"Every time I fought, Pat and Goody said, 'Marvin, you've got to keep winning to get a shot! If you win this one, Marvin, you've got it.' Every time I won, there was nothing. Every day I was out there running, paving the ground, getting knocked around in the gym, keeping sharp, getting ready for that day." He waited some more. He wondered: What do I have to do to get recognition? Kill somebody in the ring? To Pat and Goody, he would say: When am I gonna get a break? To Bertha Washington, then his fiancée, now his wife, he would fume: The hell with this damn game! I'm sick of it. Promises, promises, always promises.
He was just too good for his own good. Bitter and frustrated, he packed his bags and prepared to leave the Petronellis and Brockton and move to California, to start his career anew. Pat and Goody urged him to stay, saying, "If we felt as though we couldn't do it for you, we'd be the first ones to let you find something else."
After talking it over with Bertha, Hagler yielded. "So I took my bags back," he said. "But I was hurt. The rent had to be paid. The kids had to have clothes. It was tough. When people look at me today they say, 'Hey, you're a millionaire now, you got it made.' They didn't know me before I was a success and as a result they don't realize that everything I got I worked for. There hasn't been nobody giving me nothin'."
Hagler finally got his title shot, six and a half years after he turned pro, and they didn't give him nothin' that night, either. This also happened to be the card—Nov. 30, 1979—on which Sugar Ray Leonard, in his 26th pro fight and first title shot, took the welterweight crown from Wilfred Benitez. Hagler's challenge for Vito Antuofermo's title was his 50th pro fight. He had been a long time in the shadows; he would be even longer.
The bout lasted the full 15 rounds, and it became at times so moving a spectacle—two men standing there and simply whaling away at each other—that at the end the crowd in Caesars Palace rose in applause. Hagler had clearly landed more and harder punches. Waiting for the decision, Referee Mills Lane told him, "Congratulations, now stay facing this way until they announce the decision and I raise your arm." When the verdict was announced, however, it was Vito's arm that went up. One judge had given it to Hagler, another to Antuofermo, while a third called it a draw: A tie always goes to the champion.
"I won the fight," Hagler says. "It hurt, but I just went back to school. Back to work. I felt as though, if I missed that shot, I'd never get another opportunity."
There was an immediate demand for a rematch, but Antuofermo was having no part of Hagler if he didn't have to.
On March 16, 1980, Alan Minter of England outpointed Antuofermo, and the Petronellis went after Minter, but of course Minter gave Antuofermo an immediate rematch. At Wembley Arena in London, Minter's turf, the champion stopped the challenger in the eighth. Hagler was next, Minter's first mandatory opponent. Marvin trained furiously for the fight. "I felt, 'This is it!' " he says. This bout was also fought at Wembley. On his way to the ring, Hagler said to Goody, "I'm ready to die for this. Don't stop it."
That Hagler made it alive out of Wembley took some doing, though it wasn't Minter who threatened him. In the third round, Hagler unleashed a tremendous right uppercut that rocked the champion, who was already bleeding profusely from four cuts, into helplessness. The referee jumped in and stopped it. "If they hadn't stopped it, I'd have killed Minter," Hagler says.
Minter drifted unsteadily back to his corner and Hagler dropped to his knees in joy as beer bottles rained down upon the ring. Goody dashed to the fighter to cover him, joined there by Hagler's lawyer, Steve Wainwright, the third cornerman, and Pat. They enveloped Marvin in a human canopy. Suddenly, a phalanx of helmeted bobbies swept into the ring and ushered them away.