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Hagler rose quickly in the middleweight ranks in New England. If that is rather like being the world's tallest midget, it was the only world he had. He had begun shaving his head when he was an amateur, and he has shaved it ever since. He was seen as a menacing figure, and surely that domed roof enhanced the image, that and his riveting eyes, which he squints as he attacks, and the remorseless way he stalks and strikes. The only blemish in his first three years as a pro occurred when Hagler, after beating 1972 Olympic light welterweight champion Sugar Ray Seales in Boston—"A big mouth with a big gold medal and two-tone shoes"—met him again in Seattle, Seales's hometown. The bout was scored a draw, a dubious call.
Already Hagler was beginning to languish in Boston, unable to get competitive fights. "You have three strikes against you," Joe Frazier would tell him one day. "You're black, you're a southpaw and you can fight." Hagler's biggest purse in 1975 was $2,000, which he got for facing undefeated southpaw middleweight Johnny Baldwin, who Silverman figured would beat him. "Look, I can't get Hagler no fights," Silverman had protested to Pat Petronelli.
"Try and get him licked if you want," Pat said.
"You mean that?" Silverman said. "I got a guy who's gonna lick him."
"Then lick him!" Pat said. Giving Mad Dog Baldwin 18 pounds, Hagler whipped him in a 10-round decision. Hagler could have fought forever in Boston, picking up $300 here and $700 there, but the title had obsessed him since he was an amateur signing photographs "Marvin Hagler, future middleweight champion of the world."
Since 1971, he had dug ditches and cut down trees for the Petronelli Construction Co., and the work had taken him to Brockton's white, affluent west side. "Everybody that had money was on the west side," he says. "I always wanted to live on the west side. When I worked construction, we used to come into these areas where it was always nice, where they brought you ice tea when you worked outside. In the poor areas, nobody had ice tea. They brought out cookies. They made you lunch. It was nice: green grass, nice homes, big cars. I used to love working on people's homes here. Pat and Goody did something for me that they never realized. I was grateful to have a trade. They matured me. I found trust in these two people. I kind of knew what I wanted in life. I wanted a house with my own name on it in West Brockton—Hagler."
To get there, he first had to get out of New England. "Rocky Marciano had to leave New England to make the big time," Hagler says. "I like Brockton, but to make it, you gotta get out."
There was only one place to go, of course, and that was Philadelphia, to what Goody called the "Lion's Den" of middleweights—the Spectrum. It was where the money was and where the best fighters were: Bennie Briscoe, Willie (The Worm) Monroe, Eugene (Cyclone) Hart, Bobby (Boogaloo) Watts. "The baddest middleweights in the world," Goody says. "We had to go down there and fight the iron."
J. Russell Peltz, the Spectrum's director of boxing at the time, was skeptical when first approached. "Who's Marvin Hagler? Kids from Boston can't fight," he told Pat.
"This one can," Pat said.