Ranking “The Four Kings” - Leonard, Hearns, Hagler, Duran: Three Experts Place Them In Order Of Greatness

By James Slater: It was a golden era of boxing the likes of which may never be seen again. From 1980 - beginning with Roberto Duran’s sensational points win over “Sugar” Ray Leonard and, perhaps fittingly, ending with Leonard’s rubber-match of a points win over “Hands of Stone” in 1989 - to the very end of the decade, four men fought from welterweight up to super-middleweight, giving their all and giving the entire world a thrill.

This was of course, the time of “The Four Kings” - Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvellous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. Nine times they tangled, and eight times they gave us simply unforgettable fights (the final fight of the series, between Duran, then 38, and Leonard, then 33, was vastly disappointing).

Who could ever forget the savagery of Hagler-Hearns, the sheer class displayed in Leonard-Hearns, or the way the entire world stopped for Leonard-Hagler? Great times indeed, and those who were lucky enough to have lived through this special era can forever count themselves as extremely fortunate.

Last night on BBC Radio 5, a fine 90-minute show was aired, during which host Mark Chapman and his three experts guests - Steve Bunce, Mike Costello and Damian Hughes (co-author of “The Hitman - The Thomas Hearns Story”) - paid tribute to these four fighting legends and their fascinating fights.

Well worth checking out (see BBC radio pod casts at the official web site), some amazing stories were shared with listeners, and Sugar Ray himself spoke exclusively. Callers were invited to text and Tweet in, and I asked the three experts how they would rank the four greats in order of, well, greatness!

Here is what Bunce, Costello and Hughes said:


1: Leonard (“He beat all the others”)
2: Hagler
3: Hearns
4: Duran


1: Leonard
2: Duran
3: Hearns
4: Hagler


1: Hagler (“He never soiled his legacy by coming back, the way the other three did.” - Hughes never listed his next three picks).

“That’s the beauty of the era,” Costello said. “Three different opinions.”

For what it’s worth, I would rank them as follows:

1: Leonard
2: Hagler
3: Hearns
4: Duran.

However, that’s a ranking limited to just between the four. In terms of “The Four Kings,” then, yes, Leonard has to be placed at #1, seeing as how he beat each of the other three men (although Hughes clearly feels, as do many other people, that The Marvellous One deserved the points win that magnificent night a quarter of a century ago this Friday). But in terms of all-time greatness, pound-for-pound, I’d actually rank Duran higher than any of the other three. Duran, a natural LIGHTWEIGHT, managed to beat Leonard at welterweight and come oh-so-close to beating Hagler - many people’s pick for THE best middleweight champion in history - at 160-pounds.

Factor in Duran’s achievements at his natural poundage of 135, and the fact that he later managed to win a major belt at middleweight, and Roberto deserves to be placed in the ALL-TIME Top-10 - as he is in fact placed my many historians. Do Leonard, Hagler or Hearns deserve to be placed so high in terms of all-time? Maybe Leonard.

What can be agreed on, though, is the fact that boxing was a far, far greater sport, a far, far greater place to be back when “The Four Kings” were doing their stuff. If you don’t agree, listen to last night’s pod cast. And then fire up You Tube and kick back and relax (or at least try and relax: during Hagler-Hearns? Forget it!) as you watch any of the eight classics these special fighters gave the world!

Article posted on 04.04.2012

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