One of last Saturday night's title fights at The Horizon in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont resembled bayonet practice at Parris Island. The other was, in effect, a 15-round footrace that went to the slowest. Marvin Hagler was the bayonet, and when he had finished slashing up Mustafa Hamsho at 2:09 of the 11th round, he was $1 million richer and still the world's only middleweight champion. Mike Weaver, trim at 215 but rusty after a year's layoff, plodded to a unanimous decision over James (Quick) Tillis, who fought as though he were in the Boston Marathon. In his second defense of the WBA heavyweight title, Weaver worked about 13 minutes longer than Hagler did but was paid $250,000 less.
Early Sunday morning Hagler sat on a hotel-room bed and reviewed his performance. He had just come from a hospital where five stitches had closed a deep slice above his right eye. The cut had come from a clash of heads in the second round. The bandages over the eye were partly concealed by sunglasses and a black hat pulled low.
When Hagler had left the hospital, the doctors were still working over Hamsho, who, until his trainer, Al Braverman, jumped into the ring to stop the fight, looked as though he would run out of blood before he ran out of heart. He was badly cut under both brows: Each wound was at least two inches long and half an inch wide. There was another slice under his left eye. He didn't win a round from any of the three officials.
Hagler smiled without warmth. "There was no love lost in this fight," he said. "It went exactly as we planned: Keep him in the center of the ring, pick my shots and make him look like an amateur."
October 11, 1981
Hamsho, who was born in Syria, is a street brawler. "I'll tell you what kind of style he has," Braverman said before the bout. "He's got no style. He just wades in, throwing punches from any angle." On such assaults Hamsho takes with him an iron jaw and unslacking courage, attributes that had helped him win all but one of his 34 fights and moved him up to No. 1 contender and a $200,000 shot against Hagler.
It was like sending a pit bull against a machine gun. "He can't fight a lick," said Goody Petronelli, who, with his brother, Pat, manages and trains Hagler. "The only thing we're worried about is his head, which he uses like a billygoat, and his shots below the belt."
Very early in the first round, Hagler introduced Hamsho to the evening's fare: two crackling jabs that almost snapped the challenger's head off at the neck. Hagler's jabs are a combination of jackhammer and straight razor. In the next round Hamsho introduced Hagler to the top of Hamsho's head. The champion went back to his corner with blood streaming from the cut over his eye. He sat calmly while Goody worked on the cut. "I've been there before," Hagler would say later. "Goody's the best cut man in the world. He does his job and I do mine."
While performing his ministrations, Goody also persuaded Hagler to change strategy slightly: "Keep moving and jabbing. Tire him out. Don't throw anything else unless you got a good spot."
Hagler found a good spot nine seconds into the second round, nailing Hamsho with a straight right. Snarling, Hamsho fired back with both hands. He enjoys his work. His punches come like buckshot; a lot miss, but those that land sting.
In the third Hagler ripped open Hamsho's right eye but didn't slow him down. Late in the round Hamsho twice stuck his tongue out at the champion. Both licks missed.
The area below Hamsho's left eye was torn open in the fourth. After about a minute of the round, Referee Octavio Meyran of Mexico stopped the fight and asked the two ring doctors to look at Hamsho's cuts. "Why two doctors?" Braverman yelled. "The other guy is cut, too. Send one of the doctors over to look at him. At least give us half a chance."
Hamsho passed the physical, but the pattern was set. Hagler is a relentless sharpshooter. By the sixth round Hamsho had dropped all pretense of boxing and was walking straight in, taking an awful beating, trying to land the one big punch. With blood streaming down his face onto his chest, he was rocked again and again, only to laugh at the beating and go in for more.
"I don't know what his corner was waiting for," Hagler said later. "The meat from his eyes was hanging down. But I can't let that bother me. I just have to think: better him than me."
After the 10th round, Meyran told Braverman he would permit Hamsho just one more round. Braverman nodded and told Hamsho, "This is your last shot."
Hagler came out firing. "I didn't want him stopped on cuts," he said. "I wanted him out." Hamsho tried gamely to fight back. In his corner, Patty Flood, Hamsho's manager, said to Braverman, "He's had enough. We've got to stop it."
Braverman started up the steps into the ring. Hagler fired four straight hooks and then a string of hooks and crosses as Braverman, a big man, struggled to get between the ropes. Finally he made it into the ring. Two seconds later Meyran took Hamsho into protective custody.
In the dressing room, Braverman tried to clean up the cuts. "Butts," he said. "But I believe they were accidental butts. This one, stitches. That one, stitches. This one, maybe stitches. How many? A lot."
Flood studied the ruined face. "I know guys get 200 stitches after a bar fight and don't make a quarter," he said. "At least we get 200 grand for this."
No one seemed cheered by the thought of Hamsho's 55 stitches.
On the officials' cards, where Hamsho had lost a point in the third round for butting, Meyran had Hagler ahead by seven points; judge Michael Glienna put him up by nine; and judge Al Tremari, who scored four rounds 10-8, had him winning by 15. "I got to admit," Flood said, "I knew Hagler was a great puncher and he was strong, but I didn't know he was such a beautiful boxer."
There was nothing beautiful about the heavyweight match, which was part of the package for which Home Box Office, the pay TV outfit, had forked over $3 million to show live. Saturday night NBC, which paid about 1/30th that much, will show the fights in a delayed telecast. If you like horror movies, watch the middleweights. If you are having trouble sleeping, tune in the heavies.
The heavyweight bout was ordered by the WBA after Weaver decided he'd rather fight Gerry Cooney for $2 million than Tillis for $1 million. Cooney was the No. 1 contender. No matter. When the smoke from the WBA's edict and four or five suits had cleared, there was Weaver, now making only $750,000, in with Tillis, the No. 3 contender.
Tillis, a light hitter who came under the tutelage of Angelo Dundee last January, was expected to come out dancing and jabbing. Instead, he came out in full retreat. Rather than jotting down points after each round, the officials should have recorded his splits. All he needed in his corner was starting blocks.
Weaver, a notoriously slow starter, hadn't fought since stopping Gerrie Coetzee last Oct. 25. Weaver was in good shape, but the long layoff had slowed his timing. At first he pursued his fleeing challenger at a leisurely pace. Then he slowed down. By the seventh round, which was sort of a cease-fire between truces, the crowd had begun to boo.
In the ninth, Tillis stood and fought, but then Weaver cocked his devastating left. Tillis fled at the sight of it and hit the quarter pole in 0:24 and change.
In Weaver's corner before Round 10, his manager, Don Manuel, was urging him to step up the pace. "Throw more combinations," he said. "Press him more. Step to the right and throw a right. Hell, step to the right and throw a hook."
In the 11th, Weaver came roaring out at a fast shuffle. He hooked Tillis to the body, crossed with a right and unloaded two more hooks. Stung, Tillis answered with a quick combination and was gone. Then Weaver seemed to lose interest.
The pace was beginning to tell on Tillis, the 24-year-old cowboy who came in with a 20-0 record against folks like Roughhouse Fischer and Domingo D'Elia. His mouth was open and he was sucking deep for air. Weaver began getting to him, but never with a solid shot—largely because when Tillis wasn't running, he was now grabbing. Whenever Weaver got too close, Tillis hugged him like a brother. Late in the 13th, after Tillis had wrapped Weaver in an embrace, Referee Stanley Christodoulou stepped in to break it up. Tillis hugged him, too.
Mercifully, the fight only lasted 15 rounds. All three officials favored the champion: Christodoulou, 146-142; judge Rogelio Perez, 147-142; judge Ismael Fernandez, 145-143.
Tillis thought Fernandez was closest to being correct. "I thought I had won at least 11 rounds," he said. "I outhit him three or four to one. I guess the judges couldn't see too good tonight."
Still, he made $250,000. Which isn't bad for a guy who didn't even need one stitch. Come to think of it, he might have gotten one stitch—in his side.