30th anniversary of ‘The Fight’

Andy Lewis 16:16 13/04/2015
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  • Marvin Hagler, blood streaming from his forehead, attacks a spent Tommy Hearns at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, on April 15, 1985.

    It was a fight so dramatic, so furious, that the eight minutes of mesmeric back-and-forth brutality it provided make Marvin Hagler’s third round stoppage of Thomas Hearns the benchmark by which all fights are now measured.

    Indeed, the expression ‘it was no Hagler/Hearns’ has seeped deeply and indelibly into the boxing lexicon as the go-to phrase whenever post-fight hyperbole must be dampened.

    The 30th anniversary of a showdown dubbed simply and aptly, ‘The Fight’, will pass on Wednesday, and while only a few bouts truly deserve a birthday, this demands one.

    It was the standout skirmish from boxing’s last golden age, when a vacuum created by a retired generation of fabled heavyweights was filled by four modern legends, all of whom are now considered amongst the best ever to have done it.

    As well as Hagler, one of the all-time great middleweights, and Hearns, the finest product of the late Manny Steward’s illustrious Kronk stable; there was the charismatic Olympic golden boy Sugar Ray Leonard and his long-time nemesis, the gnarling, feral Panamanian brawler, Roberto Duran.

    As a quartet they jolted boxing from its post-Muhammad Ali malaise with their rich talents, cinematic back stories and wildly contrasting personalities making them huge stars – bitter rivals forever linked by a shared legacy.

    Between them they won 16 world titles across eight weight divisions. They fought each other nine times between 1980 and 1989 and all had at least one win and one loss against another member of their exclusive club.

    As George Kimball points out in his brilliant ode to the ‘Four Kings’, when Leonard faced Duran for the third time in November 1989 in the last meeting between members of the foursome, their aggregate record stood at: 229 wins, 15 losses and four draws.

    Eight of those defeats and two of the draws had come in fights against each other.

    By the time Hagler stepped into the ring at Caesars Palace on April 15, 1985, he had ruled the middleweight division for five years and was closing in on Carlos Monzon’s record of successful title defences.

    Hearns, the 1984 Ring Magazine fighter of the year, was yet to fully convince at 160lbs but was considered at his peak having knocked out Duran in unexpectedly brutal fashion as a light middleweight the previous June.

    Yet as the story goes, an ill-advised pre-fight massage left his muscles limp, his system starved of adrenaline, and so prompted his bombastic start as the Motor City Cobra came out throwing huge power shots in stark contrast to the measured approach most predicted he would adopt.

    The idea was to catch his man early but while Hearns had scary KO power – ask Duran – trying to blow Hagler away was less cavalier, more foolhardy.

    The Marvelous One was never stopped in 67 fights and only touched down once –against Juan Roldan – but that was more rugby tackle than punch.

    Myth has it that the most ‘marvelous’ thing about him was a thicker than average skull, an immovable granite cranium which Hearns set about pulverising from the opening bell.

    An early right did stagger Hagler, another huge uppercut caused more damage. But in an X-rated three-minute opener, he took plenty in return, including a flush right-left combination which appeared to shake him to his core. Both men counted the cost.

    Robert Duran(l) and Sugar Ray Leonard (r) were also part of the fantastic four.

    Hearns broke his hand. Blood poured from a chasmic wound in the centre of Hagler’s forehead. The tempo didn’t drop.

    Hearns moved more in the second, trying to counterpunch in the face of Hagler’s ominous onslaught. It was no good. Again the champion, blood streaming from his ruptured dome, cut the ring off and pounded the trapped Hearns.

    By the start of the third the cut was Hearns’ best chance and referee Richard Steele took a close look before allowing Hagler to continue.

    The end was imminent, however, and a long spearing right sent a scrambled Hearns jelly-legged across the ring.

    Hagler gave chase and finished the job. In just under eight minutes, some 339 punches had been thrown, 190 of them landing.

    What was billed as ‘The Fight’ is remembered as the fight.