In Europe a prefight press conference is conducted in up to three languages and consists primarily of the promoters telling the international journalists about the terrific job they—the promoters—have done bringing together these wonderful fistfighters. The promoters also explain why the fighters are wonderful. The fighters attend. They are positioned around the table like pieces of prize pottery and do their best to look menacing, or at least awake. Later they pose for pictures, taking combative stances but, like pottery, they are required only to look good, not to speak. At a European press conference, the fighters do not confer.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler changed all that last week. Something fundamental stirred in Marvin at a press gathering before the second weekend of Les Combats dans le Parking Lot in Monaco. The confreres were convening this time in a gaudy tourist office in San Remo—fight promotions on the Riviera tend to meander—and suddenly Hagler was speaking his mind. If he is not the best middleweight in the world Hagler is certainly the scariest, and when he speaks everybody takes notes. Whether they understand him or not. His shaven head glistens ominously, and his baleful eyes flash.
In a kind of imperative monotone, Hagler said that the order of business was messed up. It was he, Marvelous Marvin Hagler of Brockton, Mass., who should be fighting the world champion, Argentina's Hugo Corro, and not Vito Antuofermo, the Italian-American-Italian-American who was on hand to do so.
Hagler had previously called Corro "a sissy," and Hagler's manager, Pat Petronelli, had said that Antuofermo turned down a handsome offer to fight Marvelous. Nobody wants any part of Marvin, said Petronelli. "I'm ranked No. 1," said Hagler. "I can't understand why they keep getting around me." "It's a conspiracy," said Petronelli.
July 8, 1979
Then, as the San Remo press conference disintegrated, Hagler refused to pose with his opponent, Norberto Cabrera, also of Argentina. Hagler said he was getting mean, "and does not shake hands with opponents until after a fight." It was an impressive psych, and it wasn't only Cabrera he was psyching. It was Horacio Cabral, too, there to fight (and, as it turned out, knock out in less than a round) Tap Tap Makhatini of South Africa in what promoter Bob Arum was calling "the greatest middleweight show ever." Cabral is also Argentinian. The card was crawling with them. Apparently they all look alike to Hagler.
No matter. For fighting, Marvelous Marvin needs only a time and place, not a formal introduction. On Saturday, in the same dusty parking-lot ring that catered Heavyweight Gerrie Coetzee's coming-out party and one-round knockout of Leon Spinks the weekend before, Hagler provided his own answer to why sensible men get around him. The class act of the show, even though his fight was a preliminary to the televised Corro-Antuofermo fight, Hagler delivered unto Cabrera such a vast shipment of precision goods—right and left leads, right and left hooks, vicious telling uppercuts with both hands—that the conclusion was never in doubt. Cabrera's corner threw in the towel halfway through the eighth round.
Cabrera was lucky. As Hagler's 43rd victim in 46 fights, he suffered no apparent broken bones or separations of the flesh, and neither was he turned into an outpatient, as happens to many of Hagler's victims. He was left bewildered and swollen but intact.
Hagler then put on a non-menacing blue leisure suit and was at ringside with Prince Rainier and other Arum guests in the half-filled little 4,000-seat make do arena as Antuofermo upset Corro and took his world title away. Two titles, in fact; Corro held both the WBA and WBC versions of the crown. The fight was close, the decision split. It was a mauling, artless 15 rounds that should have sent Hagler running out to celebrate. There certainly was nothing there to scare him.
Antuofermo has a divided heritage. He was born in Italy, moved to Brooklyn, went back to Italy for a time to sharpen his skills and now lives in Brooklyn again. He is a tough, bruising and aggressive fighter, a lunger who frequently glues his man to the ropes. Which is what he did to Corro. Antuofermo got away with such tactics despite the fact that he is a bleeder. His eyebrows stick out like balconies and are crocheted with scar tissue. The only losses in his 44-3-1 record came on cuts, and while the nonaggressive Corro only nicked him, those eyebrows are like gold deposits that a puncher of Hagler's mining ability could easily exploit. Actually, Corro deserved less than he got from the officials. Judge Roland Dakin scored it 143-142 for Antuofermo, Judge Wally Thom 143-144 for Corro and Referee Ernesto Magana 146-145 for Antuofermo. Corro, whose record is now 47-3-1, politely and wisely applauded the decision.
Antuofermo said after the fight that he plans to take some time off for plastic surgery on his brows before defending his new title. He had better. His next opponent is going to be Hagler. Despite Marvelous Marvin's San Remo outburst, a petulance born of disgust over a long series of runarounds, he has been guaranteed by Arum, in writing, that the next championship fight is his. Arum would like to stage it in the U.S., possibly in Schaefer Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. in September. Antuofermo said if he has to fight Hagler, he will. But he didn't sound crazy about the idea.
After paying all the middleweights, Arum's Top Rank still made "about $50,000" on the card, says the promoter, thanks to an ABC-TV check. But Arum is not complaining. Hagler and Antuofermo will do well in the U.S.
And while Arum was winging off to South Africa to make arrangements for the Coetzee-John Tate WBA heavyweight championship fight, Marvelous Marvin was packing to head for home. He had a one-line criticism of the Monaco middleweight title bout. "You call that a championship fight?" he said. You want to see a real championship fight, he indicated, just catch the big one coming up.