When you grow up in a ghetto in Newark, as Marvelous Marvin Hagler did, a man who is your uncle wrestles you to the kitchen floor once a month and puts a shiny straight razor to your head. Struggling under the big hand that strains your neck, you beg to know why.
But later, at 15, someone points out the extraordinary number of bald-headed men in the neighborhood. You can relate, you tell your mother. This is what style means. And it no longer seems to matter that your baldness began because there was hardly enough money for food, much less enough to take you to the barber shop and ask for a two-bit schoolboy and shave.
"People say I look fierce and ugly and mean with this bald head," Hagler said the other day. "But that wasn't why I did it. It was a good luck charm, and now I think I look very good in it. It's a part of me . . . My style is by choice, not by nature."
Monday at about 10:50 p.m. (EST), the marvelous one will defend his undisputed middleweight title against Thomas Hearns before a sellout crowd of 15,200 in an outdoor arena at Caesars Palace. Promoter Bob Arum expects about 1.7 million to watch the fight from more than 700 closed-circuit and pay-per-view outlets, making it the largest grossing telecast of its kind in history, bigger even than Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier in 1971.
Hagler, whose wide appeal has as much to do with his furious, comic-book looks as the enormous skills he brings into the ring do, could make as much as $9 million for the scheduled 12 rounds of work. Hearns is guaranteed $5.4 million but probably will take home about $8 million, once his percentage of the gross is kicked in. The tremendous payday, although considered a great accomplishment by both men, seems less important than the opportunity each has to be remembered for what he accomplishes here.
Hagler, who is 30, four years older than Hearns, proposes to prove his greatness by breaking Carlos Monzon's record of 14 successful title defenses. Beating Hearns would give Hagler 11 and put him only two years away from that goal.
"Everybody recognizes me as the bald-headed fighter," Hagler, a southpaw, said. "The public has put things on me, but I don't believe I've received my glory yet. That's what Tommy Hearns is all about."
Hagler, at 60-2-2, has not lost in nine years. That remarkable stretch covers 35 fights, the last of which came against top-ranked contender Mustafa Hamsho in October and lasted only three rounds. Hearns' only career loss came against Sugar Ray Leonard in September 1981, while trying to unify the welterweight crown. A little more than a year later, Hearns won the World Boxing Council junior middleweight crown from Wilfred Benitez in a brilliant technical display that went 15 rounds.
Hearns was supposed to have fought Hagler that same year -- 1982 -- but Hearns backed out when he sprained his pinkie finger and disputes arose with the promoter over how much money he should earn for his effort. To fight for a third title, Hearns, who stands almost four inches taller than Hagler, is stepping up in weight class, from the 154-pound class to the 160. On Friday, he weighed 165, but said he would have no problem losing five pounds by Monday morning.
"The money I'm making against Marvin means a lot, but winning four titles is my goal," Hearns said. "I want to be the first man in history to go from the welterweight to the light heavyweight division, knocking out champions all the way. Then I'll say goodbye to boxing and look for something else to do."
After a workout last week, Hagler admitted he is concerned about the judges selected to score the fight, but said, "My managers are supposed to screen them out and pick the right ones. That's not my department. Mine is to concentrate on winning the fight."
Saturday at the rules meeting, Hagler's manager, Pat Petronelli, asked the Nevada State Athletic Commission to replace judge Rudy Ortega, claiming Ortega is "more qualified as a referee. . .It has nothing to do with dishonesty." Dick Young of Los Angeles was named as the replacement.
The concern in Hagler's camp comes with good reason. In Las Vegas for his first shot at the middleweight title in 1979, Hagler said he "beat (Vito) Antuofermo decisively," but the bout was ruled a draw. Even casual ringside observers questioned the judges' scoring. Then, against Roberto Duran in November 1983, the judges scored Hagler behind after 13 rounds. He had to rally and overwhelm Duran in the final two rounds to retain his title.
"I really think I haven't lost a fight here," Hagler said. "I want to just go in there and get my punches together and rip Tommy's head off. I'm looking for him to throw the right. And I'm going to invite him to throw it. They feel they can scare everybody away because he has a good right. But I have the key, I know how to stop it. 'Come on,' I'm telling him. 'Try it. I want you to try it.' "