lthough Hagler, 60-2-2, had been undefeated since 1976 and would be making his 11th title defense by facing Hearns, he had never relinquished the bitterness he felt at receiving a title shot in his fiftieth pro fight during an age when champions with fewer than a dozen bouts had been crowned. Nor did he appreciate being overshadowed by flashier pros like Sugar Ray Leonard.
"This is my fifth year being champion," he told the Los Angeles Times before the Hearns fight, "and I have the feeling I have to kill somebody to get noticed."
Oh, yes, Hagler had his reasons—more reasons than history can remember, perhaps—for his bleak outlook. For years, Hagler had toiled in near-anonymity for paltry purses along the Eastern seaboard. To make money in those hardscrabble days, Hagler had to travel to Philadelphia and face one trouble man after another at the Spectrum, where the infamous Broad Street Bullies played second fiddle to the likes of Bennie Briscoe, Cyclone Hart, Willie Monroe, and Bobby Watts. When the notorious U.S. Championship Tournament took place on ABC in 1977, Hagler was conspicuously left off the tourney board by the scammers and flimflammers behind the scenes.
In his first title shot, in 1979, Hagler fought to a controversial 15-round draw against Vito Antuofermo in Las Vegas. Naturally, Hagler bristled when the decision was announced, but he got one more chance to stick it to the establishment. On September 27, 1980, Hagler finally won the world title by stopping Alan Minter in London, but he was unable to celebrate after the crowd erupted into a riot. Bombarded by bottles and debris hurled by hooligans overrunning Wembley Arena, the new champion had to flee the ring. To Hagler, it was a sign of things to come.
Despite rave reviews from most sports writers and broadcasters, Hagler felt he lacked the respect some of his contemporaries received.
The seething blue-collar pro from Brockton, Massachusetts, had even gone so far as to have his name legally changed to “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler. If no one else was going to give him the respect he thought he deserved, he would fashion it himself. Of course, some of that disrespect may have been in Hagler's head. After all, not only was he considered one of the three or four best fighters in the world during his early title reign, he was also the first fighter HBO signed to an exclusive contract, and he regularly cashed seven-figure purses.
But even the staggering payday he earned in his first closed-circuit foray—against Roberto Duran on November 10, 1983—could not soothe his anger. After nicking a cautious 15-round decision over the fighter formerly known as “Hands of Stone,” Hagler was pilloried by the media for his tentative approach against the former lightweight great. The whispers began: Hagler, without a defining fight as middleweight champion, was no longer at his ferocious peak.