Ring the bell for Marvelous Marvin Hagler, a great Las Vegas entertainer By John L. Smith, CDC Gaming Reports March 17, 2021 at 8:00 pm The tributes continue for former middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler, who died last week at age 66. The accolades are well-deserved, of course. Hagler was one of the greatest middleweights in the history of the sport. He won 62 of his 67 professional fights with 52 knockouts and reigned supreme in his division throughout most of the 1980s, perhaps boxing’s last golden era. All true. But what he did for Las Vegas should also be remembered well and celebrated. While none can doubt his excellence as an athlete, everyone should remember the importance of Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, and other great fighters to the economic prosperity of Las Vegas. Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard at Caesars Palace Talk about a rising tide lifting all boats. The great battles fought predominantly outdoors at Caesars Palace did more than pack its house. Hotel-casinos from the Strip to downtown received boosts to their visitor volume and gaming bottom line as high rollers and the sporting crowd converged on the city. Then there was the worldwide advertisement for Las Vegas visible thanks to Top Rank’s expansive pay-per-view market and the crush of international sports media that filled the world’s news outlets with daily stories with a dazzling Strip backdrop. The mystique of Las Vegas as the boxing capital of the world was undeniable, and Hagler was at the heart of it all. He had a mixed relationship with Las Vegas. Two of his six fights there were close, controversial, and left him feeling cheated. On the cusp of the 1980s, his first title fight in November 1979 at Caesars Palace against Vito Antuofermo ended in a draw. He left nothing to chance two years later, stopping Antuofermo in four rounds in the Boston Garden. Hagler’s 1983 fight against Roberto Duran at Caesars was another marathon brawl over 15 punishing rounds. Hagler came from behind to win a unanimous decision. For sheer entertainment, it was hard to top. But it couldn’t compare to the unforgettable 8 minute, 1 second stunner against Hearns on April 15, 1985, at Caesars. I was there and simply couldn’t believe my eyes. Despite its brevity, it was named the “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine and is considered by many to rank among the greatest fights in the history of the game. It cemented Hagler’s reputation as a ferocious competitor. (For more on this fight, check out the remembrance by Lee Groves at ringtv.com.) The fight grossed more than $20 million, the third-highest total of all time. With 15,141 fans in attendance, the gate grossed $4.6 million and the closed-circuit viewership generated additional millions. Hagler successfully defended his middleweight title 11 months later against John Mugabi, and it was that moment in a great career when the press and public would be forgiven for thinking Marvelous Marvin couldn’t be beaten. Then came Sugar Ray Leonard. Moving up in weight class, he was one of the smartest and most elusive boxers of the era. He entered the ring on April 6, 1987, at Caesars as a heavy betting underdog to Hagler, but slipped and danced his way to a controversial split decision that led Hagler to exit the ring and pursue an acting career in Italy. At the time, I don’t think anyone at ringside would have predicted the magic would ever end. Although many have come since and created hugely successful extravaganzas, it’s hard to compare any of them favorably to the amazing 1980s. Few had a better view of that fight than Marc Ratner. Ratner was assigned to Leonard’s corner that night as an inspector with the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Ratner later became the commission’s executive director and today is the Vice President of Regulatory Affairs for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. “I was sitting in the corner, so I remember the fight so vividly,” Ratner recalls. “What I liked about Hagler was he was just a no-nonsense guy who reminded me of Tyson in the early days. He would just come into the ring ready to fight. I don’t like guys who are dancing and singing. I want them to come in and fight. He had this whole aura about him.” There was also something to respect about Hagler’s rise through the ranks with a long string of fights in Boston and Philadelphia. He made every break he ever got. “A lot of people did think he beat Ray,” Ratner says. “He had the Hearns fight before that, which was such a special fight. To this day, most people think it’s the best first round ever and many people think it was the best three rounds ever.” The fights were outstanding, but Ratner also thinks the atmosphere at Caesars had a lot to do with the magic. “When you add to that the aura and how special outdoors at Caesars was, it was amazing,” he says. “To this day, I think there’s been nothing like that anywhere that was that special, at least for me.” With the hotels working together and using the events as a vehicle to generate table play and high roller interest, with the Strip at center stage, Ratner adds, “In those days, it was more of a front-page story than it was a sports page story. That’s how big they were.” Floyd Mayweather and others have proven that the grand boxing spectacle can still carry a weekend in Las Vegas, but nothing compares to that stretch in the 1980s when the four kings of the middleweight division and a Hall of Fame’s worth of heavyweights burnished Las Vegas’ reputation as the fight capital. For my money, that qualifies the late Marvelous Marvin Hagler as one of the greatest entertainers in the history of the Strip. John L. Smith is a longtime Las Vegas columnist and author. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.