For his next performance, Marvelous Marvin Hagler would be delighted to fight Sugar Ray Robinson. A young Robinson. Or a young Tony Zale. "Now Zale, there was one tough, rough fighter," the world middleweight champion was saying in a moment of reflection last Saturday night, five days after knocking out John Mugabi, an iron-chinned challenger who himself had KO'd 26 straight opponents before running afoul of Hagler.
Mugabi hit the deck and stuck at 1:29 of the 11th round in the night air of Caesars Palace arena in Las Vegas. That was Hagler's 12th straight title defense, a string stretching back to Jan. 17, 1981, and it left the 31-year-old champ just three shy of becoming the most successful 160-pound title-holder in history; between 1970 and 1977, Carlos Monzon made 14 successful defenses.
"Just three more," Hagler mused at his home in Hanover, Mass. "So far I'm on a great timetable. I don't think 31 is old. I'll be 32 in a couple of months [May 23], and I think I still have one good strong year left. The record, that is what I am looking for."
Next up won't be Robinson or Zale, but 27-year-old Thomas Hearns, whom Hagler knocked out in the third round last April. Hearns earned a second go-round this coming fall by rendering James Shuler senseless in 73 seconds, during a cold rain that quit just before Hagler went to work in the same outdoor arena.
Promoter Bob Arum had wanted a June 23 Hagler-Hearns date, but "we told him November," said Pat Petronelli, Hagler's manager. "Marvin needs some time off." Hagler wants to make his last two defenses next year, before his 33rd birthday. The closing act of his truly marvelous career is expected to be against welterweight champion Donald Curry, who will test himself at 154 pounds against WBA junior middleweight champ Mike McCallum on June 23.
" Hearns don't want this fight," Hagler scoffed. "He's still trying to bluff the public. He's saying, 'I'm still a tough guy, and I want Marvin Hagler again.' Then everybody is supposed to say, 'Oh, my, you got a lot of heart.' Bull. He don't want me. Hearns knew Shuler had no chin and couldn't punch. He wins one fight and he's right back in a championship fight. If I had lost to him, it would have been goodby Marvelous Marvin Hagler. They've been trying to get rid of me for years."
For the Mugabi fight, Hagler earned between $3 million and $5 million, depending upon the final closed-circuit and pay-per-view take. But riches and a measure of respect have not softened his bitter memory of the years when champions avoided his southpaw cannons and—most galling—of the title, seemingly won from Vito Antuofermo in 1979, that was whisked away by a controversial draw. Even when Hagler won the title, from Alan Minter in 1980, the London fans applauded him only with a barrage of epithets and beer bottles.
"Have I found peace? Not really," says Hagler, who has a 62-2-2 record, his last loss coming on March 9, 1976. Even that one, to Willie Monroe in Philadelphia, reeked of hometown accounting, and the following year Hagler knocked Monroe out twice to underline the injustice. "I'll put it this way: I'm happy but I'm not satisfied," says Hagler. "I believe they really won't give me credit until I am done with the game. Because every time there is another opponent, somebody is going to say, 'This guy is going to take you.' Now they are talking about Curry. It's like I haven't proved myself yet. What the hell do they want?"
In Hagler's 12 title defenses, only one man, Roberto Duran, has gone the distance against him. And that was because Hagler, for reasons even he can't fathom, fought the puffed-up Panamanian with unaccustomed and unneeded caution. No matter. Boxing being what it is, there is even talk of using a resurrected Duran, slimmed down from 200-plus pounds, as Hagler's opponent between Hearns and Curry.
"Nobody should want to fight Marvin a second time," said Goody Petronelli, Pat's brother and Marvin's trainer. "Look at the record: Marvin is devastating the second time around." In fact, of the 12 rematches he has fought, he has won all of them, 10 by KO.