Thirty years later, Bob Arum remembers Marvelous Marvin Hagler-John Mugabi
Last Thursday, March 10, was the 30th anniversary of the fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and John “The Beast” Mugabi from Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. This would be Hagler’s final successful defense of his middleweight championship. It truly was a different time for boxing, which, back then, was still very much a major sport.
This event – which also had Thomas Hearns facing James Shuler on the undercard – was big enough that ABC’s “Good Morning America” did a feature on this fight with special correspondent Dolph Lundgren (fresh off his stint playing Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV”)
The very next morning, Hagler and Hearns would appear side-by-side on GMA in the wee hours of the West Coast to talk about their victories and the possibility of a rematch.
Yeah, those were the days.
Top Rank Promotions CEO Bob Arum was the promoter of that event, which took place on a rainy Monday night in the outdoor arena of Caesars Palace. It caused much concern and consternation from the organizers. Arum recalled, “The day was very inclement and Henry Clark, who was the chairman at Caesars Palace, wanted me to postpone the fight, which is very difficult to do when there was a closed-circuit fight. So we went ahead and we lowered the ring cover for the first couple of fights.”
This promotion was dubbed the “Trash Bag Fight” by Arum years later, as some enterprising entrepreneurs made the best of the situation.
“They were selling and giving away trash bags to all the people coming to the fight. They were the plastic bags that were used as a rain covering and, miraculously, right before the main event was to start, the sky cleared and there was no rain,” recalled Arum, who, for this fight, introduced Showtime to the sport of boxing. Hagler had been a staple of HBO during his run as middleweight king.
“What happened was, when I decided that I had to do the fight on closed-circuit – which was the equivalent of pay-per-view at that time – Michael Fuchs was the head of HBO and he was furious because he wanted that fight on regular HBO but I couldn’t do it because of what Hagler wanted and Hagler said, ‘Look, you can do it on closed-circuit. I’ll make a lot more money and I want that extra money. I don’t care what HBO says,'” recalled Arum, who was then effectively embargoed by HBO.
“So we got thrown out by HBO really for over a year and I went to Showtime and Showtime distributed the fight on closed-circuit and did the delay,” said Arum, who noted, “Showtime didn’t think of doing a fight till I came to them with Hagler-Mugabi. They had never done a fight.”
Arum notes, “It wasn’t particularly a hard sell because they weren’t making a big investment. They weren’t making any investment, really. Because it was a closed-circuit fight, so there was no major rights fee or anything like that.”
The veteran promoter claims, at that point, the 32-year-old Hagler had serious thoughts of walking away from the sport prior to the Mugabi match-up.
“Marvin didn’t want to do the Mugabi fight,” Arum told UCNLive.com last week on the fight’s anniversary. “Marvin wanted to retire after the Hearns fight and, in a weak moment, he signed for the Mugabi fight and it was supposed to take place in November of the previous year (1985) and he didn’t train and he was sort of injured. So we postponed it till the following March but Hagler was never into the Mugabi fight.”
The fight itself surpassed expectations as Mugabi – who came into the Hagler fight with a record of 25-0 with 25 knockouts – was thought to be a guy who wasn’t quite as dangerous as his record indicated but he proved to be a worthy challenger and he gave Hagler all he could handle for much of that bout. Round six was particularly memorable
Eventually Hagler tamed “The Beast” in eleven.
Many believe that it was on this night that Hagler finally started showing signs of slippage. Including Ray Leonard, who was in attendance and believed he had seen enough that night to convince himself to face Hagler the next year. “I just thought Mugabi had given him an unexpectedly tough fight and Marvin came on at the end, prevailed and knocked out Mugabi. So I really didn’t think he was slipping,” stated Arum, who didn’t foresee the Hagler-Leonard fight coming at that juncture.
Back then, being in your early-30s truly meant you were near the end of your career and, to his credit, Hagler didn’t shy away from giving a hungry, young challenger a shot at the title. Nowadays – as is the case with the recent lineal middleweight champions, who use any excuse to avoid certain fighters – alibis and excuses would be abundant in avoiding such a heavy-handed boxer.
If not a different breed, Hagler was indeed from a different era.
Arum opines, “I think they allowed the Petronellis (Goody and Pat), the lawyers, to handle the negotiations and they just cared about the fighting. We had real tough guys in those eras: Hagler, Hearns, Iran Barkley, James Toney. I mean, tough, tough dudes.”
So was it easier to make big fights back then?
“Yes,” answered Arum, “the fighters were more amenable to accept a fight because, in that era, it wasn’t the end of the world if you lost a fight. Now, it becomes, ‘Oh, the guy is finished because he lost,’ etc., etc. and a lot of these fighters have gone into this.” Arum does have a point. The overreaction to losses isn’t just something of which the fans are guilty but also the media and networks. “(Floyd) Mayweather didn’t help with the undefeated record and all that; he didn’t want to lose, etc, etc, and stressing the undefeated records. So fighters don’t want to go into fights because they don’t want to risk a loss, which was never the way fighters acted as far back as Ray Robinson. He lost when he was really Ray Robinson, a number of times.”
Anyways, back to Hagler, after the Mugabi fight, he then faced Sugar Ray Leonard on April 6, 1987, losing a controversial decision and never fighting again.
Was it really THAT long ago?
Also on that card was a bout between Richie Sandoval and Gaby Canizales for the WBA bantamweight title, won by Canizales in seven. Sandoval, who came into the fight battling the scales and dehydrated, was badly hurt, It was feared that he lost much more than just a fight on this evening.
“Richie was taken to the hospital and we really feared for his life,” recalled Arum. “Fortunately it turned out to be sort of OK but it was a brutal KO.”
Arum told Sandoval that he was never fighting ever again and gave him a job with Top Rank, where he’s worked for years.
They say things come full-circle in life and, after some of the recent comments Arum has made about rekindling his relationship with the network he helped start in boxing, will he start providing content to Showtime, once again?
“Well,” said Arum, “ask Al Haymon.”
“Well, because nobody else gets dates (on Showtime) other than Haymon or without Haymon’s permission,” said Arum, as only he can.
And yeah, looking upcoming schedule which they announced this past Friday, he does have a point.
Darnell Boone was thiiiiiiiis close to pulling the upset versus Schiller Hyppolite on Saturday night, scoring knockdowns in the fifth and sixth but running out of gas late….Shame on David Lemieux for not making weight. As they say, you had one job…There will always be issues with Zab Judah one way or other other…Miguel Berchelt looked strong in overpowering George Jupp this weekend. He and Rocky Martinez should make for a good fight down the line…After the victory over the Clippers, the subtweets from LeBron James should subside for another week or so…So what’s my Final Four? Well, considering I watched maybe 20 complete minutes of college basketball this season, I’m the wrong guy to ask…I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and I tweet (a lot) at twitter.com/steveucnlive. I also share photos of stuff at instagram.com/steveucnlive and can also be found at tsu.co/steveucnlive.