Hagler vs Hearns - 30 plus years gone and still the Gold Standard
A crisp Monday evening in April 1985 complimented fight fans as they filed into their seats at the outdoor stadium beside Caesars Palace on the famed Las Vegas Strip.
While the boxing faithful of today are now so very accustomed to planning a night at the bouts around a Saturday, tax day of 1985 (Monday, April 15) centered on the showdown for middleweight supremacy between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Tommy "Hitman" Hearns. Simply coined "The Fight", the long awaited contest may have only disappointed the most ardent fans of the sport who prefer a chess match over boxing's rendition of Big Horn Sheep ramming their collective heads together.
So many children of the 1970's and 80's grew up thinking that Sylvester Stallone provided the best window into the Sweet Science. Rocky Balboa's fights on the silver screen were all about guts, bravado and sheer will. Of course, the majority of bouts don't roll in the same direction, yet the roughly eight minutes of sheer bombs and rockets fired by both Marvelous and the "Hitman" didn't exactly look worlds different from the second bout between Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang (Rocky III). Months led to years of anticipation for a contest between two men who were so very fortunate to be in the same weight range and thankfully for the boxing aficionados, each fighter was waiting for the chance to decisively batter the other.
For what felt like a generation, Marvin Hagler (60-2-2, 50 KO’s) felt such a lack of respect around planet pugilism and Thomas Hearns (40-1, 34 KO’s) complimented his thunderous and devastating right hand with a chockfull of chatter and banter.
The stage was ultimately setting itself for what would perhaps be one of the most memorable bouts of the last half century and for all the right reasons.
As much as the boxing as well as normally absent sports media try as hard as they collectively can to compare next month’s long awaited bout between Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Mannny Pacquiao as the biggest fight since 1971 when “Smokin” Joe Frazier first met “The Greatest” in Muhammad Ali, what is easily missed is the fact that no fight (through no fault of its own) will likely come close to matching the two and a half rounds of mayhem witnessed on April 15 of 1985.
It’s anyone’s guess as to what we may have witnessed had “The Fight” gone on as originally planned in the spring of 1982. The stars finally aligned after Hearns had moved on after his September 1981 loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in a bout that by all accounts, he was winning until Leonard rallied to win by TKO in the 14th round.
He moved up and away from the welterweight division in search of what would better suit his lanky, 6’1” frame.
Tommy’s June 1984 second round destruction of perhaps Latin America’s greatest fighter ever; “Manos de Piedra” Roberto Duran was in the top light in comparison to Marvin’s hard fought and grueling fifteen round decision win over the same man just seven months earlier.
Throughout the multi-city press tour to promote the match, it was Hearns who would often profess that he’d be the victor, going so far as to predict a knockout in three rounds. Hagler promised to come out firing and that it would be his hands raised in triumph on the night. In addition to the plethora of celebrities that adorn a fight, more important figures such as Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio were in attendance that evening in Vegas.
Hagler vs Hearns 1985
Marvelous Marvin answered the opening bell with a right hook just over the side of Tommy’s head, who himself then looked to keep his Brockton, Massachusetts foe at a distance by way of his left jab. Hagler tried to dig to the body, yet it was Hearns who temporarily stunned Marvin with a right hook to the head.
The first ninety seconds of the round mostly involved Thomas on the move and Marvelous Marvin on the take. Hagler’s face was bloodied thanks to a cut near his forehead.
He took the fight back to Hearns and the opening stanza finished with the still familiar names of color commentators Al Bernstein and Al Michaels offering nothing but mountains of praise for what they and millions of others had just witnessed.
Hagler changed stances from southpaw to orthodox in the first half of the second. It paid dividends as he was able to connect with strong rights upstairs. He moved back to his original position as a lefty and used his right jab. It was as if he’d made it beyond clear that he’d take a borough’s full of kitchen sinks thrown at him before he’d succumb to the now lessened power of Thomas Hearns. He had his Detroit adversary on the ropes and was feeding oceans of leather to his face via straight jabs and uppercuts. Tommy answered with his share of jabs, but nothing was going to keep Hagler away.
The two men had in their corners a group of legendary trainers who have since flown to the angels in Emanuel Steward and the Petronelli brothers, respectively.
Round three of Hagler vs Hearns began with Hearns once again boxing and Hagler stalking. About a minute inward, fear set in for Hagler that the contest was in danger of being stopped due to the cut he’d suffered. Time was called by referee Richard Steele.When Marvin was asked if his vision had been impaired, he famously answered, “I ain’t missing him, am I?”
He got his wish for the bout to continue and subsequently caught Thomas flush with a right up top. Moments later, he landed another right hand which sent Hearns in a bit of a tailspin towards the ropes.
He momentarily turned his back on Marvin, who chased him down and connected with a titanic right to the chin thrown in almost full stride.
It was enough to send “Hitman” Hearns to the canvas, who after he rolled over onto his back courageously beat the ten count given by Steele, but was in no condition to stand, let alone continue to fight.
The third round TKO win for Marvelous Marvin Hagler was undoubtedly the signature moment of his professional career which took a dozen years to materialize, as he’d turned pro in 1973. We all know what happened to Marvelous Marvin just two years later, of course. Sugar Ray Leonard. The rest is history, albeit still harshly debated.