It must have been a terrifying thing, climbing into the ring to face an at-his-peak Marvin Hagler. From the years 1979 to 1985, Hagler was all-but unbeatable. Added to this, and to the dread he may have felt if not admitted, Tony Sibson had seen what the reigning middleweight king had done in prior fights with British opponents.
Hagler had twice stopped the braver than brave Kevin Finnegan, both fights coming before Hagler had made good on his goal of becoming world champion. And all fight fans know what a bloody job Marvelous did on Alan Minter in the fight that saw the shaven-headed demon finally get to rule the world.
But Sibson, who was proud of his ability at fighting southpaws, was talking a good fight, in fact, a great, even cocky fight, going into his February 11, 1983 challenge of Hagler. “Sibbo,” who had earned his shot with good wins at European title level; Sibson defeating Minter and Nicola Cirelli, with the 24-year-old from Leicester also beating Dwight Davison in a WBC final eliminator, took the trip to Worcester, Massachusetts, armed with positivity.
But Hagler, a born fighter who had sweated buckets to reach the top, was not one to take a rival’s swagger easily. Hagler was determined to put Sibson in his place and keep his title. Making the sixth defense of the middleweight championship, Hagler, 55-2-2, went on to put on a flawless performance against the 47-3-1 Sibson.
Sharper than sharp and in typically superb condition, Hagler switched stance, he fired his bombs with brutal efficiency, and Marvelous presented a moving, hard-to-hit target. In short, as game, as he was, Sibson was never in the fight. So sharp and accurate were Hagler’s shots Sibson’s face was already marking up by round two. Later, Sibson was wearing a bloody mask, his left eye busted up and pouring.
Sibson, who Hagler would later refer to as one of his toughest opponents, let his own hands go as best he could, and the challenger did manage to get the odd shot home. But this was the prime Marvin Hagler that Sibson was facing. And Hagler, as ruthless as he was special, soon inflicted further damage on Sibson’s face, his nose in particular. There was a flash of frighting anger from Hagler at the end of the fifth round as Sibson, landing a left after the bell, was given THAT stare from the no-nonsense champ. Sibson, knowing he had crossed the line, repeatedly tried to make amends by tapping Hagler on the cheek.
Hagler was now in full seek-and-destroy mode.
Round six saw a great fighter at the peak of his powers get the finish he was looking for. Sibson, game but damaged, was forced to take a sickening hammering. Hagler let loose with both hands, his hooks sending Sibson down on his backside. It wasn’t known at the time, but Sibson’s groin protector had been snapped, perhaps by the force of his fall to the canvas. Hagler poured it on as Sibson got up and heroically tried to fire back; the champ’s bombs sending the challenger down again, with Sibson this time pitching forward on one knee. A thoroughly beaten man, Sibson somehow managed to get up, only to be saved by the referee.
Hagler blew kisses to his satisfied fans, his reign seemingly set to last as long as he wanted it to. Hagler would soon face Roberto Duran. And then Thomas Hearns. And then Sugar Ray Leonard. Sibson went back to European and British, and Commonwealth levels, and into memorable fights with Mark Kaylor and, up at light-heavyweight, Dennis Andries. “Sibbo” got a second crack at a world middleweight title in his final fight, this against Frank Tate in 1988, almost five years to the day after the Hagler fight.
Today, 64-year-old Sibson, a British fan-favorite, can attest to the fact that a primed and peaking Marvelous Marvin Hagler was indeed an unbeatable fighting machine