Of all the legendary fighters Top Rank chairman Bob Arum has promoted in his 55 years in the boxing business, there were few that he admired and respected as much as Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the legendary middleweight champion, who died so unexpectedly on Saturday at age 66. (photo by Chris Farina)
“He just ruined me because generally the talent, whether it’s an actor or an athlete, is never that loyal. He just was,” Arum told BoxingScene as he reminisced about Hagler. “He just had my back even more than I had his. He was just that kind of guy.”
To illustrate the loyalty of Hagler, Arum recalled a humorous story involving rival promoter Don King and Hagler’s mother.
“I remember when King made a run at Marvin’s mother after his fight with (Tony) Sibson in Worchester (Massachusetts, in February 1983), where we were snowed in and it took us time to get back to the hotel,” Arum recalled as he began to laugh.
“King was there and he was starting to chat up the mother, how Hagler should fight for a Black promoter, that kind of thing. And when Hagler found out he just went crazy. Told his mother – woooo! – he went nuts. He was really angry at his mother for listening to King.”
Hagler, who fought many fights for Arum without a promotional contract, boxed for Top Rank for the final 19 fights of his career, from 1979 to his retirement in 1987, including every one of his 15 middleweight world championship bouts.
Arum sounded very proud to have promoted so many of Hagler’s fights.
“Every single fight since Norberto Cabrera,” he said. “That was the first one, in Monte Carlo. Every single Marvin Hagler fight from then on.”
How he became associated with Hagler in the first place is a story Arum enjoyed retelling.
“You know how that fight got made, the Cabrera fight? It’s a great story,” Arum said. “Prior to that, I got two letters -- one from Tip O’Neill, who was the speaker of the house (of representatives), and the other from Teddy Kennedy, who was the senator from Massachusetts. And each letter said the same thing – that their constituent was a fighter named Marvin Hagler and he had been deprived of the ability to fight for a world title and that unless I arranged, unless Top Rank arranged -- because we were doing all the middleweight championship fights then -- for him to fight for a title in the near future there would be a joint senate and house investigation.”
Arum paused and then finished his sentence while laughing: “With me as the chief witness!”
At that point Arum said he immediately called Boston promoter Rip Valenti, who was promoting the Brockton, Massachusetts-based Hagler. Arum knew Valenti because he handled Top Rank’s closed circuit business in the region for Muhammad Ali’s fights and Arum also promoted Ali.
“I said, ‘Rip, Jesus Christ, I got these letters, you got to get the Hagler people in to see me!’ So, Rip brought (Hagler managers) Pat and Goody Petronelli in to see me,” Arum said. “And that’s when I arranged for him to fight Norberto Cabrera, a real tough Argentine middleweight, on the same card in Monte Carlo where (Vito) Antuofermo was challenging for the title against Hugo Corro, of Argentina, who was the champion. And I said if (Hagler) won that fight I would match him with the winner of the Antuofermo-Corro fight, which I did.”
Hagler got his first title shot on Nov. 30, 1979 on ABC in prime time, challenging Antuofermo in the co-feature of the main event in which Sugar Ray Leonard stopped Wilfred Benitez in the 15th round to win the WBC welterweight world title at the famed Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion in Las Vegas.
“He beat the sh-- out of Antuofermo but, of course, the judges in Nevada, at least two of them, gave nod to Antuofermo,” Arum said. Actually, one judge had it for Antuofermo, one for Hagler and one had it a draw, resulting in a split draw and depriving Hagler of the undisputed title. Hagler would have to wait 10 months before he got another shot.
“The WBC made Antuofermo fight (Alan) Minter and that ended up in rematch and, finally, it took Hagler (almost) a year to get another crack at the middleweight title, during which time I promoted three of his fights,” Arum said.
Hagler would knock out Loucif Hamani in the second round, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts in the second round to avenge a 10-round majority decision loss from 1976 and outpoint Marcos Geraldo. Finally, Hagler got another title shot against Minter, who had dethroned Antuofermo by split decision and then stopped him on cuts in the eighth round of an immediate rematch.
“And then Hagler fought Minter and beat Minter (by third-round knockout in London) and that was the fight where he bloodied the sh-- out of Minter,” Arum said. “They stopped the fight and Minter was a white supremacist, a white nationalist, and had said before the fight on radio that no Black man would ever win his title, and so when they stopped the fight and Hagler had won, that’s when the bottles rained down on the ring and we had to go under the ring.”
After seven years as a pro and 54 fights – many against top opposition -- Hagler returned to the United States as the undisputed middleweight champion and was suddenly a hot commodity.
“What happened then was by the time we got back to the United States I was contacted by this company called HBO, who had not done (many) live fights and they gave me a three-fight deal with Hagler for his next three fights at three times the money ABC was paying.”
Hagler would fight 11 world title bouts on HBO, but none was more exciting than his legendary shootout with fearsome puncher Thomas Hearns, whom he defended the title against on April 15, 1985 at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace, which was synonymous with mega fights in the 1980s.
Hagler and Hearns charged at each other at the opening bell and produced a breathtaking slugfest for the ages many regard as the greatest fight in boxing history. It featured an electrifying first round and concluded with a badly bleeding Hagler knocking Hearns out in the third round for his greatest triumph, one that shot him to super stardom.
Arum said he is the reason that Hagler and Hearns came out blasting away in the first round.
“One of the greatest fights I’ve ever seen and you know who was responsible for that fight being the way it was? Me,” Arum said.
And why is that?
“Because that was the time I did a crazy 23-city tour with the two fighters,” Arum said. “By the time that tour was over no two guys hated each other more than they did because they got on each other’s nerves so much.”
With a nonstop string of news conference as they barnstormed the United States to promote the fight, Hagler and Hearns were in each other’s face day after day, and by time the bell rang they wanted to kill each other, Arum said.
Two fights later, Hagler lost a split decision and the title to Leonard in one of the most controversial results of all time, one that can still incite boxing fans to argue. Hagler retired after that 1987 mega fight, rebuffing overtures from Leonard and Arum to accept a rematch. He had completed an all-time great career that sent him to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993.
Arum has promoted a who’s who of greats in his decades in boxing, including Ali, Leonard, Hearns, Roberto Duran, George Foreman, Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao, Oscar De La Hoya, Julio Cesar Chavez, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez and many others. Hagler will always hold a special place in Arum’s heart.
“Hagler’s the best middleweight and one of the best fighters I’ve ever promoted,” he said.
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.