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Then there was Carlos Marks of Trinidad, whom Obelmejias stopped in nine to win the Central American and Caribbean middleweight titles in 1978. It was Marks' eighth loss over a 13-fight span.
There wasn't a world-class fighter on the No. 1 contender's record. No matter. The No. 1 contender's manager is Rafito Cedeino, a force in Venezuelan boxing and a friend of both WBC President Jos� Sulaim�n and WBA President Rodrigo Sanchez. In the past few months no fewer than six of Cedeino's fighters have been in title fights; five lost. The lone victor was Rafael Orono, the WBC superflyweight champion, who beat Jovito Regnifo, who is also in the Cedeino stable in Caracas. Cedeino not only had both fighters in that one, he was also the promoter. Nice guy to have in your corner if you're looking to be No. 1.
But against Hagler, all Obelmejias' status did was earn him $100,000 and get him semi-killed. In fact, Hagler came closer to losing his title in a driveway on the afternoon of the fight than he did in the ring that night.
The evening before, the champion had driven in from Cape Cod to Avon, a small town 20 miles south of Boston. Ten inches of snow fell overnight and the next morning, when Hagler went out to drive to the noon weigh-in, his rented limo was snowbound. It took six men to shovel the car free. At that, the champion was 47 minutes late. If he'd been two hours late he would have lost the title without a punch having been thrown.
Once the bell rang Obelmejias had no chance. The anger that helps make Hagler such a good fighter is kept under control in the ring. In winning 51 of 55 fights (two draws), he has had 42 knockouts, yet he isn't simply a puncher. He's the complete boxer operating with the knowledgeable detachment of a surgeon, graceful and flowing, unleashing punches in ever-changing patterns, hardly ever in bursts of fewer than three, mixing his jabs and crosses and hooks and upper-cuts until they become a blur.
If he gets a man in trouble, Hagler will work to take him out quickly. But should the man escape, Hagler will revert to methodically ripping his opponent apart piece by piece. Patience is his trademark.
In the first round against Obelmejias, Hagler did little, contenting himself with studying his unknown prey at close quarters. Then he put into play the strategy devised by his managers-trainers, the brothers Petronelli, Goody and Pat. "Pressure him," they'd ordered. "Stay on top of him and make him fight a full three minutes." Obelmejias didn't help his own cause by fighting a stupid fight. He's 6'1", with a 72-inch reach, yet instead of staying outside, where he presumably would've been more effective, he, too, elected to work close.
Badly battered from the second round on, Obelmejias, who could deliver nothing beyond a few uppercuts, fell in the sixth from a thunderous right to the head. Struggling up, he took an eight count and then survived a savage pounding to the end of the round. No one can ever again question his heart.
In the seventh, though Obelmejias tried desperately to pull the fight out with wild rights, he took more of the same. At the end, bleeding from the mouth and a small cut under his left eye, he returned to his corner on old legs. Early in the eighth round, Hagler drilled home a savage right to the head, and the No. 1 contender reeled back into the ropes. "That's it," said referee Octavio Meyran of Mexico, waving Hagler off.
In his dressing room, Obelmejias held an ice pack against his right hand. "I broke the thumb in the second round," he said, "and I couldn't breathe. The cold, it bothered me. I want to fight him again."