It’s 1982 and no one doubts that undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler is the best active boxer on the planet, pound-for-pound. While Aaron Pryor, Michael Spinks, and Larry Holmes are also in the running, the only fighter viewed as being a clear threat to Hagler’s status, Sugar Ray Leonard, has retired. What a sad situation: you’re the best and everyone knows it, but you have no one to challenge you, no one to help you demonstrate your prowess, and most importantly, no one to help you earn the kind of paycheck your talents should command.
Instead, Hagler was left to deal with the dregs of a not particularly strong middleweight division. A proposed superfight with Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns had fallen through earlier in the year, and while Marvin was the only unified champion in the sport, meaning he held titles from both the World Boxing Council and the World Boxing Association, that also meant he had to pay attention to the edicts of both bogus organizations if he wanted to hold onto the belts.
Hagler had already exhibited his vast superiority over Fulgencio Obelmejias in January of 1981, battering the Venezuelan into a helpless heap in eight one-sided rounds in his first title defense. No one knew what Obelmejias had done to regain status as the top contender and mandatory challenger for the title, but he had done just that and thus he deserved a rematch with Marvelous Marvin. Or so decreed the WBA.
If the contest itself was plagued by a sense of futility and déjà vu, the location was equally absurd: the Teatro Ariston in San Remo, Italy. If no one could explain why this rematch was necessary, they also didn’t know why the fight was happening where it was; but evidently Hagler enjoyed his time in “The Boot,” as after he retired from boxing he made a new life for himself in the land of Leonardo and linguine.
But that was several years later. In 1982 Hagler was clearly not happy to be in Italy and and none too pleased to be facing an opponent he had already soundly beaten. One reason for this was that Marvin did not forget the fact that following their first match, Fulgencio had blamed his poor showing on a virus, telling everyone he was suffering from a bad cold.
“Making excuses like he’d lost to some rinky-dink instead of giving me the credit I deserved,” fumed Hagler. “The first time I punished him. This time I’m gonna hurt him. I’m gonna make damn sure there won’t be no third fight. I don’t wanna ever see his ugly face again.”
Hagler proved to be a man of his word, but so did Obelmejias who did indeed appear fitter and sharper than in the first match, winning the first two rounds as he got off to a faster start than the champion and caught Marvin repeatedly with solid uppercuts. But in round three Hagler began to apply pressure in earnest, putting ‘Fully Obel,’ as the champion referred to him, on the run. It was clear to all: despite the WBA’s high opinion of the challenger, he posed no serious threat to Marvelous Marvin.
Hagler almost ended it in the fourth when the bell saved a stunned Obelmejias from further punishment, and in round five the challenger was in full-on survival mode, taking heavy bombardments from the champion while offering no meaningful resistance. Then, southpaw Marvin launched a perfectly timed and vicious right hook with all his weight on it, the blow landing cleanly on the challenger’s jaw and slamming him to the floor. He never came close to beating the count.
“Well,” asked Hagler at the post-fight press conference, “did he have a cold this time?”
A clean knockout for Marvelous Marvin and, all things considered, an embarrasing outcome for the WBA. It was evident to everyone this had been a pointless rematch and that Obelmejias could not possibly be the most formidable contender in the middleweight division. In fact, Tony Sibson deserved that appellation and less than four months later Hagler would dispatch the Britisher in equally dominant fashion. This was Marvin Hagler’s peak and he was showing to one and all that he was a truly ‘Marvelous’ middleweight champion; indeed, one of the very best of all-time. — Michael Carbert
Painting of Marvelous Marvin Hagler by Damien Burton.