R.I.P. to an Unsung Boston Sports Legend

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The 1980’s brought an abundance of thrills to Boston sports fans.  The Celtics, led by the Big Three of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, appeared in five NBA Finals and won three championships.  The Patriots crawled out of the depths of mediocrity to make their first Super Bowl in 1986, the Red Sox infamously lost the World Series to the Mets, also in 1986 (wow, that was a gut-wrenching year).  The Bruins also reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1988, and became the first team to get swept while playing five games in a seven game series. 

Yes, you read that correctly about the Bruins playing five games in the Stanley Cup Finals and getting swept 4-0.  Some wild stuff went down in the 80’s.  But that’s a story for another day.

Boston had its fair share of future Hall of Famers and local superstars in the 80’s as well.  In addition to the Celtics Big-Three, the Green had Cedric Maxwell, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge.  The Red Sox boasted Roger Clemens, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans and Wade Boggs.  Steve Grogan, Russ Francis and Mike Haynes starred for the Pats, and Ray Bourque and Cam Neely received top billing for the Bruins. 

Photo courtesy of cnninternational.com

For much of the 80’s there was one other local hero whose star shown as brightly as Bird, Clemens, or Bourque.  Marvelous Marvin Hagler rose from the gyms of Brockton to become the undisputed Middleweight Champion of the World from 1980 to 1987.  During that time Hagler posted a 13-0 record with two knockouts and nine TKOs.

Hagler passed away unexpectedly Saturday at the age of 66.

Hagler’s fights were must-see viewing.  He combined power and technical skill with an overwhelming desire to defeat his opponents.  He fit perfectly with the Boston Dirt Dog mentality before it had even been born.

The two fights that stand out for me from Hagler’s title defenses were his 1985 successful defense against Tommy Hearns and his controversial loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987, a fight which turned out to be the final bout of Hagler’s career.

The Hagler - Hearns fight was a classic example of two world-class fighters meeting at the prime of their careers.  Both me came out swinging from the opening bell.  Hearns was the quicker man and held the height and reach advantage over Hagler, but he made the mistake of coming right after Hagler, opening a cut over Hagler’s eye in the first round.  Knowing he had only a short amount of time before the fight would be stopped, Hagler unleashed fury on Hearns.  Hearns fought hard, but finally succumbed to a Hagler overhand right in the third round which knocked him to the canvass and Hearns could not continuing after the standing eight count, giving Hagler the TKO and retaining his belts.

Hagler’s fight with Sugar Ray Leonard took a much different path.  The Hagler-Leonrad matchup was reminiscient of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry of the day.  Like the Celtics, Hagler represented the blue-collar approach, while Leonard was the flashy performer ala the Showtime Lakers of the day.

Leonard was returning to boxing after a three year retirement and took a step up in weight class to take on Hagler.  Like Hearns, Leonard was the quicker fighter, but held only a slight height advantage over Hagler.  Knowing he could not match Hagler’s power, Leonard employed a strategy of quick flurried attacks at both the beginning and end of each round, while easing off during the middle of each round. 

Though Hagler was the aggressor for most of the fight, Leonard’s early and late attacks proved effective in swaying the judges scoring.  The fight went the full 12 rounds and Leonard ending up taking a controversial split decision, Hagler’s first loss of a title defense.  The decision was controversial because while one judge scored the fight 115-113 for Leonard, with the second giving the same score to Hagler, the third judge gave Leonard the victory with a 118-110 score.  Unofficial scoring by the boxing media was equally divided between the two boxers.

After the fight, Leonard once again retired and denied Hagler a chance for a rematch.  Hagler became so frustrated at not getting another at Leonard he decided to retire himself in 1988 to pursue a fledgling movie career in Italy.  He never entered the ring again.  In 1990 Leonrad offered Hagler a chance at a rematch, but at the age of 36 and having been out of boxing for three years, Hagler declined.

While Hagler was a world champion, he was seen locally as a home-town hero.  If there were to be Mount Rushmore of 1980’s Boston Sports, Hagler would be a shoe-in along with Bird, and then let the debate begin. 

Boston sports lost a legend on Saturday.  R.I.P. to the Marvelous one.


Follow Bill on Twitter @BTravers_SYN

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Boston Sports Syndicate: R.I.P. to an Unsung Boston Sports Legend
R.I.P. to an Unsung Boston Sports Legend
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