Tuesday, July 24, 2007


From left: Bernard Hopkins, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya

It was nice to see Marvelous Marvin Hagler in Las Vegas for last weekend’s match between Bernard Hopkins and Winky Wright. (And his Christian name was legally changed to “Marvelous” in a Massachusetts court). But at the same time it was a grim reminder of how far boxing has fallen from notice by the mainstream sports fan in this country since the days when Hagler ruled the roost.

Hagler was a special guest on ESPN2 Friday Night Fights and at one point he was joined by Oscar De La Hoya (aka The Golden Boy) and there could have been no more of a stark contrast of the past and the present than there is between Hagler and De La Hoya. It was like night and day on the stage together.

Think of it this way if you want and then the absurdity hits home. Oscar De La Hoya made more money in his one fight against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. than Marvin Hagler did in his entire hall of fame career - which consisted of 67 fights and 12 successful title defenses.

During his heyday, Hagler said, “I’m a monster. I don’t like my opponent. I only have one thing on my mind, and that’s destruction – to get him the hell out of there. And when the fight is over we shake hands.”

Before moving to the hometown of Rocky Marciano to escape the hell of the Newark, New Jersey riots, Hagler grew up as a loner in the ghetto and once said, “If I had a dollar in my pocket…I kept my mouth shut.”

During Marvin’s time there was a plethora of great fights and great fighters with megafight after megafight. But sadly, boxing has become a sport where a superfight like Mayweather versus De La Hoya or Holyfield versus Tyson only comes along once or twice a decade.

Corporations such as AOL-Time Warner, which owns HBO, and Viacom, which runs Showtime, are the new shot callers. The corporate suits have scrubbed away the grime of the fight game and they are antiseptic and clinical in their approach to promotion and presentation.

So as Hagler relived old times the other night on the television I’m sure a lot of boxing fans felt a certain tingle. Back when Hagler ruled the middleweights with an iron fist he came into the ring to the song “War” and wore trucker hats emblazoned with terms like “Destruct and Destroy”.

The “Marvelous One” routinely locked himself away in the jail-like solitude of his training camp in Provincetown, Massachusetts and sharpened his body and mind to such a fine point that he was like a surgeon’s scalpel on fight night. Hagler slashed Mustafa Hamsho’s face so viciously that he left it a bloody mess with three cuts that required 55 stitches. With Marvin there was never any question of his intentions when he stepped through the ropes, into the squared circle and onto the world stage.

In comparison, Oscar De La Hoya trained for his recent fight with Floyd Mayweather, Jr. at his home in Puerto Rico and nestled in each night with his wife and son at their palatial, oceanfront estate.

De La Hoya should have remembered that it was Hagler who once said, “It’s hard to get up and do roadwork when you’re wearing silk pajamas.”

There were title defenses against “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran, Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. But there was also great fights against guys like John “The Beast” Mugabi, Vito Antuofermo and Mustafa Hamsho. For Hagler, every fight was a grudge fight and the blood and savagery always made you remember how serious he and this game they call boxing can be.

So it was quite an event to watch him sitting beside the serene and cordial Oscar De La Hoya on the eve of the skirmish called “Coming to Fight” between Hopkins and Wright.

Oscar was once a helluva fighter in his own right but as he has aged he has only fought a few times in the past several years and he is now, at best, a part-time fighter. His “fights” have become glorified events more than anything else. His fencing duel against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. this past May was devoid of drama and urgency. Floyd and Oscar danced around trying not to lose rather than trying to win. In the end, the fight that was going to save boxing, deflated slowly over twelve rounds like a balloon with all the air being slowly drained from it.

Hagler would never have let things do down in such a fashion.

Personalities and stories are what make fights and fighters – and while De La Hoya has a decent life story his personality can best be described as vapid and vacuous. Hagler had a rawness about him and a side to him that was waiting to explode like a powder keg. With Marvelous Marvin Hagler you never knew exactly what you were going to get – you just knew it was going to be interesting and possibly scary.

He was a solitary beast that was content spending long hours in dark gyms searching for the respect and admiration that he always felt never came his way. One Boston columnist who covered Hagler during the glory years said, “I always feel Marvin is on automatic pilot. He gives you ‘Destruct and Destroy’ and ‘I put myself in jail’. But he never tells you anything about himself, something funny or sad in his life.”

Asked to describe Hagler all of those years ago, Hagler’s former attorney said, “There are external people and internal people. Marvin is an internal person. He is able to live within himself. Everything important to him happens right inside his head.”

When ESPN’s Brian Kenny asked De La Hoya the other night if he was going to continue fighting, Oscar’s answer was nothing like any fighter has ever uttered before. “Most importantly, I just have to talk to my wife,” claimed De La Hoya. “Because my wife is the one who knows what I should do. My wife is the one who can tell me; ‘You know what, you still have your legs, your reflexes are O.K. You know, this fighter is good for you.’ “So we’ll have to wait and see.”

It’s hard to imagine Marvin Hagler, who quit school to go to work at age 16 and was an unwed father at about the same time, allowing his wife to select his opponents.

No, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was so ornery that somebody once quipped, “the reason his head is bald is because hair is afraid to grow there.” One of his sparring partners once said Hagler was so mean that, “You hit Marvin and he just gets happier.”

After the draw decision was announced in his fight against Vito Antuofermo (a fight which most thought Hagler deserved the decision) he said he made up his mind then and there about the fight racket and how things were going to go for him in the future. “That fight taught me a lesson,” said Marvin. “You know what they want, man? They only want blood and knockouts. That’s all they want. Either you’re going to be the bad guy or the good guy. And I ain’t never been the good guy.”

No, the good guys of the world are smiling and soft and have names like “The Golden Boy”.

Guys that Marvelous Marvin Hagler used to chew up and spit out.

July 2007

1 comment:

CLK_FPC said...

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