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From Marvelous to Mysterious : Marvin Hagler's Life Since His Loss to Leonard Has Evolved Into an Intriguing Web of Stories, Rumors and Family Discord

August 31, 1987|RICHARD HOFFER | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — Mysterious Marvin Hagler moves through this city like a phantom. First, it's reported he's out of it entirely, holed up in a New Hampshire ski town, 150 miles away. Then it's said he's enjoying life in a posh downtown condominium. Sometimes, too, he appears at his sporting goods store in nearby Hanover.

Wherever he is seen, though, he is reported as happy. Real happy. Whatever Sugar Ray Leonard did to the bald one last April, he did not remove his smile. Only briefly, it is said, did Marvelous Marvin Hagler turn into Moody Marvin Hagler. From all accounts, he has resurfaced as Merry Marvin Hagler.

His hibernation after arch-rival Leonard unseated the world middleweight champion, and a domestic spat involving his wife and either a stone or a boulder, depending on whom you hear it from, has naturally created the impression that Hagler became unhinged in defeat.

Then, in June, a Boston TV reporter let go with an item that Hagler was dabbling in cocaine and strong drink.

Hagler, it would seem, had gone off his rocker. A fighter as much admired for his fierce work ethic as his considerable ring skill, Hagler was laying fire to his own temple. A hero hailed for his devotion to family--who can forget the Haglers, all seven of them, piling into a Winnebago for a cross-country trip the day after he'd demolished another contender?--Hagler was now leading a bachelor's life.

What was supposedly happening to Hagler made whatever happened to Dr. Jekyll look like a little mood swing.

The last boxer to take a defeat so badly might have been heavyweight Floyd Patterson, so humiliated in defeat that he took to wearing odd disguises when he ventured into the public domain. A tough loss, yes, but . . .

Of course, even as a winner, Hagler was a special case. No reason to believe he'd be any less unique as a loser. To know what it was like for him to lose, you must at least know what it was like for him to win. Consider this:

After winning his championship belt, Hagler had a special case made for it. Nobody saw case or belt except once a year. Robbie Sims, his half-brother, recalled seeing the case appear under the tree Christmas morning. Hagler would open the case, look at the belt for a while, put it back and retire the whole assembly for another season.

See, he didn't come by that belt easily. Never mind the details but it wasn't until 1979, in his 50th fight and in his seventh year of fighting professionally that Hagler got his first title shot.

It was, wouldn't you know, on the undercard of Leonard's first title fight. You can only understand the depth of Hagler's bitterness if you know just how long he endured the darkness of Leonard's shadow.

As it happened, Hagler didn't win that fight and that, too, foreshadowed the subsequent outrage of his Leonard fight.

It was thought that Hagler had indeed beaten Vito Antuofermo for the title. Referee Mills Lane, waiting for the decision, instructed Hagler to "stay facing this way until they announce the decision and I raise your arm." Instead, Lane had to raise Antuofermo's arm. The fight was judged a draw, the champion retaining his title.

No wonder then, that a year later in a match with Alan Minter for the same title, Hagler took the ring with a deadly determination. Walking down the aisle in London's Wembley Arena, where unlucky visitors were known to experience bottle showers, Hagler told his handlers, Pat and Goody Petronelli: "I'm ready to die for this. Don't stop it."

His subsequent reign as champion was nothing short of spectacular. For nearly seven years, a time during which many other champions became unhinged even in victory, Hagler dispatched all comers. He had 12 successful title fights, consolidating wealth and esteem.

As the workingman's fighter--he was all business in his preparation--his appeal was profound.

Others around him succumbed to sudden riches. But Hagler, remembering that it was sacrifice that got him where he was, retained the blue collar along with his championship belt.

Others trained in casino ballrooms. Hagler, when it was time to break camp in the desert, toiled alone in a downtown Las Vegas gym. His stubbornness was not calculated, just ingrained.

Of course, as we found out in April, none of that was enough. Sugar Ray Leonard, who spent a comfortable retirement at ringside in his formal wear, mocked Hagler by choosing to fight him in a one-shot comeback.

It was an effrontery, all right. Leonard denied him the money and fame such a fight would have brought him years ago. Now, Hagler being at least 33 and in his career's windup, here was the pretty one calling him out.

And beating him!

Leonard fought a one-in-a-million fight, the only fight that could possibly beat Hagler. Leonard executed perfectly. He fought exactly. And even so, the decision was, at best, controversial.

It was a split decision, but the scores of the three judges ranged so widely that the routine charges of fix afterward were for once taken seriously by the Nevada district attorney's office.

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