It's Night of Celebrity Triple-Hitter : Hagler Is Not on the Card, but He's on Everyone's Minds

Times Staff Writer

Some are disturbed that it's simply a calculated collection of celebrity which has elevated this event into blockbuster status, as if champions Thomas Hearns and Barry McGuigan, not to mention Roberto Duran, are performing cameos tonight, walkthroughs on some kind of benefit card. It's the sheer accumulation of big names, none of whom will be linked in the ring, that command our attention, distracting us from the usually significant fact that there's not a truly important bout on the card.

But the attraction of the Triple-Hitter, staged at Caesars Palace and distributed on a pay-per-view basis, may actually lie elsewhere. It's not all the people who will be in the ring that lend the event its drama. It could be somebody who won't grace it. It could be the lurking presence of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, whose glinting dome at ringside tonight will reflect the boxing world's interest in this card.

Hagler is the world middleweight champion and the sport's lone star these days. His reputation has been certified with tough fights, some bloody and some brilliant. So finally, at 33, he has come to represent box office in boxing, the one man who can guarantee gates and put the stamp of greatness on events.

For example, three of boxing's last four giant shows, all promoted by Bob Arum, have featured Hagler. First with Duran, later with Hearns and finally, sharing the bill with Hearns, in a fight with the mysterious John Mugabi. This show, despite his absence, would seem to feature him as well.

There is Hearns, who is defending his long-forgotten World Boxing Council super welterweight title against Mark Medal, angling for a rematch with Hagler, the man who dropped him in three rounds more than a year ago. The Hit Man turned Sit Man in as violent a 10 minutes as anybody could recall. Hearns is here to contest for the agreed upon (but unsigned) rematch, Nov. 6.

There is Duran, who is fighting Hagler's half-brother, middleweight Robbie Sims. Like Hearns, he is hoping for a rematch with Hagler, who ended Duran's brilliantly orchestrated comeback with a 15-round decision nearly two years ago.

Only World Boxing Assn. featherweight champion Barry McGuigan, who makes his first title defense in the United States, this against late substitute Stevie Cruz, seems to escape the looming shadow of Hagler. He escapes it by about 25 pounds, or else he too would figure in the tournament-like atmosphere.

The only thing to confound the All-Roads-Lead-to-Hagler scenario is the equally disturbing presence at ringside of Ray Leonard. Leonard had retired with eye problems in 1982, just short of an all-the-money-the-world bout with Hagler. Now he's announcing he's coming out of retirement, but only to give Hagler that long-ago promised fight. Hagler is expected to announce he will accept that challenge Tuesday, slowing all other fighters on the aforementioned road.

Hearns, the great favorite tonight, even though he hasn't defended his title at 154 pounds in nearly two years, has both the most to gain and the most to lose. His first fight with Hagler guaranteed him more than $5 million. A rematch, with a careful buildup from Arum, could command similar figures. Unless Hagler opts to fight Leonard, surely a more profitable fight, first. Then Hearns waits.

"I hope and pray," he said. "Not just that I get a second chance at Hagler but at Sugar Ray Leonard," who had beaten him by knockout almost five years ago. He admits, however, he would not appreciate those events deferred any further.

"To be honest, I'm not happy with it," Hearns said. "I've worked myself into a position to go at it again. I'm very upset about it. I don't see how he can stop commentating and fight a great champion like Hagler. He should have to go through the same process as anyone going for a title."

Hearns' manager, Emanuel Steward, says: "Leonard hasn't fought a class fighter. It's a hoax to the public."

Nevertheless, Hearns, whose one-round knockout of the late James Shuler has kept him in the public's eye, seems resigned. He seems to feel his day will come, if not Nov. 6 then in the spring. "I find it easy to concentrate," he says, "because I know my fight with Marvin will eventually happen."

Perhaps the Duran-Sims fight, given the backlog of contenders for the middleweight title, does not feature Hagler to the same extent. Yet it seems to be the most interesting bout of the evening; certainly it is viewed as the most competitive. Duran, 35 and a three-time title holder, will apparently never retire, just keep moving up in weight. For this, he has somehow gotten comfortably back to 160 pounds, despite ballooning to 210 in a brief retirement in Panama City. And he seems to have that dangerous sparkle in his eyes, a sparkle that caused one bettor here to put $50,000 on him to win. "The Duran of old," he pronounced, seeing that fierce glint.

Sims, 25, doesn't usually make you think of Hagler except in terms of family. But despite a 26-4 record, he has recently earned some consideration with a decision over Doug DeWitt and a one-round knockout of John Collins.

Whatever happens tonight, and a lot of people think they already know, it is only the groundwork for yet another super card. Likely this one will have Hagler on it, and not just all around it.

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