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Marvelous Marvin Hagler, former undisputed middleweight champion, dies at 66

In perhaps the greatest three rounds in boxing history, Marvelous Marvin Hagler knocked out Thomas Hearns to retain his middleweight title in 1985.Jim Wilson/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion from 1980-87, died Saturday, his wife wrote in a Facebook post on the Marvelous Marvin Hagler Fan Club page. He was 66.

“I am sorry to make a very sad announcement. Today unfortunately my beloved husband Marvelous Marvin passed away unexpectedly at his home here in New Hampshire. Our family requests that you respect our privacy during this difficult time,” Hagler’s wife, Kay, wrote.

The circumstances of his death were not released.

Hagler had resided in Brockton and was trained and managed by the Petronelli brothers, Goody and Pat, who were born and raised in the City of Champions. Hagler, born in Newark, was their star student.


A natural southpaw, Hagler was a fixture on the New England boxing scene in the late 1970s, honing his craft on fight cards from the Brockton High School gymnasium to the old Boston Garden. He lost two of three fights in 1976 at the Spectrum to Philadelphia natives Bobby Watts and Willie Monroe. As he often did, Hagler avenged both losses convincingly. He didn’t lose again until 1987.

Hagler drew with then-middleweight champion Vito Antuofermo in a bloody battle in 1979, his first marquee fight in Las Vegas. He didn’t leave his next title fight up to the judges.

In 1980, Hagler battered Alan Minter in London to win the middleweight belt. Fans threw debris in the ring after the fight was stopped in the fourth round, Minter’s face bloodied and distorted, Hagler and his seconds covering up as bottles were hurled into the ring.

Challengers never met Hagler’s standards. He called Antuofermo “the Mosquito” and Mustafa Hamsho “No Show.” He wore a trademark robe — with the alliterative “Destruction and Destroy” written on the back. He was one of the “Four Kings,” the late George Kimball’s opus on Hagler, Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran, who fought each for the supremacy of their divisions, and themselves.


But Hagler’s highlight victory — and perhaps the greatest three rounds in boxing history — was in 1985, when he stopped Hearns at Las Vegas to retain his crown.

An historically slow starter, Hagler came out swinging and was stunned early by a huge right hand, Hearns perhaps pound-for-pound the hardest puncher of his era.

“Hagler is hurt,” color analyst Al Bernstein said just 30 seconds into the fight. “Marvin is hurt.”

He didn’t fight like it. Hagler refused to back up, charging in to overcome Hearns’s reach advantage and switching his stance — he was a natural southpaw — to block Hearns’s devastating right hands.

Hagler, cut on the nose early and his right eye swollen, simply was too tough, wearing out the younger Hearns in what turned into a street brawl.

“They said this fight would be determined on heart and a good chin,” Bernstein said.

Advantage, Hagler.

Hearns tried to box, just as he did against Leonard in their first welterweight title fight in 1981.

Hagler wouldn’t let him.

By the third round, The Hitman, his legs like rubber, was out of gas. Hagler, bloodied but unbowed, ended it with a looping right hand that sent Hearns sprawling to the canvas. Referee Richard Steele stopped it, Hearns’s arms limp and lifeless.

“That was an unbelievable fight,” promoter Bob Arum told the Associated Press. “Probably the greatest fight ever.”


On Showtime Saturday night, Bernstein said, “This is obviously a devastating loss to boxing fans around the world, and certainly a devastating loss to all of us who knew Marvin Hagler. I was privileged to be able to announce many of his matches, and I can tell you from dealing with him at that time, and after his career, that the term straight shooter was invented for Marvin Hagler. He was universally respected within the sport of boxing.

“For all of his greatness in the ring, one of the things that I think will be a big part of his legacy is his consistency. He fought at one weight division his entire career. He had one set of trainer/managers — the Petronelli brothers — for his whole career. And he approached the sport of boxing with the same dedication from the first day he laced on a pair of gloves, to the last day.

“As much as anything else, I think that kind of defines who Marvin Hagler was. He will be missed.”

Hagler chased Leonard most of his career, the slippery Sugar Ray ducking him until the right moment. Leonard watched as Hagler struggled against John “The Beast” Mugabi in 1986. Although Hagler knocked out Mugabi, Leonard sensed an opening. They finally met in 1987, Hagler almost 33 years old and 66 fights into his career. Leonard won a controversial split decision that night, Hagler’s last in ring. He left dejected and angered, never to return to the squared circle.


“If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove,” Hagler once said. ``That’s all I am. I live it.”

Hagler was 62-3-2 with 52 knockouts. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.

Andrew Mahoney of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

Jim Hoban can be reached at james.hoban@globe.com.