by Jenna J & Ruben Martinez – Sometimes the result of a fight is almost as memorable as the fight itself. On April 6th 1987, after years of anticipation, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler and ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard finally met in the ring. Leonard was thought of by most as having very little chance going into the bout, as he fought only once in the previous 5 years and was moving up in weight to take on a boxing champion who had been on a dominant run up top the middleweight division. The decision in the fight to this very day remains debated and questioned not only by boxing fans and writers, but the participants as well.
In this exclusive interview with Marvin Hagler we focus on some of his biggest and most talked about fights. Marvin discusses his bout with Sugar Ray Leonard, the choices he made in the fight and why he believes there was never a rematch. Hagler also talks about some of his toughest fights, giving his thoughts on his ring wars with John Mugabi and Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns. Additionally Marvin discussed the adversity he faced after his bout with Alan Minter, his thoughts on all the great fighters he faced, and much more. Here is what ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler had to say
JENNA: Marvin, it’s great having you back “On The Ropes”. Today is actually a little bit of an anniversary of sorts for you. It’s actually 33 years to the day that you got your rubber match win against Willie Monroe. It’s been a bit of a long time, what do you remember of that trilogy?
HAGLER: Don’t make me feel old. (laughs) 33, I’m only 29. No, no, but the Willie Monroe fight, I think that was a big stepping stone for me. At the time fighting those Philadelphia fighters, they were all tough contenders so I had the opportunity of fighting them and just moved on from there. They taught me a lot and I believe that either one of those guys in Philly could have been champion of the world if I didn’t destroy them.
JENNA: Yeah, you certainly did well and that’s something you’ve been known for in your career is doing great in rematches. If you look at some of your losses, you lost to Bobby Watts. When you took him on again you took him out in two rounds. You had a draw with a guy by the name of Sugar Ray Seales, then you took him out in one round, and of course Willie Monroe in the final fight you took him out in two. Why do you think you were so impressive in those rematches?
HAGLER: Well I believe that I probably got madder and things happened in between the ropes there which I didn’t like, because there was a draw and whatever and I think we should do it again. That I think is the mark of a great champion, when either way, you give the guy another opportunity at you. So my thing was that if you didn’t believe that I beat you the first time, then we’ll do it again.
JENNA: Well that’s certainly a great sentiment to have. You’ve had a bunch of rematches and trilogies in your career and something that you’ve been known for is your character in the boxing ring and I wanted to talk a little about your career and character. It took you six and a half years to get a title shot. What was it like to have to go through that long wait being denied that shot and then to finally get it?
HAGLER: Well it was a sweet thing in a sense, because it showed that all of my hard work and everything really paid off. I believe what you’re talking about was the Antuofermo fight back in ’79 which I felt as though I won. That was a draw. I understood now that you can’t leave a champion standing. You got to beat him decisively or knock him out in order to take the title away from him. At least that’s the way it was back then in those days. Other than that, my other highlights I would have to say would be when I won the title from Alan Minter, and then I would have to say that the biggest highlight of my career would have to be Thomas Hearns.
JENNA: That certainly would be, but let’s go back to that fight with Vito Antuofermo. I mean you wanted that title shot, you pined for it, you finally got it, and in that fight you won the first ten rounds pretty dominantly. You were very dominant, and it seemed a little bit later in the fight that you stepped off the gas, you backed off, and you allowed him to get some rounds. Do you at all regret what you did in that match there and what was the reason that you took your foot off the gas?
HAGLER: No, I don’t believe so. I think when a guy’s fighting Antuofermo, he was a bull in a sense. Not to say that he was a dirty fighter, but he used his head a lot and you really had to be cautious about his head. In that fight, like I said, I felt as though that I won that fight and they denied me of that so I went on a rampage. I was mad and anybody that stood in my way, now that I learned that part of the boxing game, is that you can’t leave them standing and that’s what I was intending on doing—not let another one stand in front of me again. So I would say the second fight with Antuofermo, when I gave him the opportunity now that I was champion, and to say to Antuofermo, ‘Okay’. I just remember me jumping up in the air with my legs and my arms because I was so glad when this guy couldn’t continue the second time and he returned my belts to me. So that was a great feeling.
JENNA: Yeah, you literally did go on a rampage there. In your next sixteen fights you won fourteen by KO. I think people learned not to job Marvelous Marvin Hagler on the cards. It certainly upsets him.
HAGLER: (laughs) You don’t want to get me upset.
JENNA: Anyways Marvin, we’re also joined by my partner Ruben Martinez
HAGLER: Hi Ruben.
RUBEN MARTINEZ: Hey Marvin. I’m happy you could join us once more.
HAGLER: Yeah, it’s great to be back on the show again.
RUBEN: It’s a pleasure having you on the show. Now Marvin, it is often debated by fans who the best middleweight of all time is, many argue that it’s you and others make the case for men like Carlos Monzon and Harry Greb. On top of that you are also responsible for popularizing he middleweight division. What does it mean to you to be ranked amongst the elite of that weight class as well as having a hand in the development of that division?
HAGLER: Well you know those are great champions and because I think I was a throwback from the old days, like a Sugar Ray Robinson and Gene Fullmer and guys I would say like Jake Lamotta, it was something that I had to do to bring back the respect to the middleweight division. At the time coming up, when the heavyweight division was really notable by Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and all these tough guys in the light heavyweight division, you had Bob Foster. In the middleweights we were lacking something, so I was very honored in the sense that I finally started gaining my recognition as one of the top middleweights in the world. But for me still, I feel as though Carlos Monzon was a great champion. It took ten years and we would have loved to have fought him if we had the opportunity, but unfortunately that never happened. So just continuing and looking at guys like Emile Griffith and all these great middleweights. It’s always been the toughest division out there in the world of boxing I feel.
RUBEN: You mentioned you had interest in fighting Carlos Monzon. That’s one of those fights that many people to this day talk about and wonder how it would have played out. Personally how do you picture that fight going if you two were matched up in the prime of your careers? And what approach do you think you would take?
HAGLER: Well I believe behind my orthodox style I’d probably be fighting him on the inside to get inside his long reach. Just knowing that this guy had a powerful right hand, I mean Monzon had one of the best right hands in the business also besides Tommy Hearns. So I kind of learned a lot and I think I would have given him a lot of fits.
RUBEN: Marvin, I wanted to get your views on a fighter who has been a stand out in the middleweight division since your retirement, that is Bernard Hopkins. What did you think of Bernard and his run in the middleweight division that included a record twenty title defenses?
HAGLER: Well I give a lot of respect with Bernard because I met him one day. I believe that he’s going to be a future Hall of Famer. I like the fact that he’s another one like myself that tried to keep the middleweight division alive, which he did. As far as the twenty defenses, I was glad in a sense that I retired, because I probably would have continued on fighting again. So I think that was the best thing that happened for me.
RUBEN: You said you are glad you retired when you did, which was fairly young at 33 years of age. What do you think of fighters such as Bernard Hopkins who fight on well into their 40’s?
HAGLER: My opinion is the best thing is to get out of the game while you’re young so that you could basically have another life. Boxing was very good for me, but then knowing that after I got out of boxing it was the best move that I made. No fighter wants to really be where can’t speak and think positively. I feel very fortunate. My thinking is great, my speech pattern is okay, and I’m able to move on. So I believe that watching guys like Muhammad Ali and all these older fighters that were able to stay inside the ring so long, the physical aspect is deteriorating in time. Even I believe a guy like George Foreman at 42 years old I think that he won the title. I mean this inspires these young fighters to continue saying, ‘Well if George did it, I can do it too’ but I think that is a bad move for fighters because even though you think about it, the shot is not there. It’s only there in your mind. Then if your legs go, what do you got? The best way is to leave the game with respect and without making yourself look bad or regretting anything that you have done.
RUBEN: You left boxing while you were still near the top of your game. I know you said you’re happy with your decision to retire when you did, but did it ever cross your mind after retiring to maybe make a comeback and seeing if you could pull off another run?
HAGLER: Well you know, in my opinion, when I started watching these younger fighters in my division coming up and then you start thinking I can take that guy and whatever like that. You got to smack yourself in the head, ‘Hello Marvin! You’re retired! Let them guys do their own thing’ and it’s great entertainment for you. But hopefully there’s somebody who will try to do the same thing I did and bring the dignity into my middleweight division. So that’s basically what I was looking at, but again, I’m glad that I’m out of there. I’m tied up in chains. No more ice. I think ice was my best friends. I’d sleep with it every night.
JENNA: Now Marvin, you fought some of the best fighters out there from any era. You fought Roberto Duran, you fought Thomas Hearns, you fought Sugar Ray Leonard. What was it like to fight all these great names and how do you think they would do in today’s division?
HAGLER: Well you know, that was a tough time in a great era in a sense because I believe that all these guys could fight. You weren’t going to have a field day like with what they’re doing today. I mean all these guys had like over forty fights or whatever, where these guys now today have only like twenty fights and they’re world champions? I mean, come on! It took me fifty fights to get a shot at the title, which was probably the best thing so I was able to hold onto it a lot longer. Most of the fighters today, I think they hold the title from about six months to one year and then all of a sudden they lost it. So I still feel as though for the throwbacks in the old days that that was the best lesson for me, to go through the hard way, which I did, and then when you retire it’s knowing that you have fought the best in the world. You got nothing else to prove.
JENNA: Marvin you mentioned how long you held on to the title. You were champion for over 7 years by the time you faced Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring. To make that fight, you made certain concessions. You allowed the fight to be only 12 rounds, instead of the usual 15. How much do you think this played a factor in terms of the result?
HAGLER: Well, first of all I think that I gave him everything only just to get this guy inside the ring. As a matter of fact I told him that I’d even fight him in his living room because he wanted everything—he wanted the bigger ring, he wanted bigger gloves, I mean, come on! Do you want to fight, yes or no? I had been waiting like four years for this guy. I don’t talk behind anybody’s back, but I feel as though I won the fight and I feel as though that I don’t think there’s any way in the world that you can beat the champion on a close fight decision. I believe that it should go to the champion, which they did to me years ago when I fought Vito Antuofermo, as you know. So they taught me that you cannot leave the man standing, and I’ll tell you something—I came out of that ring with not a scratch on me for the first time out of any of the tough guys that I fought, and I felt that anyone of those guys that fought me, they had the ability and the opportunity to become champion of the world. I’m very satisfied, I’m very happy, and I’m pleased with my accomplishments, because with the Leonard fight, it just showed me that he wasn’t really a champion because a real champion would have gave me a rematch just to show the public that it wasn’t right. If it was me, and the shoe was on the other foot, I automatically felt as though that if you felt as though you got a raw deal, “Okay, let’s do it again!” That’s the way that a real champion is about. Today, you don’t got these real champions.
JENNA: When people look at the Leonard fight today, everyone scores it differently. You yourself, the last time we had you on you said you broke all of your TVs when you watched it. Looking back at the fight now, is there anything you wish you did differently? The first few rounds you actually fought orthodox. Do you have any regrets about the way you chose to fight Leonard?
HAGLER: No. If I look at it again, I’ll probably break another television. But anyway, I feel as though I did the best that I could do, whether I was fighting orthodox or whatever like that. The main thing is not trying to go out there and try to knock the guy out. The main thing is just to win that fight and that’s what I felt as though I did, and still do inside my heart, I don’t feel any differently. I still feel like a champion like I told you before and nothing has changed.
JENNA: Do you have any regrets at all about choosing to retire when Leonard’s future was unclear after the fight?
HAGLER: No, I believe I hung around for another year hoping Leonard would give me a rematch—which he didn’t—and I felt as though I realized that your life must go on, I’m still young. I believed if I got involved in acting it would take me at least five years to mature in a different field—which I did. As a matter of fact, I have four films that are behind me and I’m looking for another one right now, too. This is great. At least one thing, by making films, you know that it’s not real so it doesn’t hurt as much as getting punched. (laughs)
JENNA: Marvin, I have actually had a chance to speak with Ray Leonard, and I asked him why a rematch did not happen and if he really did not want to fight you again. Here is what he said…..
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: Why wouldn’t I have given him a rematch? I mean that would have been a perfect fight again. That first fight was relatively close, but that would have generated so much interest for a second fight. I mean I would have done that in a heartbeat. Hagler, I think he forgets that he went away. He moved away to Milan, Italy. So he was the one who threw his hands up and said no more. I’m not going to do this any longer and he retired. So you need to call Hagler back.
JENNA: What do you think about Ray’s comments?
HAGLER: Well you know, that is Leonard. Everybody knows Leonard and they can imagine what he was going to say, but that was not true. I was still here in America. If the fight was to happen, I would have took that fight right away because I hung around the game for one year until I realized one thing. This guy is waiting for you to get old. He’s waiting for me to maybe come back and fight somebody else and then they beat you. He had all kinds of excuses. There’s no way. He was also afraid probably that you see every time I fought a person the second time what I did to them. He was nervous and I know. He didn’t want to fight. So I realized that, so you know what I had to do. I had to start putting my head together and started putting my life together and started thinking about my future and it was time for me to move on, not sit here and wait for this guy to dictate to me again if he’s going to do it or not. Hello! If you wanted to fight, that’s all you had to say right then. Just give me the rematch just like any other champion would have done.
RUBEN: Marvin, I want to touch on a situation you had to deal with earlier in your career. The bout you had with Alan Minter in London, England, where many British fans were angry and began throwing bottles and other things into the ring. Looking back at that now, what are your thoughts on British fans? Do you still feel upset by the things that transpired that night?
HAGLER: Well I think that what they did was, they kind of banned boxing after when they had seen what happened to me on television. They were kind of leery and scared a little bit about having the fighters go over to that country, but the English people have been so apologetic to me. It only takes a handful of people to make the whole country look bad, and I forgive them for that now. What is it, 1980 when I won the title? So here we go talking about my age again. (laughs) I told them that I would never go back to that country and I lied, because I realized that it was only a handful of people that did that. I got what I wanted. I went after the title. I took the title without any question. I stopped him in the three rounds and it was just a terrible way that I couldn’t enjoy it. I believe that I’m the only champion in the world that never received the belt inside the ring. I still get a little jealous about that sometimes when I see other champions holding up their belt after their match. But for my protection and everything, the bodyguards did a real good job on getting me out of there. I was just on my knees and just thanking God for really just giving me my gift that I wanted all my life. So I was happy about that.
RUBEN: Marvin, we have had a fighter on the show that you are familiar with, Sugar Ray Phillips, a man you defeated in 1977. He gave us his thoughts on having faced you in the ring and I wonder if you could give us your perspective of that match and whether there was anything that surprised you about him.
HAGLER: Well I think there was another fighter I was supposed to fight. I think his name was Vinnie Curto, and he had pulled out of the fight. So then they put in this guy called Sugar Ray Phillips and I remember this guy ran even faster than Leonard. I mean he was quick. Then I finally got upset with him and I stopped him. But this guy was another runner. You know what I’m trying to say. So those type of things, you have to get a guy out of there kind of quick so that they really don’t embarrass you, you know what I mean? But he was a pretty good fighter. I think I broke his jaw, didn’t I? Did he mention that?
RUBEN: He did not mention that, I don’t believe.
JENNA: No, I don’t think he mentioned that. He mentioned that you kept hitting him with your head. He said you kept using your bald head to head butt him.
HAGLER: It’s so funny, because that fight in the sense like in the years, you think about Muhammad Ali and Ken Norton where Ken Norton broke Muhammad Ali’s jaw. Then I remember my manager and trainer telling me, ‘You know Marvin, you broke the guy’s jaw. The guy is in the hospital and you got to go see if he’s okay’. I said, ‘For what? This guy is trying to kill me and you want me to go to the hospital and see this guy? No way! Hell no! Forget him!’ (laughs) It’s a dirty business. There’s no friends in that ring.
RUBEN: Well that fight with Sugar Ray Phillips was certainly not your last rough fight. Later on in your career you met a young and hungry fighter by the name of John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi. He was 26-0 with 26 knockouts. I want to get your views on that grueling back and forth fight you had.
HAGLER: I give John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi a lot of credit, I give Roberto Duran a lot of credit, and I give Thomas Hearns a lot of credit because these guys came out there and tried to take my title. Mugabi tried to knock my head off. I mean this guy here was kind of awkward. I mean he was a big puncher, 20 fights, 20 knockouts, but I said, ‘You know what? You’ve never been in the ring with the Marvelous One, and I’ll tell you what. I will feast on ‘The Beast’.’
RUBEN: Marvin, one interesting note on your career were rumors of a potential fight between you and Light Heavyweight champion Michael Spinks. I’m wondering, how close was that fight to being made? And if that fight would have happened how do you think you would have handled moving up in weight to face Spinks?
HAGLER: Well basically there was nothing in the light heavyweights, anyway, at that time. Now the light heavyweight division looks a lot better than it did in many years since you had guys like Roy Jones who kind of controlled that light heavyweight division, because really, it was always a weak division. My division in the middleweight division was a very tough division when you talk about the guys that we’re talking about right now. The light heavyweights, there wasn’t much. As far as Michael Spinks was concerned, we should have fought him in the amateurs back in the AAU years ago. So I don’t feel as though that at that time, that I was putting on fifteen pounds like these guys are doing today. If it was anything that was going to happen, I would have had him come down to my weight which would be 160. So that’s what happened in that area.
RUBEN: Alright Marvin, one thing I like to ask fighters is what they would do if they hadn’t taken up boxing. For you, what do you think you would have done if you had to choose a different path in life?
HAGLER: Oh, it’s like mostly everybody else. You’re either going to be in crime or you’re going to be in jail somewhere doing something negative and nothing positive, you know what I mean. I think boxing was the best thing that ever happened to me to give me an outlook on life and also it was my best teacher. I mean it educated me in so many ways in being able to help other people in the world today by my name and what I’ve done. Like my website, I got my website going where I’m talking with a lot of people over the air. I’m doing a lot of charity work which is for my Marvelous Marvin Hagler Scholarship Fund in Brockton. I’m helping those kids, about 2,000 kids that we’re able to send to school to college. This is something that I’m able to do which is great. I’m working another charity thing which is the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation with other athletes all around the world. I mean Boris Becker, Edward Moses, Martina Navratilova and all these people. I’m like the 43rd member of that group and we help all these people from the foreign countries and everything. It’s really surprising and I’m enjoying what I’m doing this way.
RUBEN: When you looked back at your career, and the people you have fought, which fighters do you respect the most?
HAGLER: Well, basically, I will tell you this: I will give Duran, I will give Tommy Hearns, and I will give Mugabi more respect because these guys came to take away my title. Not like Leonard who ran like a little girl—excuse my language, I’m sorry. They didn’t just try to survive and not to win the fight, I really couldn’t see that. But Roberto Duran, I enjoyed fighting him, because of the fact here’s a three time world champion who had a lot of skills, and for me to take away all of his adversaries in a sense, and to be able to come back with something of myself and to show him—that’s why I am here, because I am the middleweight champion of the world, and there’s no way that you’re going to take my title. Not unless you hit me with that ring post, because that’s the only way I’m going out.
JENNA: I just have a few more questions for you Marvin. When boxing fans look back at your career, there is one fight they always seem to talk about the most, that being your all out war with Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns. It has been named one of the 30 greatest fights ever. Going into that fight, were you prepared to be put through that kind of a ring war?
HAGLER: Well, I think in training camp and everything like that, I think you have to be prepared for anything that Tommy’s got to do, so I can do it better. So I believe that with the excitement that was going on, naturally just your ability which we trained for and knowing which way you have to go to your offense and which way you have to go to your defense. I mean, it was a war. He wanted it, and I wanted it more, because I wanted to prove to the world—and I never said that I was the greatest, I said I was the best middleweight champion of all time. And then after the fight, I remember talking with the announcer there, who said to me, “Well Marvin, you really haven’t proved yourself ever as a great fighter.” So I remember after the fight, I said to him, “Well? Now? Am I great now?” He says, “Well Mr. Hagler-Marvelous—I would have to say, you are the greatest.” Ohhhh! I waited for you to say that. (laughs)
JENNA: How do you feel about the way this fight has stuck in the mind of boxing fans through the years?
HAGLER: Well you know it surprises me, because if I go to the shopping store or whatever when I’m walking around or whatever, everybody is looking at me and everybody is talking to me about that fight just like it happened yesterday. I can’t get away from it myself. I mean the people are saying, ‘Oh! That right hand shot!’ and people bring me back into that fight again. I thought it was a great fight. I’m glad with the outcome because I finally gained the recognition that I won it. Like I said, it was the highlight of my career but it’s not only those fights. I mean a lot of people walk around talking about the Leonard fight and whatever. I mean how long, 22 years or whatever I’ve been outside the ring and people bring you back just like it was yesterday. It’s a funny thing.
JENNA: Yeah it certainly is, but you know that’s the impact you’ve had on boxing. You gave boxing fans many great fights.
HAGLER: Well it’s great to talk with the people about the boxing. It’s not like some people you want to shut yourself off or whatever. No. I enjoy that the people who really know anything about boxing, they catch my ear. Some people talk a bunch of junk sometimes, too, who don’t know anything about boxing. They just have seen it. A fortunate thing that happens to me right now is when I got young kids who come up to me and say, ‘Me and my father, my father sat me down to watch your fights and I think you’re one of the greatest’. Then when I’m doing all this fan mail, which I have to do tonight, too, to autograph all these things and whatever and send them out to all these people. They all speak very respectfully so that’s why I don’t mind. Some of these things bring you back, too. So I enjoy it. Again it gives me an opportunity to stay in touch with my fans.
JENNA: Great, well my final question does involve the fans. Is there anything you want to say to all the boxing fans out there, your fans, and the listeners of On the Ropes Boxing Radio?
HAGLER: (laughs) I don’t know. Listen, just stay with The Marvelous One inside and outside the ring. I love you all and thank you very much for staying in there with me. It was a tough road but we made it to the top and we want to stay that way, not just inside the ring but outside the ring as well.
JENNA: Well it’s been an absolute pleasure having you on the show, Marvin. You’re entertaining as always.
HAGLER: It’s great to be back.
JENNA: Thank you. Thank you. It was great having you on.
HAGLER: Thank you very much, too