Some Kind of Wonderful: Marvelous Marvin Hagler-Fully Obelmejias

January 17, 1981

Not even Marvin Hagler knew his name. Not really. “What’s his name? Fully Obel?” he asked the press corps scoring a dominant 8th-round TKO over undefeated Venezuelan Fulgencio Obelmejias at the Boston Garden. Part of the first wave of Alphabet Soup Group refugees, Obelmejias might as well have been a stowaway, hidden somewhere in the hull of a New England whaler and surprised to emerge docked at the foot of a prizefight ring. With a 30-0 record built up by belting out numberless desaparecidos, Obelmejias was as ready for Hagler as he was for the blizzard that left Massachusetts looking like some sort of lost lunar landscape, all snowdrifts and perpetual gray twilight. A far cry, indeed, from the tropical climate of Venezuela.

For Hagler, last of the pro hardscrabblers, it was the first defense of the title it took him over 50 bouts—and more than seven years—to win. A six-week camp in windswept Provincetown—“jail,” Hagler called it—had left the Newark native with the dark edge he never relinquished in his career. The only undisputed champion in boxing at the time, Hagler could barely contain his resentment at having had his dreams deferred from year to year and fight to fight. “I want to stay bitter,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I use it; I feed on it. That’s why I put myself in jail like this to train for a fight. I want to be mean. All I want to think of is destruction. Then nobody can take from me what’s mine. The only way they’ll get the title from me is to kill me.”

A crowd of over 8,000 braved the snowstorm to see the Brockton sharpshooter riddle Obelmejias with hollow-point combinations from the second round on. Obelmejias was floored in the sixth, fought back hard in the seventh, and was sent reeling into a mercy stoppage one round later.

After the fight, “Fully Obel,” who had, he said, caught a cold jogging through wintered Beantown, who had discovered the flavorsome charms of clam chowder, who had watched Sesame Street in his hotel room to improve his English, who had asked to visit Plymouth Rock, found himself where nearly every man who swaps punches for a living will find himself sooner or later: lost in the shadows of the Red Light District. In a rematch, late 1982, Obelmejias would lose again, and wind up in the dark. From Four Kings by George Kimball:

“At 3:00 a.m., after we had filed our stories, Jim Fenton of the Brockton Enterprise and I walked out of the arena and into the deserted town square to come upon the beaten Venezuelan. He was a forlorn figure. His face was puffy, and, still clad in his fight robe, trunks, and socks, he wore shower clogs on his feet. His driver had apparently abandoned him, leaving the car locked and its formerly distinguished passenger stranded. He quietly found a seat on a stoop before a deserted storefront. His wife eventually approached and tenderly stroked his head. Obelmejias began to sob.”

As for Hagler, there was already talk of a rematch with his nemesis, the Brooklyn Cicatrix King, Vito Antuofermo, who never played the tough guy for kicks. But that comes in the future. For now, envision this image of Marvelous Marvin Hagler: See him trudging up and down the snow dunes of deserted Provincetown over thirty years ago, a soul at white heat, scattering seagulls into the bruised, blue January skies with his whoops, his shouts, his cries.