Born in New Jersey in 1954 and debuting as a pro boxer in 1973, Marvin Hagler became one of the greatest fighters of the 1970s and '80s. Establishing himself early on as an intimidating opponent, Hagler gained the reputation of having one of the toughest chins in the sport. Finally becoming the middleweight champion in 1980, after 50 bouts, Hagler held the title for the next six years, until he was defeated by Sugar Ray Leonard in a split decision that is still disputed to this day.
Marvin Nathaniel Hagler was born on May 23, 1954, in Newark, New Jersey. He was raised without his father in a tenement section of Newark until his mother moved the family to Brockton, Massachusetts, following widespread riots in Newark in the summer of 1967. In Brockton, coincidentally the hometown of boxing great Rocky Marciano, Hagler dropped out of school in the 9th grade and worked construction jobs, spending his spare time "running a lot, stealing a little."
Hagler began boxing under the tutelage of Goody and Pat Petronelli, winning 57 amateur fights before taking the 165-pound division at the 1973 Amateur Athletic Union nationals. The 19-year-old southpaw was voted the tournament's outstanding boxer and took his 75-inch reach and strong chin into the professional ring that same year.
Marvin Hagler was soon intimidated opponents locally with his fierce approach and brute strength, and was eager to fight outside the area. He broke out of the "B" ranks in 1976 with three fights in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, two of which he lost (his first defeats ever). The losses only seemed to toughen Hagler and his resolve, and perhaps make him fight even more aggressively, as he sent several ensuing fighters to the hospital, breaking the jaw of Mike Colbert and pounding Kevin Finnegan so badly that Finnegan needed 40 stitches in his face following the bout.
After the Philadelphia losses, Hagler won 20 consecutive fights before his 1979 title bout with Vito Antuofermo, which ended in a (questionable) draw. Hagler wouldn't let his next shot at the title get away, though: He took the world middleweight crown on September 27, 1980, with a third round TKO against Alan Minter. Over the next seven years, Hagler would defend his title successfully 12 times.
'The Super Fight'
The biggest fight of Hagler's career would come in April 1987, when Sugar Ray Leonard came out of retirement for a shot at the middleweight champ. Hagler had a 37-fight unbeaten streak going at the time, but in his intense back-and-forth bout against Leonard, he couldn't find a way to put Leonard away. The fight went the distance, and the judges turned in a split decision in favor of Leonard.
The decision was controversial then, and discussion over who really won that fight has never died down. Hagler was stunned by the loss, feeling that Leonard was unfairly handed his crown. In the aftermath, Hagler began drinking, and his longtime marriage (from which he and his wife, Bertha, had five children) began to fall apart. To make matters worse, Leonard refused to entertain any notion of a rematch and retired almost immediately after the fight, denying Hagler a chance at retaking the crown. Hagler's camp tried for years to set up a rematch, but when it became clear that Leonard was in retirement for good, Hagler also retired, in June 1988. (Leonard finally came around two years later, but Hagler turned down the fight and the $15 million payday.)
After his boxing career came to an end, Hagler appeared in several films, moved to Italy and remarried. Named Ring magazine's 35th "Greatest Puncher of All Time" and The Associated Press's "Third-Greatest Middleweight of the 20th Century," Hagler was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
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