It’s the birthday of “The Marvelous One,” an all-time great middleweight champion who, for close to a full decade, was part of any discussion about the best fighter in the game, pound-for-pound. Quick, powerful, ruthless and clever, Hagler was feared and avoided, Ray Leonard publicly stating more than once that he wanted nothing to do with the undisputed middleweight champion who, after thrashing Alan Minter in 1980, blew away one top contender after another and ruled his division with impunity.
By the time Ray decided to come out of retirement to challenge Hagler, the competitive fire of the Marvelous One had all but burned itself out. He had been fighting professionally for fourteen years, had 62 wins, and had fulfilled all of his career goals. Leonard timed his comeback perfectly. Having collected massive paydays for his fights with Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, not to mention lucrative endorsement contracts with Pizza Hut and Gillette, Hagler was seriously contemplating walking away from the fight game. As Michael Carbert wrote, his zeal for combat had waned, and against Sugar Ray it showed, though legions of fight fans still argue that Marvin deserved the decision.
Not the ending one might have wanted for an otherwise brilliant career, but it hardly matters. By that time Hagler’s credentials as an all-time great were well-established. But what people sometimes overlook is that Marvelous Marvin’s reign as the best in the world at 160 actually began well before that memorable night in 1980 when Hagler took the title from Minter and angry UK fans pelted the ring with cans and bottles. After all, it was Hagler, not Carlos Monzon or Hugo Corro, who defeated such talents as Sugar Ray Seales, Kevin Finnegan, Mike Colbert, Bobby Watts, and Willie Monroe, not to mention Bennie Briscoe, and it was Hagler who put on a brilliant performance against Vito Antuefermo in 1979 only to have the myopic judges rule a clear victory for “The Marvelous One” a draw.
But more to the point is that, while now universally regarded as an all-time great middleweight champion, Marvelous Marvin Hagler is still viewed by some as primarily a two-fisted, power-punching, knockout artist. The shaved head, the menacing scowl, the “Destruct and Destroy” mentality — it all fosters the image of Hagler as a brute of a fighter who relied on ferocity and power above all else.
But in fact this view completely short-changes “The Marvelous One” and his extraordinary talent. Here Lee Wylie breaks down for us one of the key elements of Hagler’s skill set: his sophisticated footwork and rare ability to effortlessly switch stances. Suffice to say, Hagler brought much more to the ring than power, aggression and excellent conditioning. So watch the video and appreciate anew the talent of Marvelous Marvin Hagler. And join us in wishing him a very Happy Birthday. — Robert Portis