Pender Had The Style To
Give The Marvelous One Trouble
But Could He Have Won?
By Bobby Franklin
The Boston area has produced three World Middleweight Champions. Johnny Wilson, who was originally from Harlem, Paul Pender from Brookline, and Marvelous Marvin Hagler from Brockton by way of New Jersey. Interestingly, two of these champions, Wilson and Hagler, were southpaws.
While watching clips of Paul Pender in action I started to think about how a matchup between these two local world champions would have played out. Hagler’s name is always included in any list of great middleweight champions, while Pender is remembered as a very good, but not great, champion. However, a boxer not being ranked on the all time great list does not mean he would not have posed problems for one of the best. It has been repeated over and over but is still true, styles make fights. Ken Norton is never ranked as an all time great, yet in their three fights he gave Muhammad Ali, the number one choice of many boxing experts, all he could handle. Many believe he deserved the decision in all of their match ups, not just the first one where he broke Ali’s jaw. If they fought a hundred times it would always be a tough fight for Ali. Why? Because Norton had a style that Ali just could not cope with.
…it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice.
In comparing Pender and Hagler it is interesting to note that neither champion was ever beaten by the same opponent twice. In Hagler’s case, with the exception of Ray Leonard, he avenged every one of his losses.
Pender had a record of 48 bouts with 40 wins (20 Kos), 6 losses, and 2 draws. Paul was stopped on 3 occasions. He fought a total of 345 rounds.
Hagler’s record stands at 67 total bouts with 62 wins (52 Kos), 3 losses, and 2 draws. He had a total of 398 rounds fought in his career. Marvin was never stopped.
Pender fought most his fights in the 1950s, his pro career began in 1949 and ended in 1962. Hagler’s ran from 1973 until 1987.
Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident.
So, what makes this an interesting fight? Well, first off, since this is all conjecture, let’s assume each contestant has a piece of a divided Middleweight Crown. Remember, that when Pender won the title from Sugar Ray Robinson the majority of governing bodies did not recognize it. In promoting the bout at the Boston Garden it would not only be built up as a championship match between two local fighters, but two local fighters with a claim to the title. The winner would walk away as the undisputed titleholder, great motivation for both of them. This would probably be the only time in history that the Boston Garden would be sold out for a boxing match.
Pender and Hagler would both enter the ring supremely confident. Marvin having taken out Thomas Hearns in one of the greatest fights of all time, and Paul having defeated the great Sugar Ray Robinson twice. Neither man would be intimidated by the other.
Now to their styles: Pender is thought of as a boxer, but he was really a boxer puncher. He moved fast on his feet, had quick hands, and was a master of the feint. He also had an excellent left hook that he would work off of his jab, sometimes throwing it immediately after landing a jab, and sometimes feinting a jab and moving in with the hook. Paul also had power in both hands.
Marvin is best known as a lethal puncher, but he could box as well. It was also very difficult to hit him with a clean shot. He kept his chin tucked down and had excellent head movement. Once he had an opponent hurt he would finish him off. Marvin was always in excellent shape and had a burning desire to win that never abated throughout his career.
The two Hagler fights that give us a clue to how Pender would have done against him are the Duran and Leonard bouts. Duran, like Pender, was a master at feinting, though he used more body feints then Paul. That feinting kept Marvin a bit on edge and made the fight competitive. He ended up winning a much closer decision then most experts expected.
Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand
Leonard showed how movement could be a problem for Marvin. Of course, there was a lot more going on in that bout that I will not get into here, but it did show that a boxer who kept his cool, stuck to a plan, and fought in flurries could be a problem for Marvin.
Pender could do all of that. Paul’s most effective weapons against Marvin would be his footwork, his left hook off a jab feint, and his follow up right hand. He would be moving in and out, attacking and retreating, moving side to side. All of this would give Marvin a lot of trouble, but for how long?
While Paul would be frustrating Marvin, he most likely would not be able to get a clear shot off on Hagler’s chin. Hagler would start increasing the pressure and begin cutting the ring off on the Brookline native in the hope of cornering him and landing a barrage of punches in order to at least slow him down. This would be difficult, but not impossible to do as Pender was always thinking in there and did not tire.
I think this would have been a very interesting fight. Remember, I am talking about both of these champions meeting in their primes with the title at stake. It would also be a fifteen round match and both would be local favorites.
I am going to leave the outcome up to my readers, but I do believe this fight would have gone the distance and the fans would have gotten their moneys worth.