Marlon Starling still hopes to one day take his rightful place in the International Hall of Fame, writes Thomas Gerbasi
MANY in the boxing world, especially in New York, thought of Mark Breland as the next Sugar Ray Robinson. One of the best amateurs the United States has produced, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist was on his way to greatness in the pro ranks, going 18-0 in February 1987 to win the vacant WBA lightweight title against Harold Volbrecht.
Six months later, he faced Marlon Starling, a veteran of 45 pro fights who had defeated Simon Brown, Floyd Mayweather Snr, Jose “The Threat” Baret, Kevin Howard and Tommy Ayers, but lost in his first bout. In 1984, a title shot against Donald Curry was achieved. And more disappointment was expected against Brooklyn’s Breland, but the then 28-year-old from Hartford, Connecticut, had other ideas, even if he knew it could be an uphill battle.
“It was a big Olympian and I had to beat Breland,” said Starling, now 63. “He was a young, growing guy and I was a veteran. And conditioning and being a smart fighter can handle a rookie. But Breland, they talked about how he hadn’t lost a fight in so many years and he was an Olympic champion. My position was do or die and i had to take a lot of punishment to win this fight.
Starling fell behind early, but a near-fragile Breland never got to his feet, hitting the blanket several times as he tried to get his feet back under him. It was the signal for “The Magician” to keep pushing and pushing, which he certainly did as he got around the champion’s five-inch height advantage and began to wear down his foe.
“Breland had a really good shot,” Starling said. “Everybody was talking about his right hand, but his jab was the most important thing to him. So you just had to be smart with Breland.
In the year 11th round, Starling put smarts aside in favor of brute force, and the strategy worked. Breland was ejected with 1:38 left in the frame, and Marlon Starling was a world champion in an era when that feat wasn’t so easy to achieve. But why did Starling choose such a New Yorker?
“Hey, they came after me,” laughed the soft-spoken Starling, who still lives in Connecticut, where he is a member of that state’s Boxing Hall of Fame, one of three he loves, along with halls in Rochester and New Jersey. The only thing missing for him right now is the big International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota.
It’s a sad omission, especially considering what he did in the ring and the era in which he did it. And he feels the same way, as do his fans and many in the media.
“I should be in the Hall of Fame,” Starling said. “There’s quite a few people in this hall that I should be in there before. God bless them. And I’m not jealous, I’m just saying I know I should be. When we say Hall of Famer, we try to judge it by decade, that you were in, and you can’t get past that decade of the 80s – it wasn’t just that I was the WBC champion, I was the WBA champion, I was the USBA champion, I was the NABF champion, and we had good fighters at that time.
This might be the understatement of the year. Look at Starling’s resume for the caliber of fighter he was regularly in the ring with: Curry (twice), Brown, Breland (twice), Lloyd Honeyghan, Michael Nunn and Maurice Blocker. It was Murderers Row, and Starling packed a Tommy gun between the ropes on every trip, his skills were sublime, but thanks to his gas tank and iron jaw, he could bang and go into deep water if he wanted to. dented once when he was knocked out by Tomas Molinares after being clearly punched (and landed) by Tomas Molinares. This fight was later declared a no-contest, and ironically, Starling still considers this 1988 match to be one of his best performances.
One of his most satisfying? His next fight when he defeated Lloyd Honeyghan for the WBC welterweight title on February 4, 1989. The contest was heated, but when the bell rang, the challenger took control, stopping his foe over the course of nine rounds.
“Honeyghan was the easiest fight of my life,” Starling said. “I had no problem with Lloyd Honeyghan. When I said jump, he jumped. When I said I’d hit you in the head, I did. he was easy.”
Such longevity at the sport’s highest level is rare, but Starling hails from a rare era when the best fought the best and boxers learned their craft the old-fashioned way – through hard work.
“I was a sparring partner in my 10-round fight,” said the man who competed in two 15-round bouts against Curry and Breland. “I fought everybody who came into the gym and needed work. I had to work because I had to get in shape. And I stayed in shape. They were fights in the gym. You go home and you’re sore. But those were good days. I wouldn’t change it them.”
One sparring match he won’t forget was against Thomas Hearns. Starling originally planned to work with Sugar Ray Leonard, but when that didn’t work out, he began working on the 1981 SuperFight between Leonard and Hearns, The Hitman.
“I went to work with Ray and they didn’t want to spar,” Starling recalls. “But they asked me to come work with them and the other day they didn’t want to spar. Then when Tommy and Ray went to fight in Vegas, I went to train with Tommy and I got the best of him, but he hit me with a right hand and when I got back to my room my nose was running and I was like I think my jaw broke and my jaw broke.
Sidelined for five months, Starling returned with a vengeance in 1982, going 6-1 with four knockouts. The only loss came by split decision in his first fight against Curry.
“I fought Curry twice and I thought I beat him the first time,” Starling said. “He was one of the best fighters I ever fought. I told Curry, ‘I hit you the first time,’ and you know what he told me? ‘The record books don’t say that.'”
Starling laughs and has kept in touch with Curry through the Texan’s son, and also makes it a point to talk on the phone with Leonard, the only fighter he regrets never getting a ring with. And you can guess how these conversations go.
“I wanted to fight Ray, and every now and then he and I get on the phone and talk about it. Ray says, ‘I’d kick your ass,’ and I tell him, ‘You know better. First of all, you should work extra hard to beat me.”
It is true. Not only did Starling have an iron chin, but his defenses surpassed those of most of his peers. You want proof? Go to YouTube and search for “Starling defense” and see what comes up. It was easy for him.
“As an amateur, I was always taught to bring my hands back,” he said. “If you bring your hands back, you don’t have to worry about the shot. You know what they do when you hit someone? They want to beat you back. Is it easy or what?”
He laughs as he then refers to the Molinares fight.
“I had a plan going into the Molinares fight,” Starling said. “I beat him very easily. Guess what? It never ended that way. So what do they always tell you?”
Protect yourself all the time?
“Need I say more?”
Today, Starling isn’t as involved with sports as she once was.
“Boxing was good for me, but I don’t watch it anymore and I never thought I’d be a guy who didn’t watch boxing,” he said. “I think they put a big dent in it in the late ’90s.”
When 1999 turned into 2000, Starling was already more than nine years removed from his last professional fight. After defeating Honeyghan, he successfully defended his title against Young Kil Jung and then moved up to middleweight, but lost a 34-0 majority decision to Michael Nunn. Four months later, on August 19, 1990, he dropped a majority decision to Maurice Blocker and then retired at the age of 30.
“After the Blocker fight, I was angry,” Starling admits. “I said, ‘No, I’m not doing it anymore.’ I believe they stole Blocker’s fight.
It was a bold call, especially considering he was only 30 years old and capable of getting into big money fights for years to come. But the single father who raised his son Marlon Jnr never returned.
“If I knew then what I know now, I probably would have stayed, but you know what, my dignity meant too much to me to stay,” said Starling, now a father of three and a grandfather of three girls, none of whom are married. are aware of what grandfather did for a living.
“They want to read and everything,” Starling laughs when asked if her grandchildren have already looked her up on YouTube.
Many still know what he did, with friend, ex-boxer and current trainer John Scully leading the charge on social media to inform the newer generation of what Starling accomplished and why he should be in the IBHOF, which “The Magician” still visits every year, even while competing (and finishing) in a traditional 5K race.
Starling smiles when told of this push to get him in time.
“It means so much,” she said. “It means that I got up to work every day and I liked going to work. When I go around with people, they say, “Remember that Marlon Starling?” Whether I lost or won, they know Marlon Starling was there to perform. And I never got there to do that dog. I didn’t like being beaten. If I were to fight, I’m in for the win, I don’t care how much money you pay.
This is hall of fame talk.