by James Slater – Forty-nine years ago today, in Hartford, Connecticut, a gifted welterweight boxer was born. Marlon “Magic Man” Starling is the fighter in question, and during the ’80s and ’90s he made a name for himself as a boxer who could, on occasion, look like a million dollars.
After an amateur career that produced very respective stats of 97 wins and just 13 losses, a 19-year-old Starling turned pro in July of 1979.. Fighting mostly in his hometown of Hartford, but also occasionally at The Felt Forum in New York, Starling won his first 25 bouts. Then, in late 1982, Starling met the great Don Curry for the first of two encounters. Fight one contested Curry’s NABF 147 pound title and Starling lost a split decision over 12 rounds. Curry then vacated this title to concentrate on world honours and Starling picked up the vacant belt. Then, in February of 1984, the two met again for Curry’s WBA and IBF belts. “The Lone Star Cobra” won again, this time on points over 15 rounds.
Starling’s career was far from over. Shortly after the Curry setback, Starling met and defeated Floyd Mayweather Senior for a second time – again on points. Mayweather, of course, would achieve far greater fame in the future as the father and trainer of the gifted “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather Junior. The second win over Mayweather Senior contested the USBA crown and the win was one Starling badly needed having lost his previous fight, to the unbeaten Pedro Vilella (Starling would also meet Vilella for a second time down the road).
Another, excellent win, followed for “The Magic Man,” in late 1985, shortly after his second victory over Maweather. Beating future champion Simon Brown via a split decision, Starling proved his class. Then another setback came. Losing on a 6-round Technical Decision to former WBA light-welterweight champ Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus because of a clash of heads, Starling picked up his fourth career loss. Amazingly, his best years were still ahead of him and it would be a long time before he lost again.
Winning four in a row (including a revenge points win over Vilella), Starling, by now aged almost 28, boxed Olympic star Mark Breland for the WBA title in August of ’87. Expected by many to be a new superstar in the Sugar Ray Leonard mould, Breland was instead beaten and stopped by Starling in 11 rounds. “The Magic Man” was a world champion at last. Two successful defences followed, including a drawn rematch with Breland that most felt Starling had in fact won – before Starling’s fight with Colombia’s Tomas Molinares.
What followed was a very controversial fight. Hit with a blow that came after the bell in the 6th round, Starling was KO’d – for the only time in his career. Or so it seemed. The KO loss was later ruled a No-Contest, due to the lateness of the Colombian’s blow. Starling was not, however, reinstated as WBA champion. It didn’t really matter. For in his very next fight, against WBC champion Lloyd Honeyghan, the man who had sensationally stopped Curry in 6 rounds three years earlier, Starling fought one of his very best fights.
Taking the Brit apart piece by piece, Starling gave Honeyghan a quite severe beating. There had been bad blood before the fight, and Honeyghan had promised to beat up Starling, but after 9 rounds “The Ragamuffin Man” was a pitiful sight. Mills Lane stopped the one-sided affair at just after 1 minute of the 9th. Starling was now a two-time world champion. One retention followed, a points win over the Korean, Yung-Kil Chung, before Starling made a quite audacious move.
Going up in weight to challenge the unbeaten IBF middleweight champion Michael Nunn, Starling acquitted himself well enough in a pretty dull fight. Nunn retained via majority verdict but was widely criticised for being pushed so closely on the cards by a welterweight. Starling, in retrospect, did well – coming as he did within reaching distance of the middleweight title. The year was now 1990, and Starling had just one fight left in him.
Dropping back down to defend his WBC welterweight title for a second time, Starling was closely out-pointed by Maurice “The Thin Man” Blocker. Once again Starling lost via a majority verdict. Retiring with a fine 45-6-1(27) record, Starling ad made his mark.
There was talk of a comeback a few years later, but nothing came of it. However, Starling’s name is still one well remembered by fight fans and experts alike. For example, when this writer was at the 2006 Floyd Mayweather-Carlos Baldomir fight in Las Vegas, a number of fellow writers were discussing “Pretty Boy’s” performance at the post-fight press conference. Michael Katz was present and he was clearly unimpressed with Mayweather’s performance and, apparently was not too impressed with Mayweather as a whole. He certainly wasn’t agreeing with talk that said Mayweather was one of the greats.
Katz brought up Starling’s name, saying he felt he’d have beaten Mayweather. “Hell,” he said. “He beat his dad twice!” A number of other writers pondered what Katz had said, while some agreed with the neck brace-wearing scribe. It was certainly food for thought. Could “The Magic Man,” the man who turns 49-years-old today, have beaten “The Pretty Boy?”
Let’s just say the fight would have been a lot more interesting and closely fought than the Baldomir affair!