As it turned out, the question of whether Marvelous Marvin Hagler should fight Woeful Wilford Scypion for the traditional 15 rounds or for only 12, as ordered by the WBC and the WBA, was moot. Two minutes and 47 seconds into the fourth round last Friday night in Providence, R.I., Scypion was flat on his back. And Hagler, whose record now is 57-2-2, had proved, as he does with every title defense, that he is the best middleweight, and probably the best fighter in the world today, regardless of what the alphabetized lords of the ring decree.
From Mexico City the following day, Jose Sulaiman, president of the WBC, which had ranked Scypion as the No. 1 contender, said he chose to look upon the scuffle as a nontitle fight. So for the moment Hagler, despite having flouted the WBC's 12-round dictum, remains its champion. From Panama and Venezuela, the twin WBA power bases, there was only embarrassed silence.
To understand all of this, if one can begin to understand anything happening in boxing these days, one must go back to the death of South Korean Duk Koo Kim after he was knocked out last Nov. 13 by WBA lightweight champion Ray Mancini. Soon thereafter, Sulaiman, displaying more compassion than logic, announced that as of Jan. 1, 1983 all WBC championship bouts would be limited to 12 rounds. His rationale was that if the Kim-Mancini fight had ended after 12, Kim would still be alive. Applying that logic retroactively to 1918, of 645 documented fight-connected deaths since then, only 13 would have been prevented. The other 632 fatalities came in 12 rounds or less. And of those 632 fatalities, 190 were amateurs, who fight three rounds or fewer.
The WBA, which follows Sulaiman's lead only when there's money to be made, said it would continue with the 15-round limit.
In the case of unified champions, of which there are only two, Hagler and light heavyweight Michael Spinks, the two groups agreed that they would take turns acting as the "host" organization for title defenses. The other would just be along for a free ride—and the sanction fees. In Hagler's last fight before meeting Scypion, a sixth-round knockout of Tony Sibson in February, the WBC provided the officials and the supervision. That bout was scheduled for 15 rounds because the contracts for a fight of that length had already been signed.
On March 11, Bob Arum, co-promoter of last week's bout, received a Telex from Dr. Elias Cordova, the chairman of the WBA championship committee, informing him that the Scypion fight would have WBA officials and be for 15 rounds and that "only under this conditions [sic] the bout will receive the WBA approbation."
Subsequently, however, using the argument that Scypion was the WBC's No. 1 contender but only No. 2 according to the WBA, Sulaiman convinced Gilberto Mendoza, the president of the WBA, that the WBA should pass up its turn in the spotlight. Dr. Cordova, who has his own independent duchy within the WBA, wouldn't play along.
Hagler was caught in the crossfire. No matter which way he turned, one organization was going to strip him of half his championship. Then a backroom deal was struck. In exchange for the control of Hagler's next two defenses, the WBA agreed to let Sulaiman direct this one.
"Twelve rounds," Sulaiman said happily.
Hagler objected. "Fifteen rounds," he said.
Obviously distressed that a champion would dare speak up, even to a rival organization, Mendoza then decreed that the WBA would sanction only a 12-round fight. It mattered not that this was in direct contravention of the WBA's 15-round rule. Nor did it matter that Sulaiman had agreed to ignore his own new rule by allowing Hagler to fight 15 rounds in each of his two defenses following the Scypion challenge.
Enter the United States Boxing Association, or, more correctly, its hastily put-together offshoot, the USBA/International. "You are our world middleweight champion," said the USBA/I, an organization that, minus the slash and the I, had Scypion as its United States middleweight champion. "If you want to fight 15 rounds, we'll sanction it."
That's all the boxing world needed: a third organization with a third set of ratings and, more than likely, a third set of champions. Said Bill Brennan, the USBA/I's championship committee chairman and former president of the USBA, "We'll be O.K. if we can keep our people honest, keep their hands out of other people's pockets."
For his part, Hagler was more than happy to have the USBA/I's blessing. He said, "I won the title in a 15-round fight, I've defended it six times in 15-round fights, and I'm going to defend it this time in a 15-round fight."
Pat Petronelli, Hagler's co-manager, was more direct: "We're fed up with the WBC and WBA dictating terms to us. How can they sanction this fight for 12 rounds and the next two for 15 rounds? It's bad for the sport. We're taking a stand right now. Marvin is disgusted with both organizations. They keep saying, '[We're going to] strip, strip, strip [you of your title].' And we're saying to them, 'If you want to do it, go ahead and do it.' Marvin Hagler will still be the world champion regardless of what they say."
When the fight was postponed from May 13 to May 27 because of an injury to Hagler's left knee, Arum asked Mike Jones, Scypion's co-manager, "You in or out?"
Jones asked for 24 hours to confer with his man. The next day Jones said, "When you get down to the nitty-gritty, one fact stands out: Marvin is the undisputed middleweight champion. How could any governing body deny that? And when Wilford wins the title, he will be the undisputed champion of the world."
Two other facts stood out: When Scypion upset Frank (The Animal) Fletcher in February, he earned the shot at Hagler and the $350,000, including training expenses, that went with it. If Scypion (26-3) refused to fight. Arum had the option of bringing in a substitute. Given the choice between $350,000 and the future blessings of the WBC and WBA, Scypion wisely opted for the cash.
Sulaiman had two moves left in his repertoire. On May 18 he wired Mike Malitz of Arum's office: "WBC emergency committee voted certification of Hagler-Scypion 15 rounds based on contractual agreement. Our officials will be Arthur Mercante, referee, and judges Tony Perez, Tony Castellano and Mr. Fishenbaum."
"Mr. Fishenbaum" was Stuart Kirschenbaum, the chairman of the Michigan athletic commission, who had already been appointed a judge by the USBA/I. Along with Kirschenbaum the USBA/I had selected Referee Frank Cappuccino, and judges Larry Hazzard and Joe Cortez. A Telex went back to Sulaiman: "Suggest you contact Robert W. Lee, president of the USBA/I." A rough translation: "Drop dead."
As a last resort, Sulaiman tried a direct appeal to Hagler. He placed a call to the champion's training camp in Province-town, Mass., on the tip of Cape Cod. Co-manager and trainer Goody Petronelli answered the telephone. "I'm confused," Sulaiman said. "Why is Marvin saying all those terrible things about me? Why is Bob Arum telling me to stay home?"
"Don't believe all that stuff you read in the papers," Petronelli told him. "A lot of it is getting blown out of proportion."
"I want to talk to Marvin."
Petronelli was firm. "No, not now," he said. "You're a fight person. You know I don't want to get his mind all messed up over this 15-and 12-round stuff. If you want to talk to him after the fight, he'll be glad to talk to you."
"I understand," said Sulaiman. "Tell him I have always respected him and I think he's a great champion."
That's an opinion Scypion seemed to share. He arrived in the ring frozen with fear, and in the first round Hagler hit him with a short and wicked left hook to the head, leaving him barely erect and barely conscious. As Scypion staggered backward into a corner, Hagler went after him—and then backed off. "He was fighting back out of instinct, and that's the time you can get hurt," Hagler said later. "I figured I had 15 rounds, so there was no hurry."
After two more rounds of toying with Scypion, Hagler decided 15 rounds was 11 too many. Early in the third minute of the fourth round, Hagler unleashed a volley of punches—the first being a jarring overhand right—and when he was done, Scypion was down for the count. Just which punch had put him there was unclear. Even the HBO replays couldn't provide the answer.
No matter. When Jones saw Scypion fall, he decided he had taken enough. As Cappuccino counted eight, Jones was starting through the ropes, and at nine he was inside the ring, just as Trainer Victor Valle was last June, when Gerry Cooney, another boxer in the Jones stable, was being pounded by Larry Holmes. Even if Scypion had made it to his feet, and indeed he was trying, he would have been disqualified because his cornerman was in the ring. Officially the result will be listed as a knockout at 2:47.
A few moments later, Hagler, in the bored manner of a veteran mountain climber who has scaled all the Himalayas, said he was seriously pondering retirement. "I've beaten everything that's out there," he said. "There are no big-money fights for me, and I don't feel like just hanging around waiting for somebody to knock me off. I'm going home for a long rest. I'm going to be with my wife and my family, and I am going to think about it."
Hagler's boredom is understandable. His next fight is scheduled to be against the WBA's top contender, Juan Roldan, a crude and slow Argentinian who decisioned Teddy Mann on Friday night's undercard. After that, Arum has suggested Roberto Duran, should he win the WBA junior middleweight title from Davey Moore on June 16, and, possibly, Wilfred Benitez, the former WBC super welterweight champ.
Oddly, no one has mentioned Tommy Hearns, who beat Benitez last December for the title and is the one fighter who could provide Hagler with a big payday. In the past, the Hagier camp has said that Hearns wants no part of Hagler, even though the two men almost met last year, before an injury to Hearns's hand canceled the bout.
"Not so," said Mike Trainer, the attorney for Hearns and his manager, Emanuel Steward. "That is the only big-money fight for Marvin. But not yet, although I'll sit down and talk with them about it tomorrow if they want. First Tommy has to defend his title. And then he has to move up and meet a few middleweights to make this a credible fight. Hearns is the only opponent Hagler has who can make him a lot of money. Roldan's a joke. And you can forget Duran and Benitez, because Benitez has beaten Duran and Tommy beat Benitez. If Marvin wants to make a lot of money, he has only one choice—Hearns."
But if Trainer really wants to talk to Hagler, he'll have to get in line. Sulaiman is already knocking on his rebellious champion's front door. "I believe the people with Hagler have abandoned the WBC title," Sulaiman said Saturday. "But I want Hagler to tell me this himself. I respect him; I like him. I will go anywhere to meet with him. I will pay my own way. Only then, after I have talked with Marvin, will I make up my mind whether he's still our champion or has abandoned us. And if he has, we'll find somebody else. At this moment he is still our champion."
Goody Petronelli said that Sulaiman is welcome to sit down and talk with the world champion anytime. "But my brother Pat and I will be there, too," he said. "Anyhow, right now all Marvin is thinking about is taking the summer off. He's worked long and hard, and he deserves a long rest. He's going to get it. In the fall he'll be a new man; he'll be raring to go. Then we can talk about his future."
As Hagler left Providence for his home in Brockton, Mass. on Saturday, he said that fall sounded like a nice time to make his decision. "I'll let you know in September or November." As everyone knows, October is for Halloween, which is almost as scary as Hagler.