From Marvelous to Mysterious : Marvin Hagler's Life Since His Loss to Leonard Has Evolved Into an Intriguing Web of Stories, Rumors and Family Discord

Times Staff Writer

Mysterious Marvin Hagler moves through this city like a phantom. First, it's reported he's out of it entirely, holed up in a New Hampshire ski town, 150 miles away. Then it's said he's enjoying life in a posh downtown condominium. Sometimes, too, he appears at his sporting goods store in nearby Hanover.

Wherever he is seen, though, he is reported as happy. Real happy. Whatever Sugar Ray Leonard did to the bald one last April, he did not remove his smile. Only briefly, it is said, did Marvelous Marvin Hagler turn into Moody Marvin Hagler. From all accounts, he has resurfaced as Merry Marvin Hagler.

His hibernation after arch-rival Leonard unseated the world middleweight champion, and a domestic spat involving his wife and either a stone or a boulder, depending on whom you hear it from, has naturally created the impression that Hagler became unhinged in defeat.

Then, in June, a Boston TV reporter let go with an item that Hagler was dabbling in cocaine and strong drink.

Hagler, it would seem, had gone off his rocker. A fighter as much admired for his fierce work ethic as his considerable ring skill, Hagler was laying fire to his own temple. A hero hailed for his devotion to family--who can forget the Haglers, all seven of them, piling into a Winnebago for a cross-country trip the day after he'd demolished another contender?--Hagler was now leading a bachelor's life.

What was supposedly happening to Hagler made whatever happened to Dr. Jekyll look like a little mood swing.

The last boxer to take a defeat so badly might have been heavyweight Floyd Patterson, so humiliated in defeat that he took to wearing odd disguises when he ventured into the public domain. A tough loss, yes, but . . .

Of course, even as a winner, Hagler was a special case. No reason to believe he'd be any less unique as a loser. To know what it was like for him to lose, you must at least know what it was like for him to win. Consider this:

After winning his championship belt, Hagler had a special case made for it. Nobody saw case or belt except once a year. Robbie Sims, his half-brother, recalled seeing the case appear under the tree Christmas morning. Hagler would open the case, look at the belt for a while, put it back and retire the whole assembly for another season.

See, he didn't come by that belt easily. Never mind the details but it wasn't until 1979, in his 50th fight and in his seventh year of fighting professionally that Hagler got his first title shot.

It was, wouldn't you know, on the undercard of Leonard's first title fight. You can only understand the depth of Hagler's bitterness if you know just how long he endured the darkness of Leonard's shadow.

As it happened, Hagler didn't win that fight and that, too, foreshadowed the subsequent outrage of his Leonard fight.

It was thought that Hagler had indeed beaten Vito Antuofermo for the title. Referee Mills Lane, waiting for the decision, instructed Hagler to "stay facing this way until they announce the decision and I raise your arm." Instead, Lane had to raise Antuofermo's arm. The fight was judged a draw, the champion retaining his title.

No wonder then, that a year later in a match with Alan Minter for the same title, Hagler took the ring with a deadly determination. Walking down the aisle in London's Wembley Arena, where unlucky visitors were known to experience bottle showers, Hagler told his handlers, Pat and Goody Petronelli: "I'm ready to die for this. Don't stop it."

His subsequent reign as champion was nothing short of spectacular. For nearly seven years, a time during which many other champions became unhinged even in victory, Hagler dispatched all comers. He had 12 successful title fights, consolidating wealth and esteem.

As the workingman's fighter--he was all business in his preparation--his appeal was profound.

Others around him succumbed to sudden riches. But Hagler, remembering that it was sacrifice that got him where he was, retained the blue collar along with his championship belt.

Others trained in casino ballrooms. Hagler, when it was time to break camp in the desert, toiled alone in a downtown Las Vegas gym. His stubbornness was not calculated, just ingrained.

Of course, as we found out in April, none of that was enough. Sugar Ray Leonard, who spent a comfortable retirement at ringside in his formal wear, mocked Hagler by choosing to fight him in a one-shot comeback.

It was an effrontery, all right. Leonard denied him the money and fame such a fight would have brought him years ago. Now, Hagler being at least 33 and in his career's windup, here was the pretty one calling him out.

And beating him!

Leonard fought a one-in-a-million fight, the only fight that could possibly beat Hagler. Leonard executed perfectly. He fought exactly. And even so, the decision was, at best, controversial.

It was a split decision, but the scores of the three judges ranged so widely that the routine charges of fix afterward were for once taken seriously by the Nevada district attorney's office.

Hagler felt much as he had once before, ready to pose for photographers just as the ring announcer was anointing a new champion.

When Leonard, by way of consolation, told Hagler that he was still champion, Hagler took it to mean that even Leonard was conceding the outrage. Actually, Leonard only meant that he was not going to fulfill the champion's obligations. One more taunt, in a way. Leonard didn't even think the title, which Hagler worked a lifetime for, was worth keeping.

The building fury was surely understandable. "It was quite a blow to him, naturally," said Goody Petronelli, Hagler's longtime trainer. "He felt he was jammed. And at first all he talked about was a rematch."

But Leonard has been clear on that. No rematch.

Angelo Dundee, Leonard's trainer, speculates that Leonard might have been drawn into a rematch if Hagler had behaved better. "If he'd acted like a gentleman, I really think (Leonard) might have fought him again," Dundee said.

Instead, as we took our leave of Hagler in that bitter aftermath, we saw a squalling child. Pat Petronelli said in an earlier interview, "I had a feeling he was going to take it bad, but not this bad."

Petronelli said that Hagler was obsessed with what he considered Leonard's unfair tactics. He thought that Leonard should have been penalized for holding. "Marvin would keep repeating these things," Petronelli said. "I said, 'It's history now. You've got to go on with your life.' "

His life, such as it was. He went into virtual seclusion. It was comical for a while. But then came the family-abuse petition from Bertha, his wife of seven years. In the complaint, she wrote: "Marvin threw me out of the house. He pushed me. He hit the car with a boulder. I am in fear of him."

Hagler, noted family man, was subsequently barred from living at home and his visiting rights were limited. Drug and alcohol abuse were alleged by family friends and relatives.

So far that has been the only thing to stir Hagler. Within 24 hours of the report, he was knocking on TV reporter John Dennis' door. In his only statement so far, Hagler said: "I'm probably drinking a bit because of my marriage problems, but not to the extent that I'm overdoing it. I want to reassure the public I have no problem with drugs or alcohol."

Hagler thereafter retired to Bartlett, N.H., 150 miles north of Boston, where he didn't even have a telephone. Petronelli has said he calls a neighbor down the street if he wants to talk with Hagler.

The brooding was full-time. Hagler refused company for his 34th birthday. Perhaps more astonishing, Hagler had not even checked with his accountant to find out what his take from the closed-circuit proceeds would amount to. Hagler has always had a keen interest in his earnings.

Yet, there is testimony to contradict this image of a sulking Hagler, awash in misery. Those closest to him say that Hagler has largely put the fight behind him. And any behavior has to be interpreted in light of his marital proceedings, a 90-day separation, not Leonard. Also, they say, he is not all that unhappy.

"He's not unhinged," said Bob Arum, Hagler's longtime promoter. "He's having a ball, from what I hear. He's adjusting to his new life as a bachelor. The people who run into him say he's not brooding. In fact, he's proven most charming."

A dispatch from USA Today backs this up. Boxing writer Jon Saraceno tracked Hagler down in St. Martin in the Virgin Islands. Hagler did not appear to be brooding in mid-July.

"He sleeps until 3:30, then gets up and he walks to the pool bar," the hotel concierge told Saraceno. "Then he gets picked up by friends and he's gone until morning."

Hagler discussed with Saraceno, in vague terms, doing "the movie thing. You know, there's another life out there and I've got to start thinking about it."

Later Hagler was spotted in a local disco. Saraceno asked the waitress if she was working Hagler's table. "For the last four nights," she said.

A man's private life is a private life, right up to the time the Mrs. files complaints with the court. So now it's pretty public and, evidently, not as idyllic as we were led to believe.

"I knew he was in a difficult marriage," Arum said.

But what about the Haglers as one big happy family. A front?

"Of course," Arum said. "Before every fight, he'd have serious problems with her. Many times when he missed press conferences, it was because of fights with her. Now I hear he's living in a luxurious apartment in downtown Boston, a man about town."

Hagler's only confidant these days--the Petronellis no longer see him--is his attorney, Morris Goldings. Goldings also said that reports of Hagler's unhinging are "too extreme."

As for his initial seclusion, well, that's average for Hagler, Golding said. "Even after his great wins, Marvin went into isolation. It's part of his style. After he beat (Thomas) Hearns, (John) Mugabi, he did the same thing. I don't think he was depressed after those fights."

Goldings admits Hagler took the loss, his first in 12 years, to heart.

"He's disappointed in the officials (scoring) and he'll let people know it," Goldings said. "If you ask him about it, he will speak about it. But that's not to say he's not totally with it. He's attending to business, believe me."

Just last week, in fact, Goldings announced that Hagler withdrew his protest of the Leonard fight outcome.

The next order of business is the nastiness back home. Nobody expects Hagler to fight, or even train again, until that is resolved. Nobody expects that to be real soon.

Goldings said that what the Haglers are going through is fairly routine for a domestic struggle, and that perhaps Bertha inflamed the press a little bit when she characterized Hagler's aggression as boulder throwing.

"I think he threw a stone at her car," Goldings said, vaguely.

In any event, given Hagler's life style as a fighter, and her objections, it seems almost natural that somebody in that house would throw something.

"This was not a traditional marriage," Goldings said. "Here the husband does not work a 9-5 job but goes into what even he calls prison to train for long periods of time. He holes up with the Petronellis. That can take a toll."

The regimen that made Hagler famous--training on the winter-cold beaches of Provincetown or in the summer scorch of Palm Springs--might have been his marriage's undoing.

Goldings said that Bertha was annoyingly inconsistent, as well, demanding either that Marvin fight or not fight. The Leonard fight was long delayed because Bertha demanded Marvin's retirement. It was regarded as a negotiating ploy at the time. Possibly, it was the real thing.

"Obviously, there have been long-term domestic problems," Goldings said. "If anything's typical about this case, it's the famous husband whose wife is aware he might have alternatives."

Goldings said firmly that drugs are not part of Hagler's life style. He admitted, however, that Hagler has had a few cocktails, on the grounds that he deserves a drink after 17 Spartan years.

Goldings said that Hagler is busy in the meantime, hustling for endorsements and keeping a "watchful waiting" as far as his fight career goes. He is apparently resigned to life without Leonard and may or may not fight again.

"And we're working on other things," Goldings said. "In fact, this afternoon we're both going to a meeting."

For an endorsement?

"This goes beyond endorsements," he said. "But I really can't say anymore."

It is possible, though not probable, that you can still catch Hagler at his Marvelous Marvin Hagler Sporting Goods store in Hanover, a small town about 30 miles south of Boston. Some days he just pops in, presumably to oversee his T-shirt empire, with the slogans from all his fights, and the sale of caps.

You can get a painter's cap with "WAR" on the bill or an "I Love Hagler" bumper sticker, if that's what you want.

But Hagler has not dropped in this day. Two ladies sit behind the counter, one doing a crossword puzzle, the other reading a thick book. They, likewise, say that Hagler does not appear disconsolate to them, at least not on his rare appearances in the store. But, they say, you should really talk with his aunt.

In a small office in the back of the store sits his aunt, Catherine, who is doing double duty as executive secretary, according to a sign.

"Is Marvin still kind of upset?" she is asked. "You know, reclusive, bitter?"

She seems surprised at the question.

"Oh, my," she says. "Why he's going to give the store a birthday party next month. He came in here once and signed autographs for as long as anybody wanted. He's not wallowing in any self-pity, that's for sure. Course, he never was like that. Always a smile on his face. That's the way he's always been."

That is surprising, if only because of the number of scowling likenesses within the store. On the way out of Mysterious Marvin Hagler's last remaining empire, Catherine cheerfully advises: "You really should buy a shirt."

We decline and depart what is essentially a gallery of glowering Hagler mugs, a place reeking with his storied fierceness.

It occurs to us that we've gotten the story all wrong, all along, that somewhere, who knows where in this city, Hagler is having a nice big laugh, a real good time.

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