Marvin Hagler – ‘Marvellous’: A Biography

Marvin Hagler
Date of Birth:May 23, 1954
Place of Birth:Newark, New Jersey
Died:March 13, 2021 – Bartlett, New Hampshire
Gym: Petronelli’s Gym
Location: Ward Street, Brockton
Trainer(s): Pat and Goody Petronelli 
Boxing Career: Amateur, Professional
Nickname: Marvellous Marvin
Height: 5 Ft 8 inches. 173cm
Reach:  75 inches
Stance: Southpaw
Weight Class:Middleweight
Professional Record: Total Fights: 67, Wins: 62, Wins by KO: 52, Losses: 3, Draws 2
Notable Fights:Marvin Hagler vs Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler vs Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler vs John Mugabi, Marvin Hagler vs Sugar Ray Leonard

Marvin Hagler: Overview 

Marvin Hagler was an American professional boxer who largely ruled the middleweight division between 1973 and 1987. Indeed during this time Marvin Hagler reigned as undisputed middleweight champion between the years of 1980 to 1987 (the second longest reign at 6 years and seven months of the last century). Marvin Hagler made twelve successful defences of his title throughout this period, all but one of which coming by way of KO. 

Nicknamed ’Marvellous’; Marvin Nathaniel Hagler would legally change his name in 1982 to exactly that: ‘Marvellous Marvin Hagler’ so annoyed was he that network announcers would not refer to him as such – now they had to!

Marvin Hagler: Early Life and Amateur Career.

Marvin Hagler was born the first child of five siblings to Robert Sims and Ida Mae Hagler on the 23rd May, 1954. Interestingly it is reported his true date of birth only came to light when he was forced to cite it during his name change in 1982. Raised by his mother, Marvin Hagler first put on a pair of gloves when he was aged 10 before dropping out of school at age 14 in order to work in a factory and help support his family.

The 1967 Newark ‘race riots’ were to have a profound effect on Marvin Hagler’s family with their family home destroyed during them and the family moved to Brockton Massachusetts, where Marvin Hagler would take up the sport of Boxing. Marvin Hagler began to take boxing seriously after he was roughed up by a local boxer on the streets.

Marvin Hagler marching into a Boxing gym owned by Pat and Goody Petronelli the very next day determined to become a professional boxer. Marvin Hagler trained at the Petronellis’ gym from his first day as an amateur to his last day as a professional. A full and rather heart-warming account of the relationship Hagler had with the two brothers throughout is available to view here.

Marvin began his boxing career by lying about his age (stating he was born in 1952 as opposed to 1954) in order to qualify himself for amateur tournaments that required participants to be 16. Success would nevertheless follow with Marvin Hagler winning the 1973 National Amateur Athletic Union 165lb/75kg title and finishing his amateur career according to both Boxing and Sports illustrated with a very impressive record of 57-2*.

*Nb records of Marvin Hagler’s amateur career however do vary quite widely according to different sources.

Marvin Hagler: The Professional 

Marvin Hagler (even in his early career) was not a boxer other professionals wanted to face. Joe Frazier summed up his problems at the time when he stated 

“You have three strikes against you, …You’re black, you’re a southpaw, and you’re good.” 

Ironically, it was a trilogy against a Joe Frazier trained fighter, Willie ‘The Worm’ Monroe that launched Marvin Hagler’s career. After losing the first fight in a close decision, Marvin Hagler would win a rematch by KO in round 12 before winning the decider by KO in round 2.

Rip Valenti a Boston based promoter was impressed enough to take an interest in Hagler, offering up some ‘top ranked’ talent for him to face thereafter. Hagler ultimately winning a further trilogy in beating 1972 Olympic Gold Medal winner Sugar Ray Seales, first by unanimous decision before a draw was declared in their second bout and Hagler won the third sometime later with a brutal TKO in just 1 minute 26 seconds of the first round.

It was a fight that would set Hagler up for a title fight he justifiably felt he had systematically been denied. Bob Arum only making good on his long standing promise to guarantee Hagler a championship bout after being threatened with a Congressional investigation by Ted Kennedy, Paul Psongas and Tip O’Neil!

*It should be noted: prior to this Hagler had competed in numerous other notable fights which should have seen him granted a title shot much earlier. Amongst other: Losing a very controversial decision to Bobby ‘Boogaloo’ Watts before knocking Watts out in Round 2 of their rematch. Knocking out one Roy Jones Sr by TKO in Round 3. Then breaking number one ranked Mike Colbert’s jaw on route to knocking him out in the 12th round.

After which Hagler disposed of Kevin Finnegan (twice by TKO) once so brutally Finnegan required 40 facial stitches, and also defeated ‘Bad Bernie Brisco’ in a unanimous 10 round decision prior to taking down Willie Warren by TKO in round 7. All of whom had very accomplished and respectable records.

First Title Shot

In November 1979, Marvin Hagler fought world middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. When it was over after 15 rounds, most ringside observers thought that Hagler had won even though Antuofermo had closed the gap in the second half of the fight. Marvin claimed that referee Mills Lane said he won, though Lane denied ever saying this. Hagler also claimed that he and many others were surprised when the decision was announced as a draw. Judge Duane Ford scored the fight in Marvin Hagler’s favour, 145–141.

However, judge Dalby Shirley scored the bout for Antuofermo, 144–142, whilst judge Hal Miller scored the fight even, 143–143 ensuring Antuofermo retained his title with a draw. The end result only adding to Hagler’s frustrations as he possessed the boxing skills and killer instinct to have knocked Antuofermo out. However, in deciding to play it safe Hagler left the decision at the mercy of the judges and it would cost Marvin Hagler the title. Though most felt it very unjust.

Marvin Hagler: First Title & Incredible domination of the Middleweight division.

Antuofermo would lose the title to Alan Minter who on home soil at Wembley Arena would stoke Marvin Hagler’s fires further by commenting on his bout with him “No black man is going to take my title”. Possibly not the wisest choice of words (which he actually disputed) as it saw Hagler open up the cut prone Minter so badly by just the third round the referee halted the fight due to four glaring cuts, Minter’s management conceding defeat almost immediately on viewing them.

A full scale riot broke out among the spectators thereafter with Marvin Hagler and his team escorted back to their locker room by police all the whilst pelted with beer, bottles and glasses. Nevertheless after 7 years and 50 fights Marvin Hagler was finally Middleweight champion of the world.

Marvin Hagler: Notable defences of his title.

Marvin Hagler revelled in destroying all initial pretenders to his throne. Future world champion Fulgencio Obelmejias was KO’d in eight rounds, Antuofermo met a similar fate in a rematch when he was disposed of by TKO in four. All fights took place at the Boston Garden (near Hagler’s hometown) where Marvin Hagler began to gather a following. Mustafa Hamsho, William “Caveman” Lee, Fulgencio Obelmejias (again), Tony Sibson and Wilford Scypion all met similar fates, on Hagler’s ever-growing list of unsuccessful challengers. Each defeated inside the distance, which ensured Marvin Hagler began to receive the recognition he deserved.

Marvin Hagler: and the Legendary era of the ‘Four Kings’

Marvin Hagler vs Roberto Duran

Marvin Hagler’s first fight against the ‘super fighters’ of the era came against Roberto Durán on the 10th of November, 1983. Hagler would win but not in the destructive manor he had been winning for such fighters were as prodigiously talented as himself. Indeed, though ageing and even having moved up in weight for the fight Roberto Duran put on an astonishing performance to become the first fighter to last the distance with Hagler in a world-championship bout.

Hagler winning a unanimous 15th round decision. It should however be noted that after 13 rounds, Durán was actually ahead on all three scorecards. Marvin Hagler, left eye swollen and cut, dug deep though to come on strong in the last two rounds and ultimately win the fight with official scores of 144–142, 144–143 and 146–145.

*Note interesting trivia from this fight and articulated in the movie ‘The (Four) Kings’ is Ray Leonard stated Roberto Duran told him to fight Hagler afterwards and when Ray said why? Duran replied ‘because if you box him you will beat him’.

Other notable fights and defences.

Juan Roldán of Argentina was Marvin Haglers next opponent and became the only man to officially be credited with knocking Marvin Hagler down. Roldan scaroing the knock down mere seconds into the fight though Marvin Hagler at the time and even afterwards bitterly disputed it, claiming he was pushed and pulled to the canvas. An incensed Hagler thereafter brutalised Rolden over ten rounds before the fight was mercifully stopped. 

Again it is interesting Sugar Ray Leonard commentating at ringside remarked to HBO analyst Barry Tompkins, he thought Marvin Hagler looked ‘older and slower’ and that quote “Marvin might finally be slowing down, Barry.” Giving credence to the viewpoint that many people felt this fight gave Sugar Ray Leonard the belief he could indeed win a fight with the ageing Hagler.

Marvin Hagler vs Thomas ‘The Hitman’ Hearns

In a second fight against another of the greatest fighters of arguably the greatest era in Boxing history Marvin Hagler would fight Thomas Hearns on the 15th April 1985. Initially billed as “The Fight” and later known as “The War”, this was a bout that has been labelled ‘the three greatest rounds in boxing history’ and is best looked at round by round

If we take a look at Round 1 it can be seen that it is just an all-out ‘toe to toe’ war, which came out relatively evenly. Though unbeknownst to most Thomas Hearns would break his hand during that first round. Round 2, would thereby see a more measured approach by both fighters though Marvin Hagler would suffer a deep cut which would later cause the ring doctor to consider a stoppage.

Marvin Hagler no doubt knowing this considered one of his famous KO’s to be rather imperative! Indeed something he managed to effect somehow in Round 3 despite his vision badly impaired from a swollen eye and blood pouring into it. The fight only lasted eight minutes yet would still be declared “Fight of the Year” by The Ring.

In between Marvin Hagler’s three bouts with the best of the era, Marvin Hagler would fight and defeat Olympic silver medallist John Mugabi who had a very impressive record: 26–0 with 26 knockouts! The fight took place on the 10th March 1986 Marvin Hagler stopping the #1 rated contender (by all organisations) in the eleventh round of a brutal fight.

What was noticeable however was, Marvin Hagler was now having to find ways to win. Moreover, he was viewed by many notable ring analysts as showing sides of ‘advanced ring wear’, much slower of hand and foot, and seemingly easier to hit. Indeed Marvin Hagler had morphed his ring style; gone was the slick quick fisted, boxer/puncher style (which he is often not given due credit for) and more apparent was the flat footed, stalking, slugger style he has been commonly associated with. Bob Arum even opined afterwards, he thought Marvin Hagler would likely retire rather than accept the challenge of Sugar Ray Leonard.

Marvin Hagler vs Sugar Ray Leonard

The fight against Sugar Ray Leonard nevertheless did take place on the 6th April, 1987, at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas and was promoted as “The Super Fight” and “The King of the Ring” with Hagler a heavy 4-1 favourite. What followed however, is the stuff of legend and whilst Hagler lost on points (118–110, 115–113, 113–115), it remains the most polarising decision in boxing history to this day.

The only marginally agreed upon facts are that Leonard won the first two rounds (which Hagler peculiarly and possibly fatefully fought in an orthodox stance) and that Marvin Hagler won the fifth. Every other round in the fight divides fans, pundits, press and ringside observers alike as to who actually won it, or if the rounds were even. Indeed, respected members of the boxing community massively differ on how and how heavily they scored it with huge margins given each way. Just take a look:

Marvin Hagler Scores


You’ll need to watch the whole fight in order to properly join the debate and decide for yourselves whether Marvin Hagler (as he maintained until his dying day) was robbed of the decision, but some electrifying highlights can be viewed here:

The only thing that was certain after the fight was that when Sugar Ray Leonard opted to retire instead of given Marvin a rematch Hagler waited 14 months (during which time he did not fight again) for Sugar Ray to change his mind, before deciding to retire himself and sticking to it. Marvellous Marvin Hagler’s, incredible record is viewable here.

The End

Marvin Hagler officially retired in June 1998. Boxing experts in agreement that Hagler was one of the all-time greatest middleweights and unique in that unlike other notable fighters of the era, he did not move up and down between weights but fought and reigned solely at middleweight. A further fact of note is that the only two opponents Hagler did not knock out during his 6 and a half year reign as middleweight champion were Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard!

After enjoying retirement in Italy, Marvin Hagler unfortunately and unexpectedly died on the 13th March 2012 at the family home in Bartlett, New Hampshire.

A no nonsense collection of Hagler’s fantastic career can be seen in the following highlights reel.

Marvin Hagler: The Legend

‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler may have lacked the charisma and chutzpah of some of his more famed rivals. Nevertheless, he was a largely unstoppable force in boxing and some of his finest achievements are summarised here: 

  • ‘The Ring’ named Marvin Hagler as Fighter of the year in 1983 & 1985.
  • Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA) voted Marvin Hagler fighter of the year in 1983 and 1985.
  • Boxing Illustrated Magazine voted him Fighter of the Decade (1980s)
  • Box Rec rates him pound for pound the 29th greatest fighter of all time.
  • ‘The Ring’ named Hagler the 4th greatest middleweight of all time.
  • ‘The Ring’ named Hagler the 17th greatest fighter of the past 69 years.

Possessing possibly the greatest chin of all time and one of the hardest heads, Hagler was inducted into the International Boxing Home of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.