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Who do I want?
In the dark, cold autumn morning before first light, Marvelous Marvin Hagler is chanting. He is running in his Army boots along the path that begins at the far end of Herring Cove Beach and bends off to the left—away from the main road, toward the beach, into the dunes. "This is where I can dream," he says.
This is also where the Pilgrims first landed, where they looked around, had second thoughts, and hauled up anchor, finally disembarking across the bay at Plymouth Rock. Now it's part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, a place of sea gulls, salt hay and solitude. In the fall, when the tourists are gone and nearby Provincetown boards up, surf casters belly up to the sea and an occasional biker pedals by, but they decrease in number when it gets dark early and the wind grows horns and snorts off the beach.
Hagler has been coming here since 1977, working out of the Provincetown Inn, at the very tip of the Cape, sparring in a ring set up by the indoor pool, getting up before dawn to run with his sparring partners from the inn to the beach and beyond: the charge of the dark brigade. This is Hagler's self-imposed prison. Among the scrub pine, goldenrod and rose hip, he comes to serve that harshest sentence of all, the one that he imposes on himself: The confinement is as solitary as he can make it. "I get mean here," he says.
The man many regard as one of the greatest middle-weights of all time, a consummate professional who can box or brawl ambidextrously, is preparing to defend his world middleweight title against Fulgencio Obelmejias—Fully Obel, for short—in San Remo, Italy on Oct. 30. Hagler knocked the Venezuelan challenger senseless in the eighth round the first time they fought, on Jan. 17, 1981, but he has too much at stake to take any man lightly.
After the path lets go of the highway, it dips and loops for miles among the dunes, and Marvin Hagler, fueled by his obsession to conquer, to endure, is pushing himself again. This is his country: desolate, eerily silent, forbidding. Coming to a fork, Hagler veers left. The slap of his boots is like a mantra. He thinks: Goin' through him! I have to be on the inside. Don't stay on the outside. Goin' through him! The path swings back to the right and pretty soon turns left to the mouth of a tunnel under the main road. Hagler turns around at the mouth of the tunnel and shouts:
Get out of bed, Oh-BELL,
"I've gotten meaner since I've become champion," he says. "They're all trying to take something from me that I've worked long and hard for, years for, and I like the feeling of being champ. There's a monster that comes out of me in the ring. I think it goes back to the days when I had nothing. It's hunger. I think that's what the monster is, and it's still there."
Marvin Hagler was born on May 23, 1954, in Newark, the first child of Ida Mae Hagler and Robert Sims (who weren't married at the time, hence Marvin's surname). The latter abandoned the family when Marvin was a child, leaving Ida Mae to raise Marvin and his brother, Robbie, and their four sisters, Veronica, Cheryl, Genarra and Noreen, on welfare. Marvin grew up in the playgrounds and the streets: cruising sidewalks, hanging out, playing sports, boxing shadows, dreaming big.
"I always wanted to be somebody," Hagler says. "Baseball, I played like I was Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays; basketball, I'd be Walt Frazier or Kareem; boxing, I'd pretend I was Floyd Patterson or Emile Griffith." Hagler first put on gloves when he was 10 for a man he knows only as Mister Joe, a social worker.