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It was 4:35 Sunday morning in San Remo, a late hour even for the Italian Riviera, but Marvelous Marvin Hagler was promenading jauntily along the sidewalk of the Corso Cavallotti toward the Hotel Méditerranée. With his leather cap on his shaved head and a tote bag in his left hand, he looked like a workman heading home after the lobster shift. Which, in a way, was what he was.
Almost an hour earlier, on the stage of a movie theater, the Teatro Ariston, before 2,000 spectators, Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion of the world, had knocked out Fulgencio Obelmejias of Venezuela at 2:25 of the fifth round, clouting him with a sweeping right hook that caught the challenger on the sweet spot of his jaw. The right hook is the lefthanded Hagler's most destructive punch, and this one had been as swift and decisive as any he'd ever thrown. The San Remo fight had been his first title defense since fracturing a rib in training June 22—his first, in fact, since he knocked out Caveman Lee in 67 seconds on March 7—and he felt a palpable sense of relief in getting it behind him. A small entourage, including Pat and Goody Petronelli, Hagler's manager and his trainer respectively, trailed behind him as the last of the late-night revelers roared past in their Fiats.
"Oh man, I feel good!" Hagler said. "Boy, this was an experience—fighting at 3:30 in the morning. Everything was on the money tonight. I showed Fully Obel what a professional fighter is. Everything was right. I felt like the real champion out there. Everything is looking up for me now."
Exactly how far up depends, in considerable measure, on what Sugar Ray Leonard, the undisputed welterweight champion, announces at a press conference in Baltimore on Nov. 9. Ever since Leonard suffered a detached retina while training for a fight last April, his future has been the subject of widespread speculation. But aside from Leonard himself, no one has a greater interest than Hagler in whether Leonard will fight again. If he decides to return, it will be to meet Hagler for the middleweight title in what would surely be the richest bout in the history of the sport.
Most boxing observers are convinced that Leonard will announce his retirement at the press conference, but he has been playing it very coy. A few minutes after Hagler dispatched Obelmejias, he said to Leonard, who was at ringside doing color commentary for HBO, "If we're such good friends, give me a payday!" To which Leonard replied, "Mike Trainer, sign me up." Trainer is Leonard's lawyer.
"Did you hear what I said to Ray?" Hagler asked as he strolled back to his hotel. "Right in front of everybody. I put him on the spot. But I don't think Leonard wants any part of me. He's giving everybody a mirage to look at." Moments after Hagler swept through the Méditerranée's lobby, Leonard materialized at a party in the hotel and whispered to Pat Petronelli, "Pat, after what I saw tonight, me and Marvin could make more money than anybody ever made in the history of boxing. I mean that."
Petronelli, who looked at Leonard and knew he wasn't seeing a mirage, felt a chill. "Right!" he said to Leonard. Earlier, Leonard had urged Petronelli to be in Baltimore for the big announcement, saying, "It's in your interest to be there." Now he was telling Petronelli about all the money that could be made from a Hagler-Leonard bout, and Petronelli thought: Could Leonard be planning to use his Baltimore forum to announce a return to fight Hagler? "I'll be there," Petronelli said.
Later, when asked about his intentions, Leonard said that his eye doctor, Ron Michels of Johns Hopkins Hospital, had examined him the week before and had given him an essentially clean bill of health. "My vision is 20-20," Leonard said. "Back to normal. Now it's a new thing. It was up to Dr. Michels. Now it's up to me. I have to start to reevaluate. I had made up my mind, but now that's changed.... If anything happens, it will be a one-shot deal."
Unless Leonard announces that he's returning to the ring, Hagler can only look forward to defending his title early next year against the WBC's leading contender, Tony Sibson, a stoutly built Englishman with a powerful left hook, and Frank (The Animal) Fletcher, a body puncher from Philadelphia who can absorb all kinds of punishment but isn't a notably hard hitter. Both fights would be million-dollar paydays for Hagler. Beyond them, of course, there's the winner of the Dec. 3 WBC junior middleweight championship fight between Wilfred Benitez and Thomas Hearns, and for Hagler a match with either would mean millions more. It was the prospect of these paydays, with the vision of Leonard hovering delectably above them all, that helped fuel Hagler's intensity when he stepped onto the stage of the Ariston Sunday morning. He had trained rigorously for this fight—for several weeks on the very tip of Cape Cod, for the last 10 days in San Remo—knowing how long a fall it would be if he ever slipped. He was getting $500,000 (to Obelmejias's $120,000), a pleasant taste of things to come.
"The way I look at it, this is putting money in the bank as well as keeping me active," Hagler said a few days before the fight. "There's no way I'm taking this guy lightly. I've had nine different sparring partners for this fight. I'm going to make sure I fight him even harder than I did the first time. I punished him then; this time I'm going to hurt him. I don't want this man back."