35 Years Ago Wednesday Marvin Hagler Kayoed “The Beast”
One of the greatest Middleweights of all time won for the final time in an epic battle against a younger, knockout artist contender 35 years ago on Wednesday night. That’s when “Marvelous Marvin” Hagler punctuated his Hall of Fame career by outlasting and kayoing John “The Beast” Mugabi in Las Vegas.
March 10th, 1986 Hagler made the 12th defense of his Undisputed Middleweight championship on a chilly night outdoors at Caesar’s Palace. Hagler had most recently fought his epic three round war with Thomas Hearns in April of 1985.
And, although we didn’t know it at the time that hard fought KO win followed by the Mugabi fight seemingly took the relentless mojo away from “The Marvelous One.”
Mugabi came entered the ring having just turned 26 years of age earlier that week and had won all 26 of his pro fights with KOs. The former Ugandan silver medalist in the 1980 Olympics had moved originally to England, but became a United States cable TV sensation in the early to mid 1980s.
This included a couple of spectacular knockouts on NBC Sports and national television with one in Tampa, Florida, over contender Frank “the Animal” Fletcher. That put Mugabi at the forefront to either challenge Hearns for the Junior Middleweight title or Hagler by moving up to 160 lb.
It was determined that Hagler wanted the fight more than Hearns and was paid a huge guarantee for a non-Heavyweight at that time of $2.5 million to take on “the Beast.”
Showtime won the Closed Circuit/PPV replay rights and it was their first championship fight broadcast, albeit tape delayed. The legendary CBS commentators of Tim Ryan and Gil Clancy, along with Tommy Hearns making a brief cameo to commentate himself, were all three on the call.
And, this fight lived up to its pay-per-view hype, as Mugabi traded big blows with Hagler early, that at times stood him up or backed him up. This was much like Hearns had done to Hagler in the first round of their battle the previous year.
But, Mugabi’s trademark left could never seriously hurt or drop Hagler. And, eventually Marvin used his bruising body attack and combinations to grind Mugabi.
One of the great rounds of Hagler’s career outside the Hearns fight was the sixth round against Mugabi. Hagler pounded Mugabi with over a dozen big rights and lefts throughout the round, but while Mugabi staggered, he refuse to go down. Clancy at one point exclaimed “my God what punishment this Mugabi is taking and he’s still there!”
And, amazingly, he even fired back on the Undisputed champ showing amazing resolve, if not much defense or self preservation. The two fighters traded punch after punch on each other, both weary in the final :30 of the sixth frame.
Hagler’s right eye was swollen, but so too was Mugabi’s left eye at the fight progressed. Eventually, Mugabi’s punch output slowed and Hagler, in trademark fashion that he defended his belts with so many times with before, had his man vulnerable to his brawling combinations.
The end came in the 11th round with a spectacular series of hard rights dropping Mugabi on his back and for the first time in his professional career. As Ryan called it that night, Mugabi “looked more exhausted than anything else” at that point.
Legendary referee Mills Lane counted him out at 1:30 of the 11th.
The win was historic for Hagler, as it was the final time he would have his hand raised in a professional ring. This is because Sugar Ray Leonard upset him 13 months later in April of 1987 and Hagler never fought again finishing with an 62-3-2 record.
As for Mugabi, he eventually won the WBC Junior Middleweight Championship with a first round KO over Frenchman Rene Jacquot in July 1989. However, that victory was somewhat tainted because Jacquot had actually injured his ankle during the opening round and could not continue as much because of that as any punches that landed.
Mugabi a year later was famously knocked out back in Tampa by hard punching contender, “Terrible Terry” Norris. Norris dropped Mugabi twice, the second time with a booming right for a stunning first round KO. Thus making Mugabi only the second fighter in boxing history up (until that time) to have won the title by first-round KO and then lost it by knockout in the first round, as well.
Mugabi would lose in a world title challenge to Gerald McClellan by KO in 1991, as well, never having been as good as he was that night battling Marvin Hagler .
And, while The Marvelous One added the latest notch on his Undisputed title reign in the Vegas desert, he certainly was in a tough fight that night with the man known as, “the Beast.”