BROCKTON — It was the city where a skinny teenager from New Jersey became Marvelous. And it was where several hundred family, friends, fans, and boxers gathered Sunday to celebrate the undisputed middleweight champion and beloved family man he became.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who died in March, “was our champ,” Brockton Mayor Mayor Robert F. Sullivan said. “He really is the main reason why Brockton is called the ‘City of Champions.’”
And even for those visiting from outside the city, where his family retains deep roots, the sentiment remained clear: Hagler was their champion.
The boxer dominated the middleweight division for most of the 1980s, including a seven-year reign as world champion. He was also the victor of one of the most famous fights of all time, besting Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns in 1985.
Hagler died in New Hampshire on March 13. Sunday would have marked his 67th birthday.
“In boxing, they say the punch that hurts the most is the one you don’t see coming,” said Peter Czymbor, a boxing promoter who emceed the event. “We were all hurt by a punch we did not see coming.”
At a three-hour celebration Sunday afternoon at Rocky Marciano Stadium — named for the city’s other boxing champion — sportscaster and analyst Al Bernstein, ESPN host Stephen A. Smith, and boxing champion Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins were among at least a dozen speakers in person and through pre-recordings who lauded the late boxer.
“I studied this man, this inspiration to me. It gave me hope,” said Hopkins, considered the best middleweight boxer since Hagler.
Hopkins said he was incarcerated during Hagler’s peak years and idolized the boxer, cutting out his photos for a scrapbook that Hopkins said he still owns.
In an off-the-cuff speech, Hopkins said even though he did not know Hagler personally early in his career, the champ was his “blueprint.”
Hagler’s example, he said, “gave me strength to become what I became.”
There were also many people there who did know the late boxer personally, including about 60 extended family members.
“He was a great person — boxer and a person,” Hagler’s mother, Mae Lang, 83, said before the event. “He lived for helping people.”
She remembered when he committed himself to boxing after a street scuffle, how she could barely prevent herself from jumping into the ring herself as she watched her son’s fights — of which she missed only one.
“I miss him very, very much,” said Lang, who still lives in the same Brockton home. “I’m just trying to hang in there.”
The late champion’s son, Marvin Hagler Jr., described his father as being a “a beast as far as hard work” while training but forever a humble, friendly person who was deeply committed to family.
“Everything about today was really, really emotional,” he said in an interview at the stadium during the celebration. “Today was closure.”
In addition to the public tributes, including the state’s declaration that Sunday was “Marvelous Marvin Hagler Day” and the mayor’s announcement that $150,000 had been earmarked for a statue of the boxer, there were many private ones.
Hearns, the boxer who Hagler so famously knocked out in three rounds, came to the event to show “there were no hard feelings from me.
“I still loved the man as a person, as a fighter,” said the soft-spoken Hearns in an interview. Another former opponent, Sugar Ray Leonard, recorded a video tribute that was shown.
Bernstein, who announced the Hearns fight, said in a speech that Hagler was “the most consistent, dependable person you would ever come into contact with. Think about it. One weight division his whole career. One group of trainer-managers. One promoter for virtually all of his career. And one mindset about the sport of boxing that you have to be prepared and ready to get the job done.
“From the moment he laced up his gloves for the very first time to the last time, that was his mindset. He approached boxing with integrity and purpose, and I think he did the same with life.”
Smith, who had to return to New York City for NBA playoff broadcasts, said “Hagler was the standard for all of us to follow.”
He added, “I know who he was as a fighter but when I think about what I go through — what all of us have to go through as human beings — and to see this man continue to persevere and never cheat the sport, never cheat the profession, never cheat his fans, never cheat the game, never cheat his name, that’s why I’m standing here.”
As the event wrapped up and the last cars began rolling out of the parking lot of Brockton High School, there was one last tribute. A group of fans remained in the lot talking, still marveling over one of Brockton’s finest.
Lucas Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.