As it turned out, the question of whether Marvelous Marvin Hagler should fight Woeful Wilford Scypion for the traditional 15 rounds or for only 12, as ordered by the WBC and the WBA, was moot. Two minutes and 47 seconds into the fourth round last Friday night in Providence, R.I., Scypion was flat on his back. And Hagler, whose record now is 57-2-2, had proved, as he does with every title defense, that he is the best middleweight, and probably the best fighter in the world today, regardless of what the alphabetized lords of the ring decree.
From Mexico City the following day, Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, which had ranked Scypion as the No. 1 contender, said he chose to look upon the scuffle as a nontitle fight. So for the moment Hagler, despite having flouted the WBC's 12-round dictum, remains its champion. From Panama and Venezuela, the twin WBA power bases, there was only embarrassed silence.
To understand all of this, if one can begin to understand anything happening in boxing these days, one must go back to the death of South Korean Duk Koo Kim after he was knocked out last Nov. 13 by WBA lightweight champion Ray Mancini. Soon thereafter, Sulaiman, displaying more compassion than logic, announced that as of Jan. 1, 1983 all WBC championship bouts would be limited to 12 rounds. His rationale was that if the Kim-Mancini fight had ended after 12, Kim would still be alive. Applying that logic retroactively to 1918, of 645 documented fight-connected deaths since then, only 13 would have been prevented. The other 632 fatalities came in 12 rounds or less. And of those 632 fatalities, 190 were amateurs, who fight three rounds or fewer.
The WBA, which follows Sulaiman's lead only when there's money to be made, said it would continue with the 15-round limit.
In the case of unified champions, of which there are only two, Hagler and light heavyweight Michael Spinks, the two groups agreed that they would take turns acting as the "host" organization for title defenses. The other would just be along for a free ride—and the sanction fees. In Hagler's last fight before meeting Scypion, a sixth-round knockout of Tony Sibson in February, the WBC provided the officials and the supervision. That bout was scheduled for 15 rounds because the contracts for a fight of that length had already been signed.
On March 11, Bob Arum, co-promoter of last week's bout, received a Telex from Dr. Elias Cordova, the chairman of the WBA championship committee, informing him that the Scypion fight would have WBA officials and be for 15 rounds and that "only under this conditions [sic] the bout will receive the WBA approbation."
Subsequently, however, using the argument that Scypion was the WBC's No. 1 contender but only No. 2 according to the WBA, Sulaiman convinced Gilberto Mendoza, the president of the WBA, that the WBA should pass up its turn in the spotlight. Dr. Cordova, who has his own independent duchy within the WBA, wouldn't play along.
Hagler was caught in the crossfire. No matter which way he turned, one organization was going to strip him of half his championship. Then a backroom deal was struck. In exchange for the control of Hagler's next two defenses, the WBA agreed to let Sulaiman direct this one.
"Twelve rounds," Sulaiman said happily.
Hagler objected. "Fifteen rounds," he said.