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But here is Hagler, the boxing barbarian whose T-shirts used to read DESTRUCT AND DESTROY, now subdued and dignified, drinking mineral water at the sedate, book-lined London Bar in the Hilton Hotel in Milan's business district, discussing his new life, his new direction, his new avocation. He has been in Milan for almost a year now and has two action movies, Indio (now available in the U.S. on video-cassette) and Indio 2, under his belt. A third film, Nights of Fear, is set to go into production in the Soviet Union in September. At 36, Hagler is leading a quiet life away from booze, domestic trauma, the sweet science, rumors and, most of all, away from Sugar Ray Leonard.
You may have lost track of Hagler, but if you're a fight fan you must remember April 6, 1987. That was the night Hagler had his undisputed middleweight crown snatched from him by Leonard on a 12-round split decision that sucked the life-blood from the shaved-headed terror, turning one of the world's most savage fighters into a lost dog. Everybody said that Hagler needed boxing to remain sane, that he needed to be the champion of the world in order to keep his demons at bay and to sate his immense pride. Now he had lost his title of nearly seven years, the one he had defended a dozen times, to a dancing, back-pedaling little pretty-boy—a con artist, hardly a man at all, by Hagler's standards.
Leonard had never hurt Hagler, and hurting was what Hagler's game was about. Sugar Ray had skittered around and punched in harmless flurries, while an enraged, cursing Hagler had stalked and thrown one blow at a time at an elusive target. Two of the judges went for the flurries. Hagler was stunned at the decision. "He never hurt me," he said after the fight, again and again. But what was he going to do about it? What could he do now? There would be no return match. Leonard sure didn't need him. Who needs a wounded beast?
"Where does he go now?" Leonard asked after the bout. "I feel sad for him. I really do."
Indeed, Hagler went off the deep end for a while. He drank heavily—there were reports in the Boston press that he used cocaine, which he denied—and watched his marriage end and began sinking like a rudderless ship in high seas. But then, slowly, Hagler righted himself. He didn't return to the ring, but he got his life together, pursuing some business ventures, some commercials, some endorsements, some charity stuff. He and his wife, Bertha, are divorced, but they have made peace with each other. He tried to explain his needs to his five kids. Then he split to Italy, alone, to become an actor. That's how people lost track of him.
But now, suddenly, it is the pretty-boy who needs the killer for one more battle. The 34-year-old Leonard wants to fight Hagler again and then re-retire. Leonard wants everything to be clean, untainted by a split decision that has begun to haunt him, too. And, of course, Leonard wants the money that such a rematch would bring. Promoter Bob Arum has offered Hagler a minimum of $15 million for a re-turn bout, and Hagler's trainers, Goody and Pat Petronelli of Brockton, Mass., think he should take it.
Hagler came back to the U.S. in early June to attend his daughter Celeste's high school graduation, and he talked to the Petronellis during his stay. The threesome goes way back, back to when Hagler first arrived in Brockton from Newark after the 1969 riots in the New Jersey port city and walked into the Petronellis' gym as a mean, tough, raw 15-year-old ready to beat people up. The Petronellis are almost kin to Hagler now. What's their cut if Hagler were to take the fight? "A third," says Pat. "Hey, what can we say? We want it more than anything. But there's respect here. I said to Marvin, 'If you want it, it's there. Think about it.' He said something amazing: 'God, I wanted to beat him so bad—you know that, Pat. But now, for the first time in my life, I'm happy with myself. I'm retired.' "
Now as he walks down a sidewalk in Milan, Hagler has an almost beatific glow about him. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite compute. There is the 5'9�" body that is all shoulders, arms and fists, and, of course, that menacing, shining head that he still shaves daily. "My stand-in during the last movie had to shave his head, too, and he asked me how I get mine so smooth, with no bumps," says Hagler. "But it took years to learn the secret, and I didn't tell him."
Hagler laughs. His dark face is a mixture of statements. His eyes are placid, but his brow is furrowed. And there are those scars that reveal his former craft. Four of the stitches on his forehead came from the legendary Tommy Hearns brawl in 1985, the first round of which was perhaps the most brutal slugfest ever to start a title bout. "Hit Man, my ass," Hagler said before he beat Hearns into submission. The five stitches above his right eye came from Mustafa Hamsho in 1981; Hamsho himself needed 55 stitches. But now Hagler is a mellow man.