Marvin Hagler Is Out to Prove Just How 'Marvelous' He Is in His Bout with Roberto Duran

updated 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/14/1983 AT 01:00 AM EST

After the fight, Wilford Scypion's trainer said his kid had been doing fine—until he stepped into the ring. "He changed colors," confided the trainer. "His eyes got as big as silver dollars." And no wonder. He had peered across the expanse of canvas to see Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who with his shaved head looked an awful lot like Ming the Merciless. Within four rounds, Scypion's high-top yellow shoes were high in the air, bottoms up.

Hagler, who has been middleweight champ for three years now, was curiously unelated this past May by his seventh successful title defense. "What is there left for me?" he asked. "I think I'm getting better with every fight, but I can't find anyone to bring out the best in me. I'm thinking of retiring."

Then, suddenly, a month later, there was Roberto Duran, back from ignominy to take out Davey Moore and secure the World Boxing Association junior middleweight title. He seemed to be the Duran of old; his eyes, blazing with intensity, all but burned away the memory of his "No más" loss to Sugar Ray Leonard and brought many to say, "Here, at last, is someone fit to meet the Marvelous One!"

And so a meeting was arranged for this Thursday night at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace. Each combatant could come away with $8 million to $10 million—far and away Hagler's biggest payday and, for Duran, roughly the same amount he picked up for an evening's work with Leonard. Last week the Vegas odds favored Hagler by about 3 to 1, with the smart money saying the 32-year-old Duran is a blown-up welterweight (135 to 147 pounds) contesting a robust middleweight (148 to 160 pounds). But the Duran enthusiasts point to the fact that their hero has faced 11 reigning or former world champions (where as Hagler has faced but two), that he's been past 10 rounds 10 times (while Hagler's been that distance just four times), that Hagler's never been in a fight of this magnitude, and so on. Hall of Fame trainer Ray Arcel even goes so far as to say, "If Duran wants to fight and is in condition, there is nobody in the world who can beat him."

All of which Marvin finds marvelously interesting. It makes him feel, against the odds, that he is the underdog—a role he finds desirable, even necessary. "Trying to show people—that's what keeps me hungry," he says. "If it ain't one thing, it's another. That's the story of my life."

The Marvin Hagler story begins in Newark, N.J. on May 23, 1954 and hits its first rough patch a few years later when his father, Robert Sims, abandons his mother, Ida Mae, and their six children to welfare, the street and dreams. "I always knew I wanted to box," says Marvin, who uses his mother's maiden name. "I used to see posters with Floyd Patterson, newspaper stories about Emile Griffith, stuff like that. I wanted to be somebody, not some hoodlum, but the right kind of somebody."

An elderly social worker named Mister Joe put gloves on Marvin for the first time when he was 12. "He'd pair us off and stand on the side and make sure nobody'd get hurt," Hagler recalls. "Mister Joe had a number of kids who needed someone to believe in them." At 14, Marvin quit school and went to work in a toy factory to supplement Ida Mae's income as a caterer and housekeeper.

With violent race riots in '67 and '69, Newark was clearly no place to be somebody. At one point, Hagler recalls, while the kids were huddled under the beds, a burst of gunfire nearly took out Uncle Eugene on the front stoop. Ida Mae had had enough and moved the family to Brockton, Mass., where she had a relative. It was there that young Marvin met destiny in the persons of Goody and Pat Petronelli, who ran a gym for young boxers. For weeks, Goody remembers, Marvin "just sat there like a little gentleman," taking in the scene, until finally Goody asked him whether he'd like to train.

The Petronellis were "different" to Hagler—for starters, they were white. "If you seen any white guy where I grew up, he was basically behind a store counter," Hagler says. "And all the black guys were on the opposite side, wanting to be where the white guy was. The problem was how the hell to get there." The Petronellis quickly set about showing their new charge. But they didn't really know what they had until the 1973 National AAU finals, when 158-pound Marvin tore up the 165-pound class and won the Outstanding Fighter Award in a tournament that included Aaron Pryor and Ray Leonard.

Two weeks later, with his first pro bout, Hagler began his long, frustrating climb to the upper reaches of the middleweight division. From the outset he had trouble getting fights. As Joe Frazier would later tell him, "You got three strikes against you. You're black, you're a southpaw and you can fight."

Middleweight champions came and went, but none would give him a title shot. Finally, in 1979, six and a half years after turning pro, he faced Vito Antuofermo for the crown. Hagler fought Antuofermo to a draw, which wasn't good enough. Given a second shot at the title in 1980, he finished England's Alan Minter(who had beaten Antuofermo) in three rounds. In May 1982 he had his name legally changed from Marvin Nathaniel Hagler to Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

These days the champ lives with his wife, Bertha (she still calls her husband just plain Marvin), and their four children (two from her previous marriage) in a house near Brockton which has an indoor pool. He drives a white Cadillac and, according to his accountant, after the Duran match Marvin will enjoy a tax-free income of at least $200,000 per annum for the rest of his life. What's more, according to a recent neurological exam, he shows no sign whatsoever of that occupational hazard, brain damage.

Going into the Duran fight, Hagler persists in seeing himself as the party with something to prove. Sitting before an unlit fireplace in the Provincetown Inn, his training camp cum "prison" on the last curl of Cape Cod, he tells a lengthy anecdote about "this skinny kid" from Brockton going up to Lowell for the finals of the New England Golden Gloves. The kid is standing in the darkened ring when, suddenly, the spotlight illumines his opponent, a burly veteran described as a three-time Golden Gloves champion with well over 100 fights. "Wow!" the skinny kid says to himself. "And this is my first time!"

Returning to the present, Hagler draws his moral. "You see, here's a guy, Duran, who's had so many fights and so many titles. And here's this skinny little kid again—me—off in the corner." He pauses, then smiles expansively. "But what happened back then was, I overcome the guy. So maybe I can do it again."

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