REMEMBER, THOSE Legendary battles in the ring take a very human toll
Thirty-six years ago today, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns staged one of the most thrilling, breathtaking and, yes, violent fights in boxing history. All these years later, it’s still recalled fondly and on Anniversary Days, scores of memories of the bout fill social media.
What isn’t so conveniently or fondly remembered is the deleterious impact those kinds of fights had on the boxers’ cares and personal lives. Very often — almost always, in fact — the fighters who compete in those jaw-dropping bouts are never the same.
Hagler fought only twice more against that and wasn’t the fearsome guy he had been. He won a tighter than expected decision over John “The Beast” Mugabi and then dropped a decision to Sugar Ray Leonard.
Hagler-Hearns is one of five remarkable fights I thought of on the anniversary. The others were:
• Muhammad Ali TKO14 Joe Frazier, Oct. 1, 1975, Manila, Philippines.
• Aaron Pryor TKO14 Alexis Arguello, Nov. 12, 1982, Miami, Florida.
• Micky Ward W10 Arturo Gatti, May 18, 2002, Uncasville, Connecticut.
• Diego Corrales TKO10 Jose Luis Castillo, May 7, 2005, Las Vegas, Nevada.
All were brutal, fast-paced fights in which each man gave and took dozens of flush, undefended high-impact shots.
None of the fighters were really ever the same afterward, though they had varying degrees of success in the ring.
Ali is probably the most famous example of a fighter who suffered from taking too much punishment in the ring. He was 7-3 after the third Frazier fight, but many of his wins were lackluster performances against garden-variety opposition. He began to slur his words, developed Parkinson’s and eventually became largely unable to speak.
Arguello went 5-2, never again as a boxer rising to the level he had before the fight and suffering numerous personal and health issues.
Gatti was 5-4 after losing the first in the series with Ward. He would win the final two in the series with Ward, but declined as a fighter precipitously after it was over.
Corrales was 1-3 and died two years to the day later in a motor vehicle accident.
It may not be connected, but Corrales, Gatti and Arguello all died young men. Corrales was just 29 when his motorcycle crashed into the back of a car and flung him off. Gatti died at 37 of an apparent murder. And Arguello, who battled drug addiction, was dead at 57 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the heart.
It’s not fair to blame boxing for their deaths, but as we have learned more and more about the affects of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), we can no longer ignore the link between the two.
On this day, millions celebrate the memories of a fierce battle that enthralled millions and created legends. But also remember, at least for a moment, the toll those battles took on the men who engaged in them.