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Boxing Great, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Dies At 66

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The boxing world is mourning the sudden death of one of the sport's greatest fighters. Marvelous Marvin Hagler died Saturday in New Hampshire. He was 66. Hagler helped popularize the sport in the 1980s. Here's NPR's Tom Goldman.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Calling Marvelous Marvin Hagler Marvelous is not a breach of journalistic objectivity. It was his name, legally changed, as he told talk show host David Letterman in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER: My license, my birth certificate - everything is Marvelous.

(LAUGHTER)

GOLDMAN: Those who knew him concur. Hagler was in many ways marvelous - certainly inside a boxing ring, where he first learned to fight as a teenager in Brockton, Mass. The left-handed Hagler developed into an outstanding middleweight. That 160-pound division produces some of the best fighters - fast and quick, unlike plodding heavyweights, but still powerful. Hall of Fame sports writer Jerry Izenberg says Hagler had it all.

JERRY IZENBERG: Marvin could punch through a wall, it seemed. I mean, you know, he had power, and he had a terrific boxing IQ.

GOLDMAN: In his professional career from 1973 to '87, Hagler fought 67 times and won 62. He never got knocked out and was knocked down only once, a testament to Hagler's toughness, says Bill Dettloff from Ringside Seat magazine.

BILL DETTLOFF: You couldn't hurt Marvin Hagler. Even the best punchers like Thomas Hearns couldn't hurt Marvin Hagler significantly.

GOLDMAN: But Hearns came close in a brief but epic battle against Hagler in 1985.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: This is still the first round.

GOLDMAN: There was no sizing-up period in that middleweight title fight between Hagler and Hearns. It was a brawl from the start, called by some the greatest first round in history. In the third, Hearns reopened the cut on Hagler's forehead that threatened to end the fight. So Hagler, blood streaming down his face, surged.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED COMMENTATOR: Hearns in deep trouble again. Hearns is down. Hearns is down in the third round and on his back. And he's not going to beat the count.

GOLDMAN: The win confirmed Hagler's status as king of the middleweights, even though he was one of four kings. That's what boxing called Hagler, Hearns, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard, a quartet that created boxing's last great golden age in the 1980s. Hagler lost to Leonard in 1987 in a controversial split decision. He then left boxing for good. He moved to Italy and acted in action movies, where Jerry Izenberg says he could show off his radiant personality.

IZENBERG: It was like an aurora borealis. It lit up the room. And I couldn't help but smile every time I saw him.

GOLDMAN: And Hagler maintained a loyalty not often seen in boxing. It's common for successful fighters to ditch their original trainers from amateur days when they start making money - not Hagler. He kept his his entire career - a hugely successful career, but, he said in 2017, one that kept him wanting more.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HAGLER: The way - what happened with me, I was never happy. I was never satisfied. So I don't think that I achieved greatness yet because it could still be out there.

GOLDMAN: In a message on social media, Thomas Hearns called Hagler's death the passing of a king, legend, father, husband and so much more.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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