It has long been Marvelous Marvin Hagler's lament that he labors in the suburbs of greatness, while fighters of lesser merit bask in metropolitan limelight. So when ring announcer Nuno Cam neglected to introduce Hagler, the world's undisputed middleweight champion, before his bout last Friday in Worcester, Mass. with England's Tony Sibson, Hagler took it in stride. As he'd pointed out a few days before the fight, "If Sibson wins, he'll go home a national hero. If I win, I'll just go home."
Hagler's hometown, Brockton, Mass., is itself a suburb, of Boston, and is about 50 miles from Worcester, but for seven weeks before the fight his home was the Provincetown Inn at the tip of Cape Cod, which afforded him the solitude to train his magnificent body and develop a hatred for his opponent.
"He's got a big mouth," Hagler snarled, venting his self-induced fury at his shy and quiet challenger. "This is the last of the cocky Irishmen [sic]. The British people want nothing more than to take him home a hero. They've led him on, and they've led him to destruction. But he's courageous. That's good. I won't have to look for him."
Sibson, 24, was mystified at the outburst. "I don't know where he got that from, unless he's just using it to psych himself up," Sibson said. "All I've said was that I'm excited about fighting him because I think he's the best middleweight, probably since Sugar Ray Robinson. And I say that even though Carlos Monzon was my boyhood idol."
When the fight was stopped at 2:40 of the sixth, after Hagler had pummeled Sibson to the deck twice in the round, Hagler, in an interview with HBO's Larry Merchant, suggested that he was the greatest middleweight of all time.
"Others would have to sit in judgment on that," Merchant said.
"Well, at least the greatest since Monzon," Hagler said, backing off a bit farther than necessary.
Since winning the championship from Britain's Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, Hagler has, in just six defenses, stormed his way past the best of his contemporaries in a dismally weak division. It's hard for a man asking to be compared with the likes of Robinson and Mickey Walker and Harry Greb to offer opponents like Mustafa Hamsho and Fulgencio Obelmejias as a yardstick by which to measure his talents. Not that Hagler can be faulted for ruling a division of mediocrities. It's the same problem WBC heavyweight champion Larry Holmes is faced with. But at least Hagler has world-caliber challengers on the horizon: Thomas Hearns, the WBC super-welterweight champ, and the man Hearns beat for that crown, Wilfred Benitez.
Certainly Hagler already can be rated among the 10 best middleweight champions ever, and he's improving with every fight. His punching power rates with the alltime best, and he's a textbook boxer: He never drops his guard and never loses his head, and he's always in position to punch. And he has never been knocked out; indeed, it's doubtful that any middleweight in history could have KO'd him, except possibly Stanley Ketchel or Bob Fitzsimmons.
But no matter how great the fighter, there is always a way to beat him. Against Hagler, perhaps there are two: the busy and skilled infighting of, say, a Jake LaMotta or a Dick Tiger, or the moving and jabbing of a Robinson. A truly mobile fighter, one with skill, would give Hagler all he could handle.
Seven who certainly had the style and ability, on a good night, to beat Hagler were Fitzsimmons, Robinson, Walker, Greb, Ketchel, Tiger and LaMotta. Others who could have made things interesting: Emile Griffith, Monzon, Fred Apostoli, Ken Overlin and Marcel Cerdan. Gene Fullmer, rugged and tough, though erratic, could have offered Hagler a hard night's work. England's Randy Turpin would have made it interesting—for six or seven rounds.
Which is more than Sibson, who came in with a 47-3-1 record as the WBC's No. 1 contender, could do. The Englishman is about as devious as a hungry bear making for a honey tree, and such men are made to order for a moving, slashing sharpshooter like the champion. The fight became a magnificent exhibition of Hagler's impressive, even frightening, skills.
In the first few rounds Hagler, a lefty, established a punishing jab. And he mystified Sibson by switching from southpaw to an orthodox stance and back even more than usual. "I couldn't find him for the first two rounds," Sibson said later. "I figured I'd find him sooner or later, but I never did. I asked myself, 'Where did he go?' But I know he was there because he kept hitting me."
In the third round, under orders from his corner, Sibson tried to trade jabs, but Hagler had begun throwing combinations, digging hooks to the body and overhand rights to the head.
In the fifth round Sibson, who had never been cut before, had his face split like a melon. There was a large gash over his left eye, a smaller one over his right. Blood dripped from his nose and mouth. In the sixth Hagler stiffened Sibson's legs with a straight left and then dropped him with a right hook and a left off the top of his head. Sibson took a standing eight count from referee Carlos Padilla, then turned away from his corner and pulled down his trunks.
"Good Lord," said Mickey Duff, the British promoter who was working in Sibson's corner. "I thought, 'What's he showing us his arse for?' Then we realized he was trying to tell us he had split his protective cup. We sent someone to the dressing room to get another."
It wasn't needed. Sensing it was time to take his $1.1 million and go home, Hagler moved in and put Sibson on the deck again with three straight right hands. He looked like a man hammering a large stake into the floor. Shaking his head, Sibson, who received $557,000, pulled out his mouthpiece and regained his feet. Blood was pouring down his face. Padilla took one look and told Sibson to take the rest of the night off.
Some may say the result was predictable because Sibson, upon his arrival in Worcester 10 days before the bout, had announced he wouldn't spar. "I'm too damn friendly," he said. "I can't bring myself to hurt little people."
But Sibson could have sparred from now to doomsday and the result wouldn't have been different. "I never believed anyone could do to me what he did," Sibson said the morning after the fight. The boyish grin was still there, but above it now were ugly lumps and the 17 stitches that had been needed to close the cuts. "After the fight I had a couple of Cokes and then looked into the mirror. I said, 'God almighty!' I didn't know fighters could look like this. That Hagler is an artist in there."