'LET THE WORLD KNOW I'M O.K.'

Despite reports to the contrary, Marvin Hagler says he hasn't let his life go to pieces since losing to Sugar Ray Leonard
September 27, 1987

"Some day you know you're going to lose, but what I wanted to do was retire as the undisputed middleweight champion of the world. With all my belts. They didn't beat me. They took them from me. They took. That's what they did. They took. So that's the bitterness. I think time will help. That's all I'm asking. That's all I'm looking for. That's all I want, peace and time."
—MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER

He swerved into the parking lot of the small shopping center off Washington Street in Hanover, Mass., in a car that was far less a conveyance than a motorized advertisement for himself. A 1987 420 SEL Mercedes with a spit-shined black-and-silver exterior and miniature windshield wipers on the headlights, it bore license plates personally issued by a former governor of Massachusetts: WORLD MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMP/MMH.

If the plates were obsolete, the fighter did not appear to be as he swept through the front door of his store—Marvelous Marvin Hagler's Sportswear and Novelty Shop—a pair of designer shades perched on his bald head and a grin across his face. Dropping into a director's chair in the back of the shop, he patted a knee.

"Feel excellent," Hagler said. "Back to work! Staying busy. Trying to stay in touch with this here store. We have a bunch of movie things we're looking at. I'm running, playing volleyball and swimming. I'm only six pounds over—166! I feel a lot better about myself. As far as the fight game is concerned, I'm gonna sit back and watch and see what happens now. I want to let the world know I'm O.K."

Thus Hagler surfaced last week, appearing fit, speaking volubly and seeming quite like the Hagler of old, reports to the contrary notwithstanding, and he wanted the world to know that he was not 1) a wife-abuser, 2) a cocaine addict with an alcohol dependency or 3) a crazy recluse who, out of grief and pain over having lost a prizefight, had dived into the deep end of life's pool, never to be heard from again. Not that the above haven't been well reported by the media.

On April 6, in a controversial split decision, Hagler lost his middleweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard, and with it all he had ever sought in his professional life. Hagler had always been the consummate pro—disciplined, almost monomaniacal, in the way he pursued the title. Finally, after eight years and 53 professional fights, he won the unified WBC-WBA crown from Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, and then over the next 6½ years he successfully defended it 12 times against all comers. Along the way he picked up the IBF portion of the championship.

Of his title defenses, 11 ended by knockout; only a shifty, clever Roberto Duran took Hagler 15 rounds. And then came Sugar Ray. Leonard fought him as Duran had fought him, showing Hagler angles and lateral movement that confused him and left him relatively ineffective. And, ultimately, shorn of the title that meant everything to him.

Hagler can still taste the bile in his mouth. "It was unfair," he says. "You can't take a champion's title away like that. Leonard didn't beat me. I can't understand the judging. There are millions of people watching and seeing what is happening, and they can do this right in front of television. I think it's really bad.

"I felt I fought a very good fight. I trained for three months. I sacrificed like hell for that fight. I think what happened to me is this: When I don't knock a guy out and he's left standing, everyone thinks, 'The guy did great! He survived.' That's what Leonard did. He didn't come out there to try to win the title. Leonard came out there to look pretty, and just to show he wasn't scared, and to get in the ring with me. But, hey, he didn't come out to try to knock me out. He knew he couldn't do it."

Upon being reminded that Leonard had said he was there to win by points, not by a knockout, Hagler said, "No! Leonard didn't win points. Leonard went in there to show the world he wasn't afraid of me. He ran!" That movement, of course, frustrated Hagler, who chased Leonard while urging him to fight. "Come on, little bitch!" he had called to Leonard.

"I never talked so much to a fighter in the ring in my life," Hagler says. "He was just running. This man was exhausted. How are you gonna win a title like that? I saw him look over my shoulder at [his trainer] Angelo Dundee, and Dundee wouldn't let Leonard quit. Leonard wanted to quit. I had him three times!"

But...but..."I don't blame myself," Hagler says. "I beat the man. He wants to talk about points? Why don't you give me points for aggressiveness? I think I scored just as much.... I think I did very well. The only thing I didn't do was knock him out. In my heart, I feel I won the fight.... I know it was the judges who decided.... I have to be a man about everything."

To be sure, Hagler certainly has been every bit a man when it comes to his trainer and his manager, Goody and Pat Petronelli. For $2 million more, Pat agreed to make the fight 12 rounds instead of 15. Many experts believe this crucial concession contributed to Hagler's loss because the very active champion would presumably have benefited more from a longer fight than a challenger who had fought only once in more than five years. Goody's ring strategy for Hagler was more conservative, which also may have been a mistake.

Perhaps the most galling thing of all was that Leonard, for years Hagler's obsession and nemesis, was ultimately the man who took the title from him. "Marvin didn't like the media hype, the showboating," says Pat Petronelli. "The showboating drove him crazy."

"You know—pretty boy," Hagler says.

The very image of Leonard as the establishment's choice had driven Hagler to distraction in the years before the fight and had fueled his intensity to the very moment he stepped into the ring against Sugar Ray. Hagler had fought brutally for the acceptance that had come to Leonard so easily and naturally. To Hagler, Leonard was forever the showman—quick, pretty, flashy and glib—moving in the ring as he moved through life. To Hagler, he was a form without shadow, a shadow without form, and all Hagler had to do was reach out and catch him, if he could.

Hagler had caught everyone else, of course. He'd dominated his division by the sheer force and discipline of his might and art. And though he was making mounds of money and though he eventually grew bored with the show, he never took his eye off Leonard. He seemed to sense that he would not be whole unless he beat Leonard.

After the loss to Leonard, but not just because of it, his old secure world began crumbling around him. The fight was only one link in a chain that fell apart. The progression actually began a week before the bout, when Hagler's beloved mother-in-law, Anna Washington, died of heart disease in Brockton, Mass., leaving him and his wife, Bertha, to grieve together long-distance on the telephone. "He wanted to go to the funeral, but he couldn't," Bertha says. "It was hard. I had my kids but no husband to come home and hold me."

Still grieving, Bertha flew out for the fight and suddenly found herself mourning for Marvin, too, and his lost title. These were not easy times for them. One minute you lose your mother, and the next your husband loses his job. It was a bit much for any soul to take. Marvin and Bertha were married on June 21, 1980. It was a love match, but there had been problems during the last year.

Women were throwing themselves at Hagler, so the stories went, and he was not throwing them back. Bertha thought the loss of her mother and the loss of the fight would bring her and Marvin back together again. "Instead," she says, "it drove us apart."

When they returned home to Hanover, Hagler was an emotional wreck. "He cried a lot," Bertha says. "I got him to talk about it a little. He felt he did get robbed. He said, 'I'll never be able to get my life and marriage together until I get my belts back.' " In the end, she says, he grew colder and more remote.

"I was trying to get him to talk to me," Bertha says. "He'd say, 'I don't want to talk about it.' I'd say, 'You have to talk about it. You can't go on like this.' It was frustrating for me because I couldn't get to him. The more I tried, the more distant he became." Hagler grew further from her, physically as well as emotionally. He spent more time away from home. "I thought, Maybe he'll wake up and find there's more to life than drinking and partying," she says.

She believes that her husband's central problem was the outcome of the fight and that he remains angry with her and the Petronellis over it. "He's bitter toward all three of us," she says. "He's going to have to come down to reality. He knows the mistakes he made in this fight, and he has to deal with them."

The differences between Marvin and Bertha became public in late June, when Bertha filed an abuse petition in Hingham (Mass.) District Court that claimed, "Marvin threw me out of the house. He pushed me. He hit the car with a boulder. I am in fear of him." A judge issued a temporary order barring Hagler from their house and gave Bertha custody of their five children, for the time being. Hagler did not contest the order and moved to an apartment in Boston. The incident was, she says, the first and only time he had ever been violent with her. And now she thinks she may have acted too hastily.

The story made all the papers, of course, but that was only the beginning. A few days later, sports anchor John Dennis of WNEV-TV in Boston reported that Hagler was involved in "widespread abuse of both alcohol and cocaine." Dennis went on to say: "Those closest to Marvin Hagler say it was that decision on April 6 that started him on the downward spiral. Almost immediately after his return home to Boston, they [friends and family] say Marvin's despair over the loss steered him toward alcohol and cocaine."

Dennis, an old friend of Hagler's, insisted his sources were solid. "They came to me," he said.

On all counts, except for that of excessive drinking, Hagler now pleads innocent. He says he did not abuse Bertha. Yes, they had an argument, and he did throw a rock at her car. "I thought I was handling things in the proper way," he says. "I wasn't putting my hands on her or anything like that." And, yes, there was a time he was drinking heavily: "I've put it back in moderation now." But, no, he says, he did not "abuse" cocaine: "If I do cocaine, I can lose all those things I worked very hard for...."

He says that the trouble in his marriage has nothing to do with his loss to Leonard: "There's no connection. Things were heating up before the fight. I don't see why people are making a big thing out of it. Because I lost the fight, they said I was going crazy. That's bull.

"Everything tumbled down on me at the wrong time. My mother-in-law's death, the fight, my marriage—everything was on top of me. I admitted I was drinking a lot more than what I normally do. It was me trying to understand what was happening with my marriage.

"Bertha and I need some time away from each other. We've been together since we were 14 years old. I love Bertha. I always will. If people were to leave me and Bertha alone, maybe we could figure out our own problems and maybe we could put it together ourselves."

Asked if the Hagler fortune was really worth some $20 million, as some sources have suggested, Bertha raised her eyes and said, "More." So after Marvin heaved the rock, it was no small matter that moved her to call the country's most celebrated divorce lawyer, Marvin Mitchelson, in California, seeking a legal separation. Mitchelson urged restraint, telling her not to act rashly.

"He could hear in my voice that I wanted to be separated but I didn't want to be separated," she says. "He said, 'If you're really sure what you want to do, give me a call.' " She hasn't called back.

"I love him, and the kids love him, and they want us to go back together," Bertha says. "I still have my wedding ring on. This is a cool-down period for Marvin and me."

"I don't know," Hagler says, speaking of going home again. "I'm still undecided about a lot of things."

So far, he has not gone back to the gym, either. The Petronellis see him only sporadically. And his promoter, Bob Arum, does not think he will or should ever fight again. "I think he would be nuts to do so," Arum says. "Why would anybody with that kind of money fight?" With Leonard back in retirement, three middleweight title fights have been scheduled to redistribute the pieces of the undisputed championship Hagler once owned. Arum has hired Hagler to do commentary on the telecasts of two of them.

"If I were to walk out of this game of boxing, I'd hate to walk out with this bitterness," Hagler says. "But I'm going to take time out. I don't know if I'm gonna fight again. Leonard doesn't have anything I want right now, except the satisfaction of whupping him. But that ain't what I want. I want my belts that they took...."

So Hagler says he wants peace and time. He certainly has the time, and plenty of it. Peace is another, more elusive goal.

PHOTOMANNY MILLANHagler believes it was really the judges, not Leonard, who lifted his middleweight belt. PHOTOMANNY MILLANHagler (in his Hanover novelty and sportswear store) looks truly marvelous again. PHOTOMANNY MILLANBertha blames the fight for her marital problems, but she no longer wants a separation. PHOTOJOHN IACONOHagler contends Leonard "came out there to look pretty and to show he wasn't scared."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)