In these long hours before the deluge, Mustafa Hamsho, the romantic destined for a brutal struggle with reality, carries with him the memory of a promise he made on Oct. 3, 1981, while Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion, awaits the moment when he can step into the ring and fulfill his promise of "human elimination."
Hamsho (38-2-2, 23 knockouts), the No. 1 contender who challenges Hagler at Madison Square Garden Friday at 8 p.m., holds close the memory of Paddy Flood, his former trainer who died of a brain hemorrhage last March. Three years ago, when the Syrian-born boxer lost a bloody fight to Hagler (59-2-2, 49 knockouts) and needed 55 stitches to close his wounds, Flood told him, "That bum couldn't beat you. You beat yourself."
Hamsho, now 31, told his friend, "There will be a next time."
Fighters, all of them, need such haunts to signal the fury of their drive to the championship, although few are as sentimental as Hamsho. Against Hagler, Hamsho will enter the ring wearing a green robe with Flood's name on it, a gesture that shows the extent to which he embraces Flood's memory. After he beat three-time world champion Wilfred Benitez, Hamsho said, "Paddy was with me. In my imagination I saw him in front of me, pushing me, saying, 'This bum, don't let him out of the corner . . . ' "
Hagler, 30, is not without his legion of ghosts. He has for many years called his childhood in a Newark ghetto "uncertain." As a kid, he lived in a tenement slum, the oldest child in a family of seven. During the 1968 race riots, his mother made the children hide and sleep under their beds to prevent being hit by the stray bullets that slapped against their home. Earlier this week, Hagler said Hamsho "can't keep crying Paddy Flood" every time he enters the ring.
"I do not want to see the man's face again after this fight," Hagler said today at a press conference. "I do not want to hear his name ever again. I'm here to eliminate him."
Al Silvani, Hamsho's trainer, said his fighter will depend on a "new style" they have been working on for two years, one that will feature Hamsho "bobbing and weaving" and using hooks to Hagler's body. In the past, Hamsho employed bullish tactics patterned after Jake LaMotta and occasionally used forearms and head butts.
Dropping one's style for another, Hagler's camp argues, works for about as long as it takes to feel leather bop the cranium. "Then he'll be his old self again," trainer Pat Petronelli said.
"All he'll be doing is bobbing and weaving right into my left hook," Hagler said. "Once I've finished with an opponent he ain't never the same again. Hamsho ain't right in the head to be talking like he is."
The Hagler-Hamsho bout tops a championship doubleheader and the professional debuts of U.S. Olympic gold medalists Steve McCrory (112 pounds) and Frank Tate (156 pounds). Also headlining the card is the bout between top-ranked Mike McCallum and No. 2-ranked Sean Mannion for the vacant World Boxing Association junior middleweight title.
The issue of who will judge the title fights has created a controversy and shifted the focus from the boxers to the list of possible officials, which includes several women. Early this week, John Branca, chairman of the New York state boxing commission, named Carol Castellano, Eva Shain and Carol Polis as the three likely judges for the Hagler-Hamsho bout. An irate Petronelli, speaking for Hagler, said, "There will be no fight. This is a man's game. The two bouts should be judged by men."
Hamsho issued a statement saying, "I think Hagler is plain worried, and sex should have no place in the appointment of judges."
Today at the rules meeting, Branca said they were still "having challenges on the officials, but we usually don't announce who they are until the time of the time of the fight. In order to preserve the integrity of the game, we will not announce who they are until tomorrow"
Shain, who has been judging professional fights for 11 years, was told today she would not be working the Hagler-Hamsho bout, indicating the commission has decided not to use only women judges. Wednesday, Petronelli called Branca and said Hagler would not come to New York until he knew the names of the judges. Petronelli claims Branca named two men and one woman, and Arthur Mercante, the referee.
At the press conference today, Hagler held two clenched fists high above his head and said, "As far as the judges are concerned, I bring mine with me wherever I go. Their names are 'K' and 'O'. All I have in mind is destruct and destroy . . . . Everybody wants to see blood. Everybody wants to see a KO, and that's my middle name."
Hamsho brings to this fight a confidence Hagler considers "stupid." Hamsho insists that his first bout with Hagler, however ugly it might have been, was not so terribly one-sided. "I told him, 'Let me see your punch,' " Hamsho said. "I saw every kind of punch he could throw -- hands, thumbs, head -- and he never hurt me. Everybody says I got all these stitches. So what? He got 17 and nobody said anything. I didn't have to hide behind dark glasses afterward the way he did."