There must be something boxing related about the town of Doncaster in south Yorkshire, UK. A few years back, Thomas Hearns and the equally legendary Roberto Duran visited the town on a hugely enjoyable after dinner speaking tour, and last night, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was in town on a speaking engagement of his own. That’s three of The Four Kings in the past four years to have rode into Doncaster.
Last night’s event was, well, marvellous. Hagler, still a formidable looking presence, posed for photos (hundreds of them), signed autographs and took to the microphone to speak about his legendary career – one that saw him become arguably the finest middleweight ruler in boxing history.
Joined by the evening’s M.C, former welterweight champion John H. Stracey, as well as former two-time heavyweight boss “Terrible” Tim Witherspoon, Hagler, 59, had the large crowd in the palm of his hand throughout. There to hear Hagler speak about his epic rumbles with the likes of Hearns, Duran, John Mugabi and of course, Sugar Ray Leonard, there were amongst the fans some recognisable fighters from today’s scene: including former IBF Bantamweight champ (and soon to be WBA title challenger) Jamie McDonnell and his brother Gavin and upcoming cruiserweight prospect Sam Hyde.
Hagler had the following things to say:
On the Petronelli brothers:
“They’ve both passed away now. I still think about them every day. I believe that they are with me, every day, when I’m on my travels, when I do my boxing, watching over me every step of my way. My hat goes off to them. They are people I love. I grew up in a poverty-stricken area and I was able to find two people, who in the beginning I didn’t really trust very much, but through the years we earned respect for one another, and they really saw something inside of me. They gave me the encouragement, that I had something that I didn’t even know that I had. They taught me everything, not only being a fighter, but being a gentleman. They also taught me another thing: love the policemen, because one day you might need them (laughs).”
On his title win over Britain’s Alan Minter, when Hagler DID need the assistance of the police when Minter’s unruly fans pelted the new champ with bottles!
“First things first, I want to talk about Vito Antuofermo. I give Antuofermo a lot of credit, because he was a little bull. He was kinda tough and we knew it and I trained very hard for Antuofermo. And I tell you, he kept coming but I was snapping them jabs and I was hitting him with right hands, I was landing combinations and I had a lot of footwork and movement and I felt as though I beat him, but at the end, when the smoke cleared, I lost and he won because he was the champion (the fight was scored a draw as fans will know). I thought that was unfair and I thought a lot of politics were involved. But one thing that was very nice was when I walked down the stairs, Joe Louis, I remember, grabbed my hand and said, ‘Hey, Kid, you won that fight, don’t give up.’ I said, ‘Hell, no, I’m going back to the gym.’
“So then I focused on Alan Minter. I never knew that much about Alan Minter at that time, except that I knew that I should have been the next one in line, for a return match with Antuofermo. That put a lot of anger inside me – and you don’t wanna see me mad (laughs). So I think that’s when the fire started burning. I knew there was a guy across the sea, all the way over in England, and I knew he had something that I wanted. And I felt as though I deserved it [the title] and he didn’t deserve it. Every day I ran beside the ocean and I was dreaming about it, of becoming champion of the world. I had to go across that water to take what I wanted. But I thank Alan Minter to this day for giving me the opportunity. He was a well respected champion and he showed me what kind of a champion he was, even though that was a three-round stoppage. He took a lot of punishment but he showed me a lot of guts. All the things that happened after, I really went blind because I was so happy that I had finally achieved what I wanted and what I worked so hard for, and when I went down on my knees to thank God, I didn’t realise all these things were going on. My people covered me and bottles were just missing my head, and I remember the bobbies (policemen). But it was only a handful of people who made the whole country look bad.”
On his classic war with Hearns:
“That particular fight was the highlight of my career. I had been denied so many things, maybe because I wasn’t flash enough or because I wouldn’t kiss ass. Tommy became the number-one [challenger] as Roberto Duran had been, even Leonard after he’d been out of the ring all that time was ranked number-one. All I did was fight the number-one. I gave them all a chance at my title. The Tommy Hearns fight was so much excitement and to this day I give Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran and [John] Mugabi – because I’ll never forget that punch, he caught me with that uppercut – I give them all a lot of credit. They came to take away my title. Everyone tells me that that fight [against Hearns] is the most exciting fight in history; those three rounds. And I tell you, I get chills in my body every time I see that fight. Right now just talking about it, I get chills. Tommy made some remarks to me, he said to me, ‘Hey, Hagler, you know what I’m gonna do to you? I’m gonna knock your bald head off!’ I said, ‘Good! You’re gonna show up and I’ll get paid.’
“People ask me about that 3rd-round and I didn’t even think about it. You train so hard that when you go into a fight you should be able to go in there almost blindfolded, that’s how much the fight meant to me. My combinations were coming out without me even think they were there and this fight became a war. Tommy was gutsy and he came out and caught me with a few punches. But I told him I’d eat the right hand like Pac-Man and come after him (laughs).”
On his battle with Mugabi:
“Was I ever nervous ahead of that fight? Of course I was (laughs). You get nervous ahead of every fight. This guy had 20 knockouts out of 20 fights and I said to him, ‘You have never met The Marvelous one!’ Mugabi was another one who was cocky, because he was knocking everybody out. He didn’t speak English that well, and I remember at the press conference, he punched a hole in the big cardboard picture of me. I said, ‘You felt good about that, huh? Let me tell you, that’s not the real thing.’ He said, ‘I gonna knock you out!’ I said, ‘I’m gonna feast on the beast!’
On the controversial loss to Leonard:
“All I say is I know in my heart I won that fight and in my heart I still feel like the champion. I’m still the champion in my heart.”
Hagler was then given a standing ovation. No doubt about it, the Doncaster audience packed in to hear Hagler speak feel their hero was robbed in his final ring appearance.