Robert Silva is back on the 35th anniversary of The War.
For many years, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was avoided like the plague in the 160-pound division. Being a southpaw and boxer-puncher, he was considered a low reward/high risk opponent. After finally getting a shot at the Undisputed Middleweight Champion Vito Antoufermo in November of 1979, Hagler was robbed of the title when the fight was scored a draw. Hagler finally captured the title on September 27, 1980 when he traveled to England and brutally tore apart defending titleholder Alan Minter in three rounds. Hagler’s only difficult title defense was against Panamanian legend Roberto Duran, the only title defense in which Hagler went the entire 15 rounds. His battle with Thomas Hearns would finally be Hagler’s opportunity to not only cash in on a huge payday, but be considered on the same level as the all-time greats of the game.
Hearns had completely dominated the 154-pound division after skillfully outboxing Wilfred Benitez to win the title in December of 1982. A victory over Hagler would help erase the stigma of the Leonard loss. My father was convinced that if Hearns stayed outside and controlled the fight with his jab, that he could defeat Hagler by decision or a late stoppage. Hearns had a four-inch height advantage over Hagler and one of the greatest jabs and right crosses in boxing history. We knew Hagler couldn’t outbox Hearns. He’d have to go inside and, like Leonard, attack Hearns’s body. From the opening seconds of the fight, that’s exactly what Hagler did.
On the night of April 15, 1985, the fight began just as we expected. Hearns moving, landing his ram rod of a job and Hagler aggressively pursuing him. Then, Hearns landed his vaunted right cross that hurt Hagler. He then landed two more flush right hands that seemed to hurt Hagler again. Hagler had one of the most durable chins that ever existed, and his recuperative powers were unreal. Hagler walked through several more of Hearns’s bombs and engaged Hearns in the greatest first round of total, non-stop action. Both men blasted each other with their biggest shots, and then late in the round, Hagler hurt Hearns with a right hand of his own. When the bell sounded, my father and I, who were watching this fight on closed circuit at Madison Square Garden, both agreed that this was the greatest round in the history of boxing. Unbeknownst to us, Hearns had broken his right hand against the hard skull on Hagler’s bald head. He would have to fight the rest of the fight with one hand. It would be another heartbreaking loss for our favorite fighter.
Round two saw Hearns able to box from the outside for the first half of the round and his jab opened up massive cuts over both of Hagler’s eyes. The cuts only made the 30-year-old champion that much hungrier. Hagler was able to trap Hearns against the ropes and hurt the 26-year-old challenger several times to the head and body. When the round ended, my father stated that it would only be a matter of time before Hearns would get knocked out. Hearns’s right hand was no longer affecting Hagler and he wasn’t able to keep the fight on the outside. Also, every time Hagler hit Hearns, he hurt him.
Hearns moved around and flicked his jab, but his legs were looking very unsteady. Early in the third round, referee Richard Steele called timeout to have the ringside physician take a look at the blood that was pouring out of Hagler’s eyes. This gave the champion an added incentive to quickly knock out the already fatigued Hearns. Seconds later, Hagler landed three right hand missiles that dropped Hearns. Amazingly, Hearns got up at the count of nine, but he was completely out on his feet. Referee Richard Steele called a halt to what was the greatest fight my father and I ever saw on closed circuit.
Two years later, Hagler finally got an opportunity to fight Sugar Ray Leonard in a fight that he’d wanted for over six years. Leonard defeated Hagler by a hotly disputed split decision. Hagler was so disgusted that he never fought again, instead retiring at the age of 33.
Hearns rebounded after the Hagler like the great fighter that he was. He vacated his 154-pound title in 1986 and then in 1987, he won two more world titles. In March, he knocked out Dennis Andries to win the WBC Light Heavyweight title and then in October, he knocked out Juan Roldan to win the WBC Middleweight title. The win over Roldan made Hearns the first ever four division champion in boxing history. Hearns would shockingly get knocked out in his next fight, losing his WBC Middleweight title to Iran Barkley. In 1989, he got his long awaited rematch with Leonard, only to get robbed and be awarded a draw, despite knocking Leonard down twice. Thought to be finished, Hearns would win the WBA Light Heavyweight title in 1991 by outboxing and shocking defending champion Virgil Hill. A year later, Hearns would once again lose his title to Barkley in a 12 round brawl. From that point on, Hearns was a part time fighter. He’d finally retire in 2006 at the age of 47.