PROVINCETOWN — Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the legendary middleweight champion boxer, died unexpectedly on March 13 at age 66 at his home in New Hampshire. Hagler was originally from Newark, N.J., but after the 1967 riots there, his mother moved him and his five siblings to Brockton. His father had abandoned them when Marvin was a child.
His early training days at a Brockton gym owned by brothers Pat and Goody Petronelli are what older Bay State sports fans fondly recall. But for 10 years at the height of his career, Hagler preferred to train in Provincetown during the off season.
“The Petronellis ran a gym on Court Street in Brockton and Hagler walked in one day and they took him under their wing,” says Paul Kemprecos. Kemprecos is a writer originally from Brockton who moved to the Cape in the late 1960s to work for the Cape Codder.
Kemprecos lived in Brockton during undefeated heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano’s reign in the 1940s and ’50s. Marciano was a neighbor of the Petronellis and knew them well.
“Brockton is a gritty, blue-collar town known for shoe factories and boxers,” Kemprecos says. “It was serendipity that Hagler moved to Brockton and walked into the gym.”
Hagler quickly shone as an amateur boxer and dropped out of school as a teenager to pursue a professional career. He became the next native son of Brockton.
He won 62 fights — 52 by knockout — during his career, including his first middleweight title fight in London in 1980, defeating Alan Minter Britain. Hagler didn’t fly to London to train leading up to that fight. Instead, he trained in Provincetown in the dead of winter.
Bill Higgins, longtime sports editor for the Cape Cod Times, spent years covering Hagler during his training days in Provincetown and eventual middleweight championship bouts.
Higgins says the owner of the Provincetown Inn at that time, Brooke Evans, was likely looking to bring in some high-profile entertainment acts and had a connection to Hagler. The boxer first came to Provincetown to train in 1977.
Evans died in 2019 at age 86. Current owner Evan Evans, Brooke’s son, did not respond to queries by the Independent for this story.
Hagler had fine accommodations while staying at the inn but his training regimen was “Spartan-like,” Higgins says. “They set up a ring in the indoor swimming pool area. A few times I went down there and I’d watch his sparring and training in the evenings.”
Hagler had a training camp with him that included Goody Petronelli. “Goody would get in there with pads,” says Higgins. “Marvin wouldn’t be punching Goody but the pads. It was almost like a ballet, watching Marvin dance around the ring and Goody slide, side to side. Marvin was throwing full power shots at the pads next to his head. Left, right, left, right.”
Hagler had a dynamic personality. Inside the ring, his motto was “destruction and destroy,” and he’d continually stagger his sparring partners or opponents with furious blows. But outside the ring, Higgins says, he was very humble, accommodating, and gracious.
He enjoyed the reclusiveness of Provincetown in the winter and mostly kept to himself. He often ran on the cold, desolate bike trail or the sands of the Outer Cape while photographers ventured out to capture him. “He’d have names for the seagulls,” Higgins says. “It was Marvin, his camp, and the seagulls.”
After Hagler won the middleweight title in 1980, he continued to return to Provincetown in the winters to train. He went on to defend his title 12 times before losing to Sugar Ray Leonard in a controversial decision in 1987.
“When he became champion, he could have gone anywhere, but he chose to come back to Provincetown because they welcomed him and he felt welcomed there,” Higgins says. “Coming to the Cape, he kind of became the hometown story for us.”
“There are a lot of artists here,” Hagler told the New York Times in 1981 about his days in Provincetown. “I learn a lot from them. You should see what they can do with wood and rope.”
After losing to Leonard, Hagler retired, acted in movies, and found a home in Milan, Italy. He married an Italian woman, Kay, his second wife, in 2000.
Gov. Charlie Baker has proclaimed May 23, 2021 as Marvelous Marvin Hagler Day in the commonwealth. (Hagler made “Marvelous” part of his legal name after newspapers didn’t include the nickname in their stories.) But Baker is not the first to do this.
On two separate occasions, the town of Provincetown did, declaring Nov. 30, 1979 and June 13, 1981 as Marvin Hagler Day.
“The citizens of the Town of Provincetown are proud that you, Marvin Hagler, contender for the Middleweight Championship have chosen our town as your adopted home and have found the necessary tranquility and seclusion to train adequately for your prior winnings,” the 1979 proclamation states.
Today, the citizens are still proud.