When I was in my mid-20s, a friend of mine and I spent almost two weeks touring Italy. I wanted to see Venice, the Vatican, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and the Colosseum, among other things. And a very irrational part of me hoped I would run into Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
Hagler, who passed away unexpectedly on March 13, was truly the toughest and most intimidating fighter of the 1980s, especially in hindsight. At the time, almost all boxing fans gave that distinction to Mike Tyson, but his aura of invincibility was eventually diminished. Hagler's never was. His tenacity also was unmatched.
Hagler was a southpaw so high-profile fighters avoided him. Hagler responded by taking on all comers. He suffered two draws and two losses by decision in the 1970s and avenged all four of them with knockouts or forcing his opponent to quit. When he finally won the undisputed middleweight title from British boxer Alan Minter seven years and 54 fights into his career, police had to escort Hagler to the dressing room because the raucous fans at Wembley Stadium were throwing beer bottles at him.
Hagler held the title for nearly seven years and successfully defended it 12 times, knocking out 10 of his opponents and forcing another to quit on his stool. The only opponent to go the distance with him during that run was the legendary Roberto Duran and Hagler's three-round slugfest with Thomas Hearns remains one of the greatest bouts in boxing history. In 1987, Hagler lost a highly disputed split decision to Sugar Ray Leonard and retired after 14 months of unsuccessfully trying to secure a rematch.
In 1990, Hagler was featured in a Sports Illustrated cover story reporting on how he was living in Milan and acting in movies. When my friend and I booked our trip, I wondered if I might have the good fortune of running into him. Then I remembered that "Saturday Night Live" skit where Ed Grimley obsesses about meeting Pat Sajak and I decided to get a grip.
My friend and I saw so much in Italy. By the last night of the trip, we were in Rome and broke. Since we had an early flight the next morning, we chose to forgo a hotel and sleep on the floor of the Leonardo da Vinci Airport. The next morning, we woke up exhausted and dragged ourselves onto the plane to catch our connection flight in Milan.
When we arrived in Milan to catch our flight to Dulles Airport, we were a gate over from an Alitalia flight to Boston. I looked over to the gate and there stood Marvelous Marvin Hagler. I couldn't believe it. I walked over to him and said, "Excuse me, are you Marvelous Marvin Hagler?" and he pointed to his wife and said, "Nope. She is," and laughed.
We talked for about five minutes and he asked me about all of the places I had been to in Italy. I asked him for his autograph, and he gave it to me and wished me the best of luck in life. All in all, it was a pretty amazing way to end the trip.
Boxing lost one of its all-time greats in Hagler, but the world also lost a class act.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)