Time has salved some of the hurt. "I'm still not happy with the decision, but I don't dwell on it," he says. "If the roles had been reversed, and he thought he got a raw deal, naturally, I would have given him a rematch. That's what true champions do. I saw the way he acted [in ducking Hagler], and that's not a true champion. There was nothing for me to prove, and I said, 'Why sit around and get old?' "
By the time Leonard finally came calling in 1990, figuring that he and Hagler could dwarf the $25 million the two had shared the first time they fought, Hagler was firmly ensconced in la dolce vita. The prospect of a $15 million payday was not enough. No grazie.
The move to Milan was impetuous. He arrived not knowing a word of Italian. "I found out fast that if you don't talk, you don't eat," Hagler says. He enrolled at Berlitz, started socializing with the locals, rode his bike into town for cappuccino and learned to discriminate among olive oils when he cooks. In 2000 Hagler married an Italian woman, Kay Guarino, an indomitable blonde who had never heard of him until he started courting her. Today he is not only in Italy; but he is also of Italy. "I've just fallen in love with the whole country, the whole culture," he says. "You know something? The other day I was riding my bike and I saw an 80-year-old woman helping her husband put on a cashmere coat. He's not going anywhere, but he wants to look nice and elegant. That's Italy right there."
In truth he's only a part-time resident. Bobbing and weaving to maintain his U.S. citizenship and tax status, Hagler is never in Milan for more than 180 days a year. He still has a place in Brockton as well as a retreat in Conway, N.H., to which he and Kay will repair this summer. He'll do some corporate appearances here, a charity event there. He might fly back to Europe to be a guest commentator for a BBC card. But mostly Hagler will be by the phone, waiting for his Boston lawyer to contact him about another acting role. "He really wants [his big-screen career] to work," says Kay. "He identifies himself more as an actor than a boxer now."
It's true, Hagler nods. Part of it, he concedes, is a low-grade addiction to the spotlight—"You know, keeping my face out there, letting my fans know I'm doing great"—but there's also the challenge. As with his fights, no two roles are the same, each requiring a different skill set. "Even when you think it's easy?' he says, "it's hard."
Hagler tells the story of shooting his last scene in Night of Fear. He had traveled to Russia for the filming, and his character, after getting ventilated by bullets, was supposed to die. "The director says, 'Die,' " Hagler recalls. "Believe it or not, it was the hardest scene for me. I mean, how exactly do you die? Hey, I've never died. I've only lived."