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This Beast Is A Beauty
Clive Gammon
March 03, 1986
Newly baptized John Mugabi wants to rid himself of a nickname and Marvelous Marvin Hagler of a title
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March 03, 1986

This Beast Is A Beauty

Newly baptized John Mugabi wants to rid himself of a nickname and Marvelous Marvin Hagler of a title

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When Mugabi returned from the trip to his homeland in 1985, he feared it might have been his last. "A little bit sometimes I hear from my mother," he said. "I would like to see her again face to face. But I cannot go because they may think I am a big enemy. They have terrible killings, terrible killings. If the soldiers come to your door, you know you are going to die, but first they make you load their truck with what you got. They think their life is big party that God has give them. Their eyes are red, like animals'. They are the beasts, not me."

Francis thinks Mugabi's spending habits stem partly from his brooding about the fate of his country. "What is the use of saving money," he would ask his trainer, "when people die so quick?"

It was shortly after Christmas that Mugabi and Francis left Tampa for Nogales to resume heavy training for the Hagler fight, and the change in geography has caused a change in the fighter. "When we were first training for the Hagler fight we were at the Eden Roc hotel in Miami," Francis recalls, "I said then I would rather train John in Alcatraz. Well, this is a deluxe Alcatraz, with no people underfoot and perfect weather."

And there have been no shopping binges, perhaps because of the lack of temptation. That tends to be limited to the Casa de Video, where Mugabi can pick up Bruce Lee cassettes, and to the clothing store, where he bought some cowboy gear to wear on an excursion to Tombstone, Ariz. "They all buried there, all the John Waynes," Mugabi tells you. He fast-draws an imaginary six-shooter and with magisterial inaccuracy yells, "Make me a day!"

It was on his first Sunday morning in Arizona that Mugabi noticed a man in the open door of a church wearing a maroon sweat suit, the back of which identified the owner as belonging to the Nogales Boxing Club. When Mugabi and Francis followed the man into church, they saw him strip off his sweats and reveal clerical garb. Father Anthony Clark is from Davenport, Iowa, but on loan to Sacred Heart with a special responsibility for delinquent boys on both sides of the border. Father Tony, as the kids in Nogales call him, recognized Mugabi at once. "I was tongue-tied," he says, "but I went over to him after the service."

The priest's motive was straightforward. Father Tony, who had been a high school boxer himself at 145 pounds, used the sport, as many have before him, as a means of rescuing embryonic criminals from the streets. Nogales is a city split as neatly as a restaurant avocado between the state of Arizona and the Mexican state of Sonora. Turn your back on the U.S., the K Mart and the Roy Rogers and pass through the border post, and abruptly you're in the Third World and the poverty which dogs it, about which John Mugabi knows much firsthand.

For that reason, perhaps, the fighter, as soon as he was asked, agreed to climb into the back of Father Tony's battered pickup and head over the border to talk to the kids. "We spent a nice hour," Francis recalls. "John showed the boys some moves, and they loved him." That nice hour, though, almost led to a second postponement of the Hagler fight, because when Mugabi tried to get back into the U.S., he was denied entry.

His visa, which had run out, was back in Tampa with his lawyer, being renewed. The problem might have been solved with a phone call, but Father Tony got in the way. He is one of the 11 defendants in the "Sanctuary" trial, now in its 16th week in Tucson, in which priests and nuns are accused of sheltering illegal immigrants—refugees, the defendants call them—from El Salvador. "Father Tony started arguing with the immigration authorities," Francis says, "and I had to tell him to back off. Then John got mad."

"I am angry," recalls Mugabi, "because I have not had my dinner yet. I say, 'I am John Mugabi and I have come to fight Marvin Hagler.' They say, '——.' I tell them I am a real people and I do not speak lies. They say I am threatening them. Four more men came running out. I do not think they could have put me in the jail, but I am glad Duff is there to call the lawyers up out of their beds. These policemen want to keep us all night, but in three hours they let us go."

A richly farcical evening that must have been, but it left Mugabi with an enduring respect for the turbulent Father Tony. That led to the schoolroom in Nogales for religious instruction, which in turn has led to the christening of John Paul and the banishment of the Beast.

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