Marvelous Hagler, One Of His Last Interviews
Fighting twice as hard and twice as long to reach the pinnacle
It’s 2 years since boxing legend, Marvelous Hagler, died at the age of 66. Sports History Weekly was one of the last publications to interview the former champion before his untimely death on March 13, 2021.
At the time of our interview, he was living in Milan with his Italian wife and we found his engagement with us to be curt but accommodating. Tragically, six months later he would die from natural causes in New Hampshire where he owned a home.
We reached out to Hagler at the 40th anniversary of his first victory as the undisputed middleweight boxing champion of the world.
It was at London’s Wembley Arena on September 27, 1980, in front of a beer-fueled violent crowd, that Hagler TKO'd a blood-splattered Alan Minter in the 3rd round to win his first world title.
For the next 7 years, one of boxing’s most durable chins defended his belt twelve times against renowned fighters such as Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns, eventually losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in a controversial split decision.
Along the way, he changed his legal name from Marvin to Marvelous to force his sobriquet on the press who refused to recognize it.
Hagler retired in 1987 following the Leonard bout, posting a career record of 62 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws.
The oldest of 6 kids, he was raised in Newark, New Jersey before moving to Brockton, Massachusetts when the riots of the late 1960s left his family’s neighborhood in ruins.
Roughed up on the street one day in Brockton, he walked into a gym wanting to become a boxer. The gym was owned by Pat Petronelli and his brother, Goody, who grew up friends with Rocky Marciano.
Under their tutelage, Hagler won the U.S. National Championships in 1973 as a middleweight and turned pro the same year.
But his journey to stardom proved to be unusually long and arduous, taking twice the distance as that of his peers.
Hagler fought 11 times alone in 1974 and 49 times before getting his first shot at the title. It was one of his most bitter experiences as a boxer.
During that period, South American pugilists- Carlos Monzon, Hugo Corro, Rodrigo Valdo- dominated the middleweight division and Hagler’s trainers couldn’t line up the big hitters.
Joe Frazier once famously remarked to the young Hagler: “You have 3 strikes against you- you’re black, you’re a southpaw, and you’re good. (Southpaw referring to a left-handed fighter).
According to the Boston Herald, two official letters to promoter Bob Arum broke that impasse- one from Senator Ted Kennedy and the other from Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill.
Both from Massachusetts and swaying power over boxing in New England, they wanted to know why the 25-year-old local ring master wasn’t given a chance for the world championship title.
Arum heeded and set up a fight in Monte Carlo, Monaco against Argentina’s Norbert Cabrera with the promise that if Hagler won, he would take on either Vito Antuofermo, or Hugo Corro for the championship.
The Brockton punching prodigy dispatched Cabrera in the 8th round but then drew a split decision against Antuofermo in a 15-round encounter.
Still, Hagler was now on an irreversible trajectory and 4 fights later he was back in Europe, taking on Alan Minter for the WBA, WBC, and The Ring middleweight titles.
With intense self-discipline and a capable training team, the southpaw pugilist broke through the hurdles and challenges to become one of the greatest middleweights of all time.
You grew up in Newark, New Jersey before your family moved to Brockton, Massachusetts. Tell us a little about your childhood and what drew you to boxing as a youth.
Something was telling me that staying on the street wasn’t an option.
A lot of accomplished fighters make their mark in the Olympics before turning professional. Did you try out for the Olympic boxing team at any point?
Yes, I considered it myself, but at that time medals didn’t put food on the table.
In the early years, you fought locally in the Boston area, including several bouts in the Brockton High School gymnasium. Did they turn that gym into a professional ring just for you?
No, they had other events before the bouts.
As you were coming up in your career, did you have any trainers that you think made a particular difference in your success as a boxer?
Pat and Goody Petronelli stayed with me throughout my career. For me, they were the best manager and trainer and I made the difference. That was the reason why we were called “the triangle”.
You had an interesting regimen of training in Cape Cod during the winter and running outside in army boots. Tell us how that discipline got you into shape.
There are things that you cannot explain, but you need to follow some rules if you want to become a Champion of the World- like eat healthy food, go to bed early, get up early, etc. Being away from everything and everyone- this is what I call sacrifice.
You also had one of the hardest chins in the game. That must be a genetic trait, or is there also a psychological element in being able to take so many hits in the head?
Well, I must say that although in boxing both fighters take punches, I learned to give more than take. Boxing is an art- you have to love it as a sport, you have to train yourself appropriately. That is what I've always done.
Although you were a highly talented boxer, it took you more than 50 fights to finally reach the title. Why do you think that journey to stardom was so long?
Everybody knows why! At least boxing people know. It would be more appropriate to ask this question to the Boxing Federations. Maybe they have the right answer.
You faced some of the greatest boxers of your era- Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Roberto Duran, and many others. Did you approach each one of them with a different strategy?
I think so. I noticed that everyone sees things in a different way. The change always depends on who you're fighting.
Your legendary bout against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987 ended in a controversial split decision in his favor. Do you have any regrets or misgivings about that fight?
There is not much to say on my part. Millions of people saw the fight that evening. The word “controversial” already gives a sense of the truth. Maybe one day it will surface
How do you compare today's Middleweight fighters with the ones you faced 35-45 years ago?
You cannot compare yesterday to today. In my era a fighter had to really sweat to have the opportunity to fight for a World Title. Today, after 10 matches you can already fight for the Title. Not only this, they can even choose who they want to fight for fear of losing! What can I say...everything has changed.
When you look back, what are your most memorable moments in the ring?
I had a marvelous career. All my fights have been and will remain memorable.
You truly were a marvelous fighter. But why did you decide to legally change your name to 'Marvelous'? Do your friends and family call you that today?
Simply because I was and I am marvelous. Everybody calls me Marvelous- even you call me Marvelous!
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