Marvin Hagler part of biggest sporting event I witnessed


April 15, 1985. I had no legitimate reason to be at that fight, let alone seated second row, ringside.

But I’d become a Marvin Hagler fan — and now a groupie. I blamed TV, specifically HBO’s exclusive fight deals, fantastic regular coverage as Hagler ducked no one and didn’t spend months stalling. Hagler, dead this week at just 66, was cable TV’s first sports superstar.

I should have been home, covering the fight as presented on TV, as per my job assignment. But it didn’t hurt that my sports editor, the scowling, growling Pancho Villa-mustached Jerry Lisker — a boxing-headed character friends called “Blackie” — was a soft touch.

If you were one of “Blackie’s Boys,” and I was, you could fly to Vegas to cover the Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns middleweight championship.

All I had to do was ask twice, ignoring the fact that he’d answered “No,” the first time, hoping he’d forget. He did.

I found there was something different about Hagler fights. Though he embraced the name “Marvelous,” it was superfluous, as no one who watched him box thought of him as theatrical or flamboyant. He was get-on determined.

And his fights, even in Vegas and the Garden, didn’t become any of those glitter-and-glam masquerade shows that arrived by stretch limos. It seemed the crowd was there to see and appreciate Hagler, not to be watched watching Hagler. His fans didn’t wear feathered hats and gold necklaces with diamond-studded dollar signs.

Besides, to sit too close to a Hagler bout was to risk having his opponent’s blood stain even the most modest fight-night outfit.

My wife learned this while squeezed between me and Post boxing writer Mike Marley during Hagler’s three-round TKO of Mustafa Hamsho in October 1984 at the Garden. That was, by her insistence, her last live boxing match. Love, honor and dry clean.

Seth Abraham, president of HBO Sports when Hagler signed on, recognized Hagler as a good man, a great fighter and thus an easy sell:

“He’d fight anybody and everybody. He’d fight often. He was a gracious man who avoided making [pre-fight] scenes. He drove HBO subscriptions throughout the country — especially in New England, where he lived.

“HBO made him rich. And he deserved every cent.”

So Hagler-Hearns promised to be all business. It exceeded that promise to become what couldn’t be any less than tied for the greatest, most relentless and most brutal spectacle in boxing history. That it lasted “only” 8:01 — 2 ²/₃ rounds — was a colossal irrelevancy.

And when referee Richard Steele mercifully stopped it before Hearns wobbled and staggered any closer to an emergency room, I’m quite sure that no ringside boxing writer (or intruder, such as I) had a word written in their notebooks; there was no time to look down, to look away, to even consider in words that what was occurring before them and whether it was real.

Wap! Wap! Wap! That’s all that could be heard, not a moment’s other sensory respite. Wap! Wap! Wap! Hagler hit Hearns — Wap! Hearns hit Hagler — Wap! Those weren’t “Starsky and Hutch” TV fight sounds. Wap! Wap! Wap! What comes after extraordinary?

After the first round with nothing to write in my notebook beyond “Wap!” I stared straight ahead, catching, I’m convinced, the gaze of referee Steele — who hung over the ropes, eyes wide, and let out a deep breath as if he’d just witnessed something beyond his experience and imagination.

I’m often asked to name the greatest sports event I ever witnessed. The answer has never changed, not since Hagler-Hearns. Increasingly, however, I’m speaking with younger men and women who never even heard of them, who weren’t yet born or were just pups.

They look at me kind of disappointed, as if, “That’s all he’s got?”

That’s more than enough.

Rosters show college hoops more business than schooling

Saturday night on ESPN, after Texas punched its ticket (ugh!) to the NCAA Tournament by defeating Oklahoma State, Texas guard Matt Coleman III, into an ESPN microphone, declared, “This is what I came to school for!” Hmmm.

What does it take to make the NCAA Tournament? It takes whatever it takes. And that’s top seeds through to the lowest.

Let’s look, for example at the roster of a 16th seed, the Hartford Hawks. Its recruits include two players from the Czech Republic, one each from Slovakia, Australia and New Zealand. The roster further includes several transfer players and student-athletes majoring in “Undeclared.”

Such used to be the exception but is now trending the rule.

No. 1-ranked Gonzaga for the past several years has succeeded on the backs of players recruited via Rand McNally. This year’s Zags came to Spokane, Wash., from Mali — a 7-footer — Lithuania, Russia and France.

Not that anyone on CBS or Turner is going to say so in the coming days, but schools represented in the NCAA Tournament have, by applied logic alone, grown further and further from their campuses in terms of legitimate or even intended academic achievement.

The foreign studies departments within many of these schools have a smaller percentage of foreign students than their basketball teams. The colleges continue to serve as false fronts for basketball programs. In other businesses, that’s called racketeering. It’s a felony.

ESPN simply can’t do enough to destroy sports in service to reprobates.

Sunday, during a four-man panel discussion about the NCAA Tournament, a clip appeared of a near pregame brawl erupting at center court of that day’s Alabama-LSU.

For some reason, which went unexplained, this clip was accompanied by the sounds of two of the panelists, off camera, laughing at what was seen. Yeah, a near brawl! Funny! As is the ESPN standard, they found it delightful — or at least felt as if we should.

More of poor Tiger

NBC, over the weekend during the Players, continued to insult its audience by sticking to the story that poor Tiger Woods was the unfortunate victim of a car accident, as if another ugly driving episode was beyond both his control and fault.

Despite this spring training’s happy-faced “new man” media sell, Gary Sanchez still swings for gargantuan home runs with two strikes, and he still strikes out more than a minimally discriminate batter should.

Saturday, after Ohio State beat Michigan, CBS studio panelist Seth Davis piped, “That was a really fun game to watch.” He must’ve missed the last 1:55, which took nearly 10 minutes to complete, eliminating any chance for an exciting finish.

Chris Russo, SiriusXM travel and entertainment correspondent (Source: #backaftathis.): “By the way, in the fourth season of ‘The Crown,’ it’s all about Charles and Diana. And they make Charles out to be the worst guy in America.”

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