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Home / ring observations / Scoop Malinowski / Close Encounters With Marvin Hagler

Close Encounters With Marvin Hagler

By Scoop Malinowski

A portrait of memories of the former middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler who ruled the 160 pound division from 1980-1987…

Kelly Ross (North Conway, New Hampshire, friend): Like all of us in North Conway, we all got to meet him , and some of us were lucky enough to get to know him, and I was one of the lucky ones.  I’m gonna share some of my favorite stories of the times I got to share with him, and his wife Kay.  I hung at his house, he hung at my house and we shared our similarities from the Three Stooges to shooting pool, ping pong and other games, to watching sports, going out to eat, and above all, partying about 99% of the time.  This ginormous piece of memorabilia is a 24×20 limited edition Leroy Neiman he autographed and had matted and framed for me as a “Thank You” for being a friend, and of course for taping every Three Stooges episode for him for his video library.  Not everyone in town liked Marvin, but I had a total blast with him and thought of him as a true friend back in my North Conway days, and even out here when we moved as he visited often.  

In what I believe was the fall of ’87, my usual Sunday routine was to drop by Horsefeathers around 10:30 a.m. to fill out/turn in my weekly football pool. The restaurant didn’t open until 11:30, so generally there was just a couple of employees there doing the same as I. On this day, Marvelous Marvin was sitting at the bar with a friend of his, both having a cocktail. I knew Marvin, but barely. I had introduced myself to him a few times and he always remembered my name, but we never really spoke much. I sat down next to him as we filled out our tickets together, asking each other opinions on certain games. I asked bartender Randy Mosson if he could turn the TV onto TV38, Stooges on Sunday morning. When the Stooges hit the screen, Marvin lit right up and started his Curly impersonations, which of course, I echoed him and it became a comedy show for a few minutes. He mentioned his diehard love for them and I told him as I had been to Stooges conventions, met their families and such, and all of a sudden I realized Marvin was jealous of me…..Haha…..What a concept. I told him I had all their episodes taped and he asked me if I would tape them for him. Next thing ya know, he went to buy blank tapes, came over to my place and we spent almost two days taping him every single one of them. We partied those two days in a big way while playing mega rounds of ping pong at my place. That weekend was the official start of a great friendship that has lasted over 30 years with a pretty cool guy who had the world by the balls but was just a regular guy. I have a couple more fun stories to share…
So when he moved to Italy, he came back with his wife to be, Kay, an absolute doll/sweetheart.  Now I knew Marvelous Marvin for at leat a half dozen years, likely more before he left.  So he calls when he comes back and we get together at a local bar – He LOVED to drink – and I got to hang with him and Kate for a few hours.  Well he always had this thick Boston accent and now it was all Italian Boston and he just sounded weird, so as I do with all my friends, I busted his balls and said, “Jesus Marvin, ya leave for a few months and ya come back sounding like one of the Corleone Brothers from the Godfather”……He stands up, not much taller than me, lifts his right fist and says, “Fuck You Ross”, and after a split second of knowing he wasn’t gonna kill me, we laughed our asses off, he put me in a headlock and started giving me Noogies [laughs].

I’ve got a few stories that are hilarious, and quite a few of us just hanging out.  He had a huge game room at his place with tons of stuff.  His all time favorite, which is so unheard of, was Bumper Pool.  He had a huge regulation table, obviously not the size of a real pool tables since BP was on more of an Octagon kind of shape.  He could play that all day.

I ran a restaurant in Meredith where him and Kay came and did dinner there with me and my wife as I took the day off.  We sat outside on the lake and ate and drank like rock stars.  After running up about a $400 tab, when we paid and tipped, they rang this huge bell for the tip and he jumped up saying “Who am I fighting”  LOL  I acted like his corner guy, rubbing his shoulders telling him, “Sit Down Champ”, it was a decoy.  Of course, earlier in the day there, he came with a 5-6 inch pile of pictures, knowing so many would be looking for autographs, and he signed everyone of those pis in no time and eventually was signing napkins  Truly a CHAMP of The People!!

Kraig Nienhuis (Former Boston Bruins left wing):  “I did the Boston Christmas tree lighting ceremony with Marvin Hagler in 1987. We went clubbing after. He signed autographs that whole night. Bar closed at 2 am, we stayed there till 4 am. He talked and signed for anyone and everyone. This was in his prime.”

Rod Isbister (Boxing fan):  “I met Marvin Hagler on Massachusetts Ave. in the late 80s. He gave out autographed pictures. A real character champ.”

Jeff Freeman (Boxing journalist):  I’m from Brockton. I’ll never forget meeting Marvin for the first time at Brockton High School in 1980. I was ten. He was in the gymnasium conducting a very sweaty public sparring session with his half-brother Robbie Sims. I ran around getting every autograph I could on a black-and-white headshot of Marvin, handed out to everyone in attendance. I wish I still had it. Every Hagler friend or family member signed it, trainers, and even the publicist. When it came time for him to sign my picture, there was no room left on the front so he humorously flipped it over and signed the back.

Joe Hand (Boxing insider):  A short Marvin Hagler story. In early 1986, my father was James Shuler’s manager. Shuler was the no. 1 middleweight contender. Hagler had just knocked out Tommy Hearns and James, was Hagler’s mandatory fight, but we agreed to take step aside money so Hagler could fight John “The Beast” Mugabi.  James would fight Tommy Hearns in the semi final on the same PPV card.  The five city press tour started at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.  After the press conference at Caesars two private jets, one jet with Mugabi and Hearns and one with our Shuler team and Marvin Hagler team flew us to Los Angeles.   The Hearns/Mugabi plane landed a little ahead of our plane.  There were four limos, one white and three black, waiting for each fighter.  Hearns gets in the white one, Mugabi in a black one. They tell us to exit the plane and Hagler says, “No”……Hagler wants the white limo that Hearns is sitting in.  We aren’t sure if he serious or joking.   He continues, saying, ‘Tell Tommy to get out of the limo or I’ll knock his ass out again.’   Hagler arrived at the press conference in the white limo. Marvin was a “bad ass” man!

Wladimir Klitschko (Former World Heavyweight Champion):  “Emanuel Steward would use Marvin Hagler’s fights as a motivator for me before my fights. And let me tell you it worked. He was a warrior in the ring, and a kind soul outside of it.”

Michael Marley (Former New York Post Columnist and Don King Productions Media Relations):  Oliver “Atomic Bull” McCall was pegged as a no hoper against exalted world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis but, with one eyes-closed-shut blast, the American dethroned Double LL and at the Royal Albert Hall no less. Fast forward two and a half hours and McCall asked me to go on a post midnight walkabout despite heavy rain. So, propelled by the best champagne the new ring king and I started slogging through the streets around our tony lodgings – Dorchester Hotel.  Having properly belted Lewis, McCall decided to show off his green and gold WBC belt. McCall was squinting into the distance and asked me if I recognized a man he was calling out to. Instantly, I did, confirming that it was former world champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler who did TV commentary for the show. Hagler could not have been more gracious to the rough edged McCall, saying, “You done it champ, you done it up right, big congratulations!” They shook hands and McCall marveled at the encounter with  Marvelous Marvin. “He called me champ,” McCall gushed. “So I guess it’s official.”

Phil Anselmo (Rock musician, lead vocalist Pantera, Down, Super Joint Ritual):  “The imagery of Marvin Hagler, an unstoppable force. I got to meet him in Milan while we were on tour in 1999, he happened to be in the same hotel. He sat down with us and we talked boxing for an hour. He’s just so approachable. He said in the Duran fight, after one of the rounds, Duran said, to the effect, ‘You can’t do that to me, I’m ROBERTO DURAN!’ And Marvin then said, ‘Well, I’m Marvelous Marvin Hagler and I’m gonna kick your ass!!’”

J. Russell Peltz (Hall of Fame boxing promoter):   It’s an honor for me to have promoted five of his pre-championship fights, including the ONLY fight he DEFINITELY lost–the first one against Willie “The Worm” Monroe in 1976.  And I don’t want to read a single story from anyone who thinks THAT particular fight was a robbery.  Not even close!  Monroe, on his greatest night, won seven out of ten rounds.  Read Marvin’s post-fight quotes in the newspapers! (“A tough decision to accept, but an honest one,” Hagler said, trying to focus from between lumps. “I think I fought a great fight tonight. I can see a great future ahead of me, but I still have a few things to learn.”)  After he beat Monroe in their rematch in Boston, he agreed to a third fight in Philly.  Who among today’s enabled alphabet champions would do that?  And he never once said that he wouldn’t fight unless he got 70% of the money which is why a certain 21st century welterweight or two couldn’t carry Marvin’s jock with a wheelbarrow. While doing research for my forthcoming book, I learned that attendance at the Bennie Briscoe-Hagler fight in 1978 was not 14,930, but actually 15,302, still the largest attendance in Pennsylvania history for an indoor non-world championship fight – as was the original figure.  It was not for some BS interim or intercontinental or regional or franchise or super title.  It was a simple 10-round fight with the voting referee and both judges from Philadelphia.  Again, name me ONE alphabet champ today who would do that! I mourn the passing of a wonderful fighter and a wonderful man, who had pride in his profession and who walked away on his terms.  Proud to have played a part, however small, in his career.

Boris Becker (Tennis great):  “Marvin Hagler was one of my childhood heroes. We became founding members of the Laureus World Sports Foundation. My sincerest condolences to his wife Kay and his five children.”

John McEnroe (Tennis great): I once asked tennis great and boxing fan John McEnroe if any boxers reminded him of himself? “I don’t think I could really… I would like to say a guy like Barry McGuigan, being Irish, with the huge crowd support.” And after another thoughtful pause, he offers another unexpected choice. “Hagler.” Whoa, he cannot be serious. Marvin Hagler? “Because he was lefty. Later in my career I thought that I needed to change something. There was a lot more power coming into the game. (I thought) I’ve gotta do something to get stronger, whatever. But ultimately you can’t change what you do best. And remember when Hagler fought Leonard, he came out righty (and boxed the first four rounds righty)? And you were like, What is he doing? Right? And then he was probably trying to out-think him, that he could do that. But in truth, if he had just stayed with what like got him there, he probably would have intimidated him a lot more. And it reminded me of the end, where I started second-guessing myself. And you start thinking, Should I serve harder, even if it’s less precise? I’ve gotta get stronger so I could hit harder.”

Marvelous Marvin Hagler on David Letterman in 1985

About Scoop Malinowski

Author of six books including "Muhammad Ali: Portrait of a Champion" and "Heavyweight Armageddon: The Lewis versus Tyson Championship Battle" available at amazon