He’s the undisputed middleweight champion of the world and he has already fought for big money.
Yet Marvin Hagler will tell you in earnest that he is still very much a hungry fighter.
“I’m trying to make as much money as possible for the security of my wife and kids,” Hagler told a friend recently. “I still fight like a challenger because it took me a long time to get the title. Yes, the anger and the bitterness is still inside me after all those years of being sidetracked and ignored.
“Here I am a champion with three belts,” (WBA, WBC and Ring magazine) explains Hagler, “and there are guys with only one belt with a lot more money in the bank than I’ve got.”
Marvin Hagler also regards himself as a survivor. He has survived an uncertain childhood strained by life-changing Newark, New Jersey ghetto poverty.
The oldest child in a fatherless family of seven, Marvin Hagler is a knowing authority on tenement slums, raggedy hand-me-down wardrobes, pot and liquor, snaggle-toothed winos on the corner and bullet-blotched race riots.
During the 1968 Newark race riots the Hagler family – headed by his mother Mae – slept under the beds so that the bullets coming through the windows wouldn’t hit them.
Shortly thereafter the Haglers joined relatives in Brockton, Mass., a town already immortalized in the annals of boxing by its native son, the late Rocky Marciano, who was the only man to win every fight in his career and retire undefeated as the world heavyweight champion.
Marvin, who had quit school in the 11th grade, got a job in a tannery to help support his family. It was then he began to think about fighting.
“You know,” Hagler recalled, “sports had kept me away from drugs and gangs when I was a little kid in Newark. I wanted to be a somebody someday.”
“My idols weren’t the bums out there on the streets. I wanted to be a Mickey Mantle, a Floyd Patterson, a Joe Frazier, a Muhammad Ali, a Willie Mays – one of the best athletes ever.”
So off went Marvin to a Brockton gym to learn about the manly art. He felt after a while that he wasn’t learning anything. So he tried another gym. The second gym belonged to the Petronelli brothers, Goody and Pat, two ex-fighters who had grown up in Brockton with Rocky Marciano.
“I had my doubts about him,” recalls Goody Petronelli. “It’s a lot of hard work, and in the beginning, practically no money.”
“They get impatient,” brother Pat Petronelli says. “In some ways Marvin seemed like other tough kids, a big talker. He was different though. Determined. He had drive.
“I’ll never forget what he told me and my brother in the back room – ‘I was born to be champion.’”
So the road to the top twisted and turned through $50, $100 and sometimes $200 purses in way stations like Taunton and New Bedford Mass., and old arenas in Porland, Maine.
“When I started winning pro fights, I’d get very little, but Pat and Goody wouldn’t take a nickel,” Hagler remembers. “They’d just laugh and say, ‘Some day we’ll all make good money together.’”
Hagler went unbeaten for 26 straight fights until he travelled to Philadelphia and the backyard of Bobby Watts in 1976. Watts was ranked fourth in the middleweight division and won that fight via a highway robbery decision.
A few weeks later Hagler returned to Philadelphia, but found no brotherly love when he was robbed once more in a fight with highly regraded Willie Monroe. He subsequently knocked out Watts and Monroe to wipe the stains of the only two losses off his slate.
In 1977 came another discouraging obstacle. Hagler wasn’t invited to the United States Boxing Championships tournament, which eventually proved to be a rigged and scandal-ridden event.
Hagler had the satisfaction later of defeating and breaking the jaw of second-ranked Mike Colbert, a hand-picked pet of the promoter of the phony U.S.B.C tourney.
Marvin Hagler and the Petronellis were scuffling along from one fight to another. Come 1978 and enter, “The Barrister”. He is Stephen R. Wainwright, Esq., of the law firm Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright, Wainwright and Wainwright.
One Wainwright is a former Brockton mayor. Another – Steve’s dad – is a former assistant district attorney and a long-time friend of Thomas O’Neill, as in “Tip”, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
The law offices of the “5 W’s” are located across the street from the Petronelli brothers’ gym in Brockton. Steve is the Wainwright with the shaven skull, a style he adopted in honour of his champion, Hagler, after Marvin had lifted the middleweight title from Alan Minter.
As a law student at Tulane University, Wainwright argued a case before the Supreme Court of the United States.
Steve Wainwright is a formidable man, not to be overlooked in the saga of the making of Marvin Hagler, champion. He has been the driving force in guiding Marvin to big money matches.
Many people in boxing have met the fun-loving, relaxed Wainwright in camp or at a hotel before or after the big fight. He is congenial and he is fun. But he’s all business behind his office desk or in negotiation for “Marvelous Marvin”, as he always insists Hagler be called.
After Wainwright entered the picture in 1978, Hagler stopped the former European champion Kevin Finnegan on cuts; beat Bennie Briscoe; separated the highly-regarded 1972 Olympic champion, Ray Seales, from his senses in less than a round in 1979; and was a big hit on national television with an eight-round kayo over Argentina’s Norbert Cabrera in June, 1979 in Monte Carlo.
Remembered is the night of June 30, with the Mediterranean on one side of the outdoor arena forming a background beautifully contrasting with nearby mountains, and the applause of the mostly French speaking crowd, among them Prince Rainier of Monaco.
Five months later Hagler got his crack at the middleweight crown. But after 15 hard rounds with Vito Antuofermo, the verdict was a draw and Antuofermo was still champion.
“It was the biggest disappointment of my life,” Hagler said of the decision. “I was crushed. Now, I think it was a blessing in disguise. You know, I pray a lot and it makes me feel good.
“I think now there had to be a broader plan. Maybe I wasn’t ready to be champion then. I really don’t know how I would have behaved as champion at the time.”
Hagler’s own motivating slogans like: “Destroy and destruction” or “Tear down brock walls of resistance” stoke the fires of fury that lie just beneath the surface of this man.
Marvin, with his intense, glowing eyes; the shaved skull, and the goatee, sometimes looks like the leader of a satanic cult.
Yet, outside the ring, in repose, it comes as a surprise to many meeting him for the first time how pleasant, gracious and cultured this fierce-looking man can be.
Like any proud father he’ll tell you all about his baby daughter, Monique, who was born on February 17, 1982.
He married the former Bertha Walker of Brockton on June 21, 1980. This diminutive, quiet, observant, most knowledgeable of boxing observers can rightfully be called “Mrs Marvelous”.
She has never hesitated to share in the responsibilities of Hagler’s career. She helps with the money managing, speaking engagements and most importantly, is both mother and father for the four Hagler children when the champion is away at camp.
In addition to the baby there is 11-year-old Jimmy, nine-year-old Celeste – Bertha’s children from a former marriage – and five-year-old Marvin, Jr. Both parents are determined that all the children will get a formal education.
They would like to see their kids participate in sports, but not necessarily on the professional level.
Marvelous Marvin – when relaxed – will talk about his days in construction work, during which time “I was the best cement worker in the state of Massachusetts.”
He’ll go out of his way to play electronic games like Space Invaders or Pac-Man. He has a large record collection catalogued and indexed – mostly jazz, some rock and disco, as well as a few classical numbers.
Lena Horne is his favourite singer, Julius Erving one of his favourite athletes. He loves backgammon and enjoys gin rummy.
“When I’m not fighting, I try to be a good human being – instead of the terrible monster you see in the ring,” explains Marvin.
But you’d have to whack him with a club to get him to talk about the many unheralded, unpublicized appearances he makes in the children’s wards of hospitals around the country.
Or about the time he and Bertha visited Hawaii and they came across a ghetto area, the Palama Settlement, in Honolulu. When the couple returned home to Brockton, Marvin ordered $10,000 worth of sporting goods for the Palama Settlement.
In the end it is still boxing that is number one in the heart and mind of Marvin Hagler. Recently, after a hard day’s work in his monastic, remote retreat at Cape Cod, Marvin rhapsodized about his love for the sport of boxing.
“It’s like a drug to me,” Hagler said. “It’s my life; my all.
“Today I’m everything I wanted to be someday when I was a kid. Of course I love boxing. It got me a nice woman and children, nice car, nice clothes, a nice place to live. Boxing has also been my education.”
A Rhodes scholar couldn’t say it any better.