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One by one, Hagler would take them on, until finally he had nailed them all, but not before two successive losses left him perilously close to oblivion. Watts wasn't the best of the middles, but for Hagler he was the first. They fought 10 rounds on Jan. 13, 1976, and when the judges gave it to Boogaloo, there were hoots from the hometown crowd. "Now Boogaloo is a friend of mine, but he didn't win that fight," says George Benton, the Philly trainer.
Two months after the Watts fight, Monroe beat up on Hagler on the way to a 10-round verdict. "A tough decision to accept," Hagler said after the fight, "but an honest one. I still have a few things to learn. I get the feeling that he's already learned them."
Peltz told the Petronellis of the trouble they were in: "I know you got screwed with Boogaloo Watts, but you got your ass kicked by Willie Monroe. Three strikes and you're out."
Next up: Hart. Working one day on the heavy bag in Joe Frazier's gym, Hart had spotted Marvin and said, "Hey, Hagler, I got the baddest left hook in town. Watch this." Bam! Hart slammed his left into the bag. "You're lookin' at the next middleweight champion of the world." Marvin turned to Pat and said, "Put him on the list."
The record book says Hagler knocked Hart out in eight, but what happened is more ambiguous. There was an argument in Hart's corner after the eighth, and he never came out for the ninth. The victory was only bittersweet, but Hagler had survived. "I thought he was just an ordinary fighter," Briscoe says. "He proved to be more than that." In a rematch against Monroe in Boston on Feb. 15, 1977, Hagler knocked The Worm out in the 12th round. Peltz staged the rubber match at the Spectrum six months later, and it was then that Hagler made his name in Philly.
Hagler buckled Monroe's knees with a right hook in the second round and pounced. A beautiful left hook caught Monroe. Down he went. And out.
"That was the fight that made him," Peltz says. "There was a complete difference between the Marvin that had fought in 1976 and 1977. The competition here had made him better. He had more confidence. He was sharper, his punches were shorter, he had more power."
There was only one more to go in Philly: Briscoe. On Aug. 24, 1978, 15,000 people jammed into the Spectrum to see them fight. Both boxers showed up in burgundy trunks, and neither would change. Peltz still wonders what the fans in the uppermost seats made of the spectacle: two shaved-headed black men wearing burgundy trunks. Who's on first? In the end Hagler was, but the Petronellis had to scramble. Hagler got butted in the second. Between rounds, Goody tried to stop the bleeding as Pat headed off the doctor coming over to inspect the cut, repeatedly pointing to the crowd and telling the doc that someone was calling him. By the time the doctor got to Hagler, Goody had the bleeding stopped. "I didn't spend 20 years in the Navy medical department for nothing," he says.
Where Hagler had been a banger against Monroe, he boxed artfully against Briscoe, sticking and moving to win the decision.
By now some were calling Hagler the uncrowned middleweight champion of the world, but still he couldn't get a title shot. "I can understand it now," Pat says. "Who needs a Marvin Hagler?" Hagler's sense of frustration deepened.