In the parish of the Sacred Heart in Nogales, Ariz. on the Mexican border, the schoolroom is poverty plain: the ceiling stained with big damp patches, bookshelves merely planks set on cinder blocks. In all of Santa Cruz County, it is the last place you would seek out John Mugabi, the Beast, so-called, who on March 10 in Las Vegas fights Marvelous Marvin Hagler for the middleweight championship of the world.
But it is here you will find the 25-year-old native of Kampala, Uganda most evenings, his gold chains, heavy gold bracelets and diamond watch—all of a boxer's off-duty trappings—contrasting sharply with the austere surroundings. Before him, his coach gestures and chalks words on a blackboard with a fancy, slashing style. He wears a sweat suit, but he is, in fact, Father Anthony Clark. And the words that explode on the blackboard are GOOD, SIN and EVIL. On Feb. 16, Mugabi's training—or, more properly, instruction—resulted in his being baptized a Roman Catholic, whereupon, he fervently hopes, the sobriquet the Beast, which has haunted him for three years, will be shucked and he will become simply John Paul Mugabi.
However, Hagler should not assume that John Paul plans to go gentle into the ring on March 10. How Mugabi spends his evenings bears little relation to what he does in the afternoons in the ring set up at the Sheraton Hotel in Rio Rico, a village 10 miles north of Nogales. He started training there in early January, after the original Nov. 14 bout with Hagler was postponed because the champion suffered a broken nose in training, and he has been going through sparring partners at a ferocious clip.
On a recent Monday he began with Roger McCane, a middleweight from Tacoma, and put him down twice. On Tuesday, McCane would not leave his room ("I'm too bruised up"). By Wednesday a local lad from Tucson, James Williams, had been drafted. He lasted into the third round, when a swelling the size of a kiwi fruit blossomed alongside his right ear. For Thursday, one Harry (Heatwave) Daniels, said to have a 13-3-1 record, was flown in from Atlanta. Early in the third round Mugabi let go a terrifying barrage to the head with both hands, and Daniels went down. Later, Heatwave said, "I never came looking for nothing like this."
"Beast! Beast!" they yelled in Rio Rico as Heatwave was felled, and an observer in a straw sombrero declared to another in a white Stetson that Mugabi was the best thing that had happened around Nogales since the day they devalued the Mexican peso.
But Beast is a word Mugabi can do without. "Why they call me this?" he asks plaintively. "I am a quiet man. I like to do correct things. If somebody calls me Beast, I ask, 'Gosh, what is he doing to me?' I am a quiet man and a good man too, I think."
It is doubtful if this feeling is shared by the 26 opponents Mugabi has knocked out in his perfect 26-0-0 pro career, in which he has had to go more than six rounds just once. That was against James (Hard Rock) Green in Tampa, in February 1984, and the fight, say Beast fans, was prolonged because Mugabi took a thumb in the eye in the second round. He couldn't see for the best part of the third, and he took a lot of punishment before gradually coming back to knock Green out in the 10th.
Mostly, though, Mugabi's opponents fall fast. In his first televised bout in the U.S., he knocked out Roosevelt Green in the opening round. "For his next fight," his manager, Mickey Duff, recalls, "I got him on as the main event in NBC's SportsWorld, fighting Gary Guiden in Tampa. John had Guiden out on his feet in the first round, and then he just walked away from him. He finally knocked the guy out in the third round, and afterward, on camera, Ferdie Pacheco wanted to know why he had backed off in the first. And there I am squirming with embarrassment as John innocently tells the truth: 'Mr. Duff says, "Don't take him out in the first round this time; show you can fight a bit." ' "
Duff is a mercurial Londoner who, as manager, matchmaker and promoter, was in virtual control of boxing in Britain for much of the last decade, not always to the approval of a large section of the sports press and the public there. Recently, he has been quietly moving his operation to the U.S., and Mugabi is the lever with which Duff is prying his way into the U.S. fight business.
Uncharacteristically, Duff came close to being cut out of the action when the young Mugabi first attracted attention as a welterweight in the 1980 Moscow Olympics. Duff had caught one of his early bouts on TV and was impressed enough to "call the BBC to see when they were showing his next fight. I followed him through to the end." In the bout for the gold medal, Mugabi lost on a dubious decision to Andres Aldama of Cuba, rated No. 1 in the world.