Monzon had notched up fourteen defences and Hagler wanted to make history by going one better than the Argentine legend.

This was back in March of 1986, and going into his fight with the undefeated puncher John Mugabi – “The Beast” as he was known among the boxing crowd – Hagler was four title fight wins away from his goal. Hagler managed the win, but the punishing manner in which he achieved victory, finally overwhelming Mugabi in round-11, came at a price. While another boxing legend would go on to benefit greatly from the punishing battle.

March 10,1986 was the date and a huge crowd at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas paid a lot of money to watch what turned out to be the Brockton southpaw’s final ring victory.

The first surprise in a fight that thrilled millions, was the stance Hagler chose to start fighting in. He favoured the orthodox position instead of his more familiar southpaw style. Mugabi, for his part, came out aggressively. Hagler took his time and had a good look at his latest powerful challenger. The two glared at one another at the bell.

In round-two, Marvelous boxed southpaw continually (he had switched in the last remaining seconds of the opening round) and got his jab working well. The two men began trading in the session, as a fierce pace was set in motion. Mugabi was loading up with his shots a little too wide and the champ countered him to good effect. However, “The Beast” hit home with more than his share of hurt too, including a hard body shot, in a great round of action. The challenger had won his second three minutes.

By the fourth, it was definitely Mugabi who was winning the fight. He landed a good right to the head in this round, a round in which Hagler was issued a warning from referee Mills Lane for a low blow. Mugabi, unwilling to make a meal out of the infringement, kept marching forward. Mugabi had more success as he landed a flush right uppercut; this possibly being his best punch of the fight. The rock-chin of the champion served him well, as it always did, but Hagler was in a tough one now and he knew it.

The sixth-round was unquestionably the round of the fight. With both men in absolutely top shape, a brutal exchange took place – one that lasted for some time. The inside trading was awesome. More body work landed for the challenger, as did another blow by Hagler that was deemed low by Lane. The crowd began to boo as he broke the action to give the champion another warning – they did not want the savage warfare to be spoilt in any way. What was also apparent was the fact that the fight had been pretty much fought while clinch-free, especially in this round.

Round six of Hagler-Mugabi was almost – almost – as breathtaking as round one of the famed Hagler-Hearns. Hagler rocked Mugabi back on his heels with a right uppercut and the undefeated puncher was hurt. Hagler went for the finish, pounding his man, but Mugabi came fighting back bravely. He had some heart. The round ended, Marvin’s best yet.

In the seventh, Mugabi was still very much in there fighting. He was standing right in front of Hagler yet again and both guys looked tired. There was one more warning to Hagler for low blows, this one resulting in a point being deducted. Hagler nodded at Lane but inside he must have been furious. He did a fair amount of switch hitting here, trying to confuse Mugabi. There was no doubt though, he was doing his best work when fighting southpaw. At one point he landed three hard and consecutive jabs bang on target.

Prior to the start of round nine, Mugabi’s corner-man – England’s Mickey Duff – implored his man not to give up. Mugabi went out for the last third of the fight with a do or die sense of purpose. More jabs landed for the champion, as the still-advancing challenger was far less effective than he had been. Still, Hagler’s right eye showed some damage in the form of swollen tissue. It had been a punishing defence for him, with Mugabi testing him all the way.

Finally, in round-11, Hagler closed the show. Backing Mugabi up mercilessly and going for the finish, Hagler chopped away at the tired but still-game Mugabi. Then came the ending. A big right to the head, followed by a left, then another right, put the challenger down. For the first time in his life, Mugabi was on the floor. He had simply had the fight knocked out of him by a truly great fighter. Badly hurt, and with his tank completely empty, he remained in a sitting position as the count was administered over him. Mugabi didn’t quit, he just had nothing left to give.

Afterwards, a marked up Hagler hinted that his final fight may have been fought. This wasn’t the case of course. Sugar Ray Leonard, at ringsider, finally decided how the time was right for him to challenge the fearsome, but now worn middleweight king. The tough, draining and ageing battle with Mugabi took plenty of out Hagler’s remaining greatness and Leonard saw one huge and inviting window of opportunity.

We all know what happened on April 6, 1987. But if Hagler not been pushed so hard by Mugabi, Leonard’s supreme win may not have come. Timing is everything in boxing, and this Sugar Ray proved to the world just over a full year on from Hagler’s very last ring triumph.