Hagler v Hearns - Eight unforgettable minutes that made me a fight fan for life

10.12.05 - By James Slater: On April 15th 1985 at the same site as his great win over Roberto Duran, Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns met Marvellous Marvin Hagler and a fight took place that will be talked about for as long as there is a sport called boxing. A fight of such unbelievable action, with almost unbearable intensity that mere words alone could never hope to adequately describe its phenomenal quality. It has to be seen to be believed and any person who considers themselves even a remotely interested spectator of the fight game will surely have obtained a copy on tape. Of those who were actually lucky enough to have been there live, I remain constantly envious.

Billed appropriately and simply as, "The Fight", it rightfully resides at the top of many a list of greatest ever boxing matches. The first round alone saw to that..

The build up to all this started shortly after Hearns' superb win over Duran and both Tommy and Marvin embarked on a long promotional tour. As unnecessary as this may have been (a bout between these two gladiators would have filled any arena in the world without the need for hype), the prolonged testing of Hagler's patience seemed to anger and frustrate him, giving Hearns an edge in some minds. He had to listen to a lot of fighting talk from Hearns and maybe his irritability did show signs of Tommy's having got to him psychologically.

The pressure both men were under was immense but Hearns appeared to be handling it better. Hagler was well known to despise the time consuming and tedious nature of promoting and on this occasion he displayed his unhappiness more than ever. Finally, after weeks, that must have seemed like an eternity, not only to Hagler, but to all those who were tingling with anticipation for the end product of such a lavish build up, the day of the fight arrived.

No one who was present was at all concerned with the possibility of being disappointed by the evening's action, but nobody expected the once in a lifetime brawl that took place either. For once the over the top hype was justified, in fact the tremendous war that these two men fought surpassed it.

The first round is the greatest opening round of a boxing match ever captured on film. It is as startling to watch today as it was twenty years ago. As one writer correctly said, there was more action in the first round alone than in the full twelve rounds of many fights. The start was absolutely blistering and many at ringside said later how they felt a heart attack was imminent. Not to either of the two warriors slugging it out in ring centre, but to themselves!

The bell rang and both men came out launching savage punches at each other. Although Hagler generally gets credit for initiating this start, it was Hearns who inflicted hurt first. A tearing right hand landed flush on Marvin's shaven head and Marvellous was in trouble. He wobbled from the force of the "Hitman's" most potent weapon but didn't fall. The punch would have sent many an opponent into oblivion but the rock like hardness of Hagler's skull was able to absorb unbelievable punishment. Marvin was stopped in his tracks for a second but was then throwing his own bombs back at Tommy.

The punch Hearns had landed was his best shot and though it had hurt Hagler it hadn't put him away. Worse still the tremendous weight of the punch had broken his hand. Amid the furnace like heat of battle Tommy probably didn't even realise. He continued to throw blows with reckless abandon.

Before the first bell most experts had expected Tommy to box. He was the better boxer of the two and with his advantages in height and reach he figured to keep Marvin away from him while picking up points with effective bursts of fire power. Maybe it was Hagler's southpaw stance that had put an end to such tactics, if he ever did consider using them from the outset , or maybe Tommy's plan all along was to go for it with a tremendous gamble, putting all his faith in catching the slow starting Hagler for a first round KO.

Whatever the pre-fight game plans of either man may have been, what they were doing to each other in the ring at Caesars palace was surely not part of them. This was a street fight, pure and simple. The huge crowd loved it but surely they could not keep this up, something had to give, someone had to go.The round ended with Hearns stuck on the ropes. Hagler had fought back well from the shock of the first thirty seconds to boss the round's last minute or so. Both gave as good as they got and if anyone was anywhere near calm enough to attempt scoring the round, then an evenly scored one would have been accurate. How the judges coped with the task of having to evaluate such breathtaking action I'll never know. Later, referee Richard Steele said how he had kept thinking to himself ,"When is the round going to end!"

The incredible pace was an ordeal even for him. God knows how the fighters felt.

In the minute's rest, after more bombs had been dropped than at any time since the shelling of Vietnam, Hearns told Emmanuel Steward his right hand hurt like hell. Steward was sure it was broken. His fighter had to go back out to face the unstoppable tank that was Marvin Hagler, and he had to do it without his right hand. e gave Tommy instructions to box and hoped. Maybe Hagler would tire, they had both expended a lot of energy and Hearns wasn't the only man injured. Marvellous had suffered a nasty split on his forehead, put there by that savage blow in the early seconds. Hearns would have to target the injury and maybe, just maybe, the fight would be stopped.

The bell rang for the second time that evening and the short armistice was over. Hearns tried to get on his bike and kick start his boxing skills into life, but his movements weren't fluid. His legs didn't seem to be fully underneath him. He resembled a man walking on stilts. Still, his heart was as strong as ever and round two was almost as good as the opener. Hagler kept coming forward and Tommy was fast running out of whatever energy he had left. At the round's end they were once again fighting on the ropes. Hearns was defending himself by swaying his upper body now and some of his counter punches were landing. Hagler finished the session with blood in his eyes and though he had won the round and appeared the more stable of the two, Hearns grinned defiantly at him through his gum shield.

Both boxers sucked in as much air as they could during the second minute's rest. The fight had been gruelling and damaging already despite being only six minutes old. Both Tommy and Marvin had the right to feel tired.

Then the third , and as it turned out last, round began. Tommy again tried to box, with the right hand ineffective he had no choice, but perhaps even now he sensed it was to be Marvin's night. There was a glimmer of hope for him in this round though. Richard Steele took a look at the cut on Hagler and decided to let the doctor at ringside do the same. The crowd roared, they did not want this fight stopped due to cuts. As Hearns went to a neutral corner he watched and, later admitted, prayed for the bout to be over. He was hurting and he knew he had nothing left. The doctor barely seemed to glance at the cut before letting the match continue. It was almost as if he wanted the brilliant action to carry on, he never looked like stopping it. As for Hagler, this was when he uttered his memorable "I'm not missing am I?" quote when asked if he could see ok. Tommy's last chance of victory had passed. This would indeed be Marvin's night, his
greatest night.

Realising his title was in danger due to the damage over his eyes, a desperate Hagler turned it on. A big lunging right slammed into Hearns' head and he staggered across the ring. Hagler pursued him and was able to dramatically finish his man. Hearns was sent down flat on his back courtesy of another crunching blow and he seemed out cold. Somehow he beat the count and regained his feet, but Steele had no option but to stop the fight. Hearns was totally gone, only his massive heart and fighter's instinct had forced him to try and continue.

Hagler walked slowly across the ring with both arms raised in triumph. This performance convinced many he was the best middleweight ever. On the form he showed here he may well have been. His chin was like granite and his punches had the effect of a wrecking ball. His place in history was never more confirmed. He had put a gigantic exclamation mark on his greatness.

"The Fight" , was over and pulses began to return to normal speed. The late, great Harry Mullan reported later how he had been unable to hold his pen steady enough to take notes, such was his trembling and sweating. He was not the only one. Many journalists, when asked their view today on the best fight ever reply, without hesitation, Hagler v Hearns. Who could ever disagree with their sentiments?

It would be over a year before either man fought again. When they did they still conducted themselves as would be expected. Both would still go on to achieve more, further enhancing their reputations and popularity. However, both Marvin and Tommy, particularly the former, must have known upon reflection mere days later that what they had done on the night of April 15th would be their most celebrated moment and what they would be best remembered for. "The Fight," is rightfully hailed as one of the truly golden chapters in boxing history. For such magic we must all be forever grateful to Mr Hagler and Mr Hearns.

Article posted on 11.12.2005

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