Hagler bitter, unforgiving over title loss to Leonard

December 09, 1990|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Correspondent

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — ATLANTIC CITY N.J. -- "The man really hates me, doesn't he?" Sugar Ray Leonard said late Friday night at a Trump Plaza reception for the Boxer of the Decade banquet, an honor the six-time champion would ultimately win.

But Leonard seemed more concerned with the rude greeting he received from Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who had dominated the middleweight division in the 1980s until his shocking upset by Leonard in April 1987 by a controversial split decision.

It was a loss that sent Hagler into retirement, and also embittered him toward Leonard.

"I put out my hand as a sign of friendship," said Leonard, "and he just pushed it aside and turned his back."

Only Leonard's presence seemed to spoil an otherwise joyful homecoming for Hagler, who has spent the last three years living in Milan, Italy, and making action films in Europe, the Philippines and, most recently, in the Soviet Union, a film called "Silver Fox" in which he plays a Spanish adventurer.

"I had to find a new challenge in my life," said Hagler, looking a remarkably trim 37. "I'm hoping acting will do that for me. It's fun being a different personality than Marvelous Marvin Hagler, professional fighter. Now they let me play a marine, a policeman, whatever."

Inevitably the conversation would lead back to his final fight with Leonard.

"There is still some bitterness in my heart," he said, "but I don't feel any different. I still know I won that fight. But I feel I accomplished everything I could in boxing. I fought everyone who was around -- Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Juan Roldan and John Mugabi. Boxing was very good to me.

"Everywhere I go, even in Russia, people recognize me for my fights. I don't feel alone in a great, big world. It's great to know people respected your craft," said Hagler, occasionally lapsing into an Italian accent.

For a year after losing his title, Hagler was obsessed with getting a Leonard rematch.

"He kept after us all the time," said his manager, Pat Petronelli. 'Get me Leonard again.' He said it over and over.

"We really tried. We constantly called Leonard's manager, Mike Trainer, but we could never get together. We knew Leonard was the only reason he would fight again."

Hagler, who divorced his wife, Bertha, then searched for a new identity in Europe, returned to Massachusetts last June to attend the high school graduation of his daughter Celeste.

"You could see that Marvin had a totally different attitude," Petronelli said. "He was finally at peace with himself, proud of his new acting career. He told us that he had fought his last fight. We don't even discuss fighting with him anymore."

But the Petronelli brothers, Pat and Goody, who was his trainer, were disturbed by the news that Leonard, not Hagler, had been voted Boxer of the Decade, citing the fact that Leonard fought only five times in the 1980s after suffering a detached retina in 1981.

"It reminds me of the story about the real estate salesman," said Goody Petronelli. "Ask him what makes a top property, and he'll tell you it's three things -- 'location, location and location.'

"Ask me who the best fighter of the decade was and I'll answer i the same way -- 'Hagler, Hagler, Hagler.' "

When someone asked him about his relationship with Leonard Hagler said: "I don't concentrate on him that much. I still feel like a winner. I fought my way out of the Newark ghetto and became a champion of the world. And I still feel like a winner. Boxing is my love and it is still in my heart. I still fondly remember all the aches and pains.

"Leonard is not a problem for me. I've got a brand new life. Sugar Ray Leonard is my past."

After receiving the award, Leonard said, "I know Hagler is still mad at me. . . ."

And Hagler interrupted from the audience, "Shut up, I ain't saying anything about you."

It was one of the few times in his distinguished career that Leonard was left without an answer.

*

The Boxer of the Decade banquet, which was a tribute to the late Mark Grossinger Etess, the executive vice president of the Trump organization who died in a helicopter crash in 1989, raised money for indigent fighters.

One of the more touching moments was a speech by former junior welterweight champion Aaron Pryor, whose drug problems cost him his title and dignity.

Pryor, who lost only one of 30 pro fights, is trying to get his life back in order while fighting obscure rivals in Wisconsin and Oklahoma for small purses.

"I love boxing. That's all I've got left," he said. "I'm clean now, and I hope to set an example for the kids who have to overcome problems."

Most state commissions have barred Pryor from fighting because of a detached retina. Most recently, his license application was rejected by New York state boxing officials.

"Why single me out," he said. "They just approved Leonard for a fight with Terry Norris. Ray also had an eye operation. I've just got to keep fighting the system."

*

Former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes purchased a property in his hometown of Easton, Pa., that is now being used as a federal court house.

"Now I finally own the judges," Holmes, who still disputes the loss of his heavyweight crown to Michael Spinks, said with a laugh. "Not only that, but it has three jail cells. I know a few people in this boxing business I'd like to lock up."

But Holmes is moving to Jacksonville, Fla., where he says he will concentrate on fishing and the good life.

*

Baltimore promoter Stuart Satosky is planning a boxing card for Painters Mill Theater Jan. 24. Andrew Maynard, the 1988 Olympic light heavyweight champion, will head the card. An opponent has not been named.

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