3. Marvelous Marvin Hagler – World champion (September 27, 1980-April 6, 1987)
Like Greb, Hagler was forced to impatiently wait his turn for a title shot. Three full years before he smashed the crown off Alan Minter’s head, he unsuccessfully called for Hugo Corro’s head, then endured a 15-round draw to Vito Antuofermo most observers thought Hagler won. But once he seized the undisputed title, he proved himself to be the division’s undisputed master.
His matchless versatility was the key to his nearly seven-year reign that encompassed 12 defenses, third most in division history. The exquisitely conditioned Hagler boxed and slugged with equal capacity and though he was a natural right-hander, he boxed so well from a southpaw stance that one web site listed Hagler as among the greatest left-handed athletes in history.
In order to keep the belts united, Hagler disposed of a succession of mandatory challengers – Fulgencio Obelmejias (twice), Mustafa Hamsho (twice), Tony Sibson, Wilford Scypion and Juan Domingo Roldan – all by knockout. He sprinkled in dominating performances against William “Caveman” Lee (63 seconds) and Antuofermo (a bloody fourth-round TKO) but Hagler fueled his legend by taking on superstars Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns.
An overly respectful Hagler scored a lukewarm decision over Duran, a performance that brought heavy criticism given Hagler’s “destruct and destroy” motto and Duran’s prohibitive underdog status. Like all the legends, Hagler learned his lessons and produced a performance for the ages against Hearns. He walked straight through the “Hit Man’s” cannons, survived a vicious cut on the forehead and crushed Hearns in an unforgettable eight-minute spectacle. Many still believe his final fight against Sugar Ray Leonard should have been scored for Hagler, who walked away from boxing the moment the split decision loss was announced.
Hagler may have thought his legacy was tarnished by the Leonard loss, but most historians beg to differ. As far as middleweight champions go, “The Marvelous One” more than lived up to the nickname.