The Day the Champ Came to Town

February 29, 2024
4 mins read
//Charles Birimisa

“The swing-shift crew at Naturipe Berry Growers in Watsonville
got a surprise visit from a legend of the boxing world. It was
about 1 a.m. while most Watsonville residents were snug in their beds
that a man driving a motorhome stopped in to ask the way to the KOA
campgrounds, said Daniel Meneses, whose uncle, Joe Segura, works at
the industrial road plant. “Who are you? You look kind of familiar,”
one of the Naturipe crew asked. It didn’t take them long, not for
the stranger to admit his true identity.”
    Back in the day, I was never a Marvin Hagler fan. I always rooted against him, 
save one bout. I was a Thomas Hearns fan with Roberto Duran a
close second.
     The first time I watched Hagler was on NBC. I don’t recall the
opponent. Hagler won but didn’t impress me. He looked more
formidable than he fought. His bald head and sculpted block of upper
body were plenty to gain an edge on any foe. One look at Hagler and
you knew you’d be in for a long night, or more likely a short one.
    On November 30, 1979 on ABC I watched Hagler get his first crack
at the title. He came up short when the brawl with champ Vito
Antuofermo ended in a draw. The decision made me really happy. Some
thought Hagler was robbed. Watching it again for the first
time in decades, I would have given Hagler the nod. Despite boxing
conservatively and sluggishly, Hagler scored more and generally
outboxed the crude Vito.
Less than a year later Hagler battered, bloodied, and blew out
Alan Minter in London. Upset English fans bombed the ring with beer
bottles and debris. Hagler had to be hustled out of the ring without a
formal announcement of his becoming champion.
The next four years Hagler hardly lost a round in defending his
title. He cut Vito to shreds and stopped him in the rematch. Hagler
easily disposed of the tough Mustafa Hamsho. With clinical efficiency, 

Hagler annihilated Tony Sibson, Wilfred Scypion, Fulgencio Obelmejias twice  
and Caveman Lee. On November 10, 1983, Todd, Erwin, and I watched Roberto Duran
take on Hagler “Live via closed circuit TV” at the Fox Theater in
Salinas. Hagler ended up winning a close unanimous decision in an
uneventful bout.
     On March 30, 1984, Pete, a big boxing fan, who had been wounded
in WW2, invited me to his residence to watch Hagler take
on Argentine Juan Roldan on HBO. Hagler was devastating knocking out
Roldan despite being knocked down for the first time in his career.
This knockdown was actually an off balance slip when an
inconsequential punch of Roldan’s landed. Pete and I agreed it was no
real knockdown.
On April 15, 1985, I drove to  Mountain View to a friend’s home to hopefully watch 
Thomas Hearns kayo Hagler. Some in the room said the fight was
going to be fixed. We countered that, and some laughs were generated.

As Hearns made his way to the ring he took on an appearance of a
man going to the gallows rather than a ring. The bout has generally
been regarded as one of the best ever. Sure, Hearns landed some
leather, but by the end of the first round he was pretty much out on
his feet. In the third round, he was out. Rather than a great fight I saw it
as a one sided blowout. Driving home the next morning it finally dawned
on me how admirable Hagler was – a great boxer, a great champion..

Despite that, I still rooted against Hagler when he took on John
“The Beast” Mugabi in March of 1986. Once again Hagler was 
admirable in fending off the terrifying punches of Mugabi. He pummeled
“the Beast” and stopped him in ten rounds.

Hagler’s last bout was April 6, 1987 would be against a boxer I
never liked, Sugar Ray Leonard. I drove Ed, and Greg in the Corona to
the Long Beach Convention Center to watch it on closed- circuit
theater TV. So packed was the place we had to sit in the upper tier. I
was rooting for Hagler this time and expected him to kayo the inactive (for
nearly 3 years)  Leonard. It was a strange night and all seemed to be
going Ray’s way. The first three rounds were turned over to him as
Hagler fell into an overconfident, no punch, sparring mode. There is a
saying that some fighters age overnight, and Hagler graphically did.
Leonard did frustrate Hagler, making him miss badly, and Hagler made
the mistake of letting that frustration show. Still, at the final bell
it was a toss-up. Leonard got the split decision win, and a lot of
points just because few expected him to do well and not get kayoed. Sugar
Ray ran and held effectively, and put together several flashy end- of-
the- round flurries to sway two of the judges. Not once did Leonard
even slightly stun Hagler, while Hagler rocked Leonard in the 5th
round and had him staggering at the final bell..
    
Reading about Marvelous Marvin Hagler passing away got me
thinking about him, and the way he plied his trade. Hagler’s boxing
career has to stand as one of the finest in all sport. After the
controversial loss to Leonard he never came back like 99.9 percent of
other boxers do, usually with pathetic results. Added to that rarity
of never coming back, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was never knocked out.
Never knocked down. Never stunned. Hearns budged him for a moment.
Budged him! Opened him up so the blood could flow and doomed himself.
The way Hagler worked Hearns to the body in the latter part of the
first round was the highest form of pugilistic artistry. Admirable.
     I wish I was at the Naturipe on Industrial Road that night when a
driver of a motorhome pulled in to ask for directions.
     “And that’s how Marvelous Marvin Hagler came to Watsonville – in
the dead of night but not unwelcome … after chewing the fat for a
while and handing out a few souvenirs … Hagler hit the road – still
a champ in the minds of those night-time workers at Naturipe.”

Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the admirable one, passed away March 13th 2021

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