The memories come flooding back when Marlon “Magic Man” Starling sits back and recalls the last world title fight to take place in Hartford, Conn., more than 20 years ago.
The East Hartford resident who turned 50 years old in August can still remember specifics of the night he won a unanimous decision on Sept. 15, 1989, against Yung-Kil Chung to defend his WBC Welterweight title at the Civic Center in Hartford now known as the XL Center, the site of the Nov. 7 rematch between another of Connecticut’s favorite sons as Chad Dawson battles Glen Johnson in a rematch for the WBC interim and IBO light heavyweight title.
The victory over Chung that night in Hartford was also one of Starling’s final fights and last victory as a professional boxer.
“What I remember about that night was that Marlon Starling put on a show,” said Starling, who routinely refers to himself in the third person. “I did everything I wanted to do but knock him out. The thing about me and this was true throughout my entire career was I never did anything great. I did everything good. I turned professional in 1979 and my first year in the Top 10 was 1980. I finished my career in the Top 10.”
The current president of the Connecticut Hall of Fame, Glenn Feldman, also has fond memories of the last world title fight in Hartford . “I just remember an electric atmosphere, a buzz around the city,” said Feldman. “The Civic Center used to be the hub of the city. Starling was huge in Hartford . He was the man. People loved him and when he fought it was the talk of the town.”
In 1989, Starling knocked out Lloyd Honeyghan to win the WBC Welterweight Championship. After his first title defense against Chung, Starling challenged Michael Nunn for the IBF Middleweight Championship, but lost by decision. In his next fight, Starling lost his welterweight title on a close decision to Maurice Blocker in what would be Starling's last fight. He retired with a record of 45-6-1-1 (27 KOs ). He was 32 years old.
“I never retired from boxing. I quit,” Starling said. “Every other boxer retires and then comes back for the all-mighty dollar. When Marlon Starling was the WBC Welterweight Champion of the world he wasn’t just the best welterweight fighter, he was one of the best fighters in the world, period. There were only one or two or three other fighters in the world who were better than me. There was Mike Tyson, Julio Cesar Chavez and Evander Holyfield.”
Starling said he knew he was finished with boxing after flying to Los Angeles to train five months after his final fight and sparring with a 20-year-old. “I slept for two days after that. I knew right then and there I was too old for this sport. I was 32. I thought maybe I could come back and still be a champion but Father Time caught up with me. You have to love this sport to do it and to do it well.
“I don’t ever regret quitting early. I don’t think it was early. Look at Sugar Ray Leonard and Larry Holmes. They all came back and they got beat by mediocre fighters and that tarnished their careers.”
Starling fought numerous times on network television and was a popular fighter, despite never using a promoter. He did train with a young Freddy Roach, who is now considered one of the best in the world and currently trains Manny Pacquiao. “Marlon was always business-like when it came to training and boxing,” Roach said recently.
“Freddy Roach trained me but you know who trained Marlon Starling better than anyone was Marlon Starling,” Starling said. “He worked with me but I’m tough. Ninety-five percent of boxing is conditioning and I was always the best conditioned fighter.”
Starling still lives in East Hartford and said that after 20 years of odds and ends jobs like driving a limo and serving as a host at a restaurant, he has finally found a job he loves. He currently works with people with special needs at Catholic Charities.
“I was still trying to find what I wanted to do when I grew up,” he said. “About eight months ago I found it. I think I finally found a job that I can love more than I love boxing. You do this for the love of it. But what I really want to do is to train fighters. That’s what I know best. Training boxers is more of love of mine and a goal not or a dream. The dream for me was winning the world title.”
Starling will be in attendance Saturday night at the Dawson-Johnson fight and has worked with Dawson in the past. He has advice for him come Nov. 7. “He’s got to keep doing what he’s been doing. He cannot get into a fight. What’s the worst thing that can happen in a boxing match? You get into a fight. I think Chad Dawson has all the attributes to be a world champion. But you can’t fight the fighters and you can’t box the boxers. He has to mix it up. He has to not get into a fight with the tough guys. He has to keep them in the middle of the ring.”
Saturday night’s fight will be broadcast live on HBO World Championship Boxing beginning at 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT.
Remaining tickets, priced at $200, $100, $75, $50, and $35, (plus any applicable fees and surcharges), can be purchased at the XL Center box office, at all Ticketmaster outlets, through Ticketmaster Charge-by-phone at 1-800-745-3000 and online at www.xlcenter.com.