HEARNS v ROLDAN - The night “The Hitman” made history

13.12.05 - By James Slater: Shortly before his defeat by Marvellous Marvin Hagler, in possibly the best fight of all time, Thomas Hearns had set a goal for himself that if achieved would set aside any doubts concerning his true greatness. He had failed to win the middleweight title against Hagler but the target he had aimed for still remained firmly in his sights after the loss. Hagler, of course, had gone on to lose his title to “Sugar” Ray Leonard two years after his win over Tommy and had then retired. Ray did likewise straight after shocking the world and in doing so left the WBC middleweight belt vacant. And, although Hearns would have loved nothing more than a rematch with either of the only two men to have beaten him, he would now concentrate all his efforts on confirming his greatness in another way.

Tommy had decided that he wanted to be the first man in history to win world titles in four different weight classes. And so, in March of 1987, he bulked up and successfully challenged Britain’s Dennis Andries to take the light heavy weight title, thus achieving the first phase of his goal. He then shed the weight so as to drop back down to 160 and pick up the pieces at middleweight. With his two great rivals unavailable he found himself matched, in October of that year, with the WBC number two middleweight contender, Argentina’s Juan Domingo Roldan.

The bull-like Roldan was now all that stood in the way of Tommy, the WBC number one contender, and boxing immortality. Roldan had an impressive 65-3-2 record and in his own challenge of Hagler he had given a good account of himself. He scored what is generally classed as the only knockdown of Marvellous’ career early on in the fight. The trip to the floor Marvin had been subject to had certainly looked like a slip to all observers except the third man in the ring that night and Hagler was furious with the referee’s call. Marvin “recovered” and stopped Roldan in the tenth round. He had not looked marvellous in this performance though and this had had a lot to do with the strength and awkwardness of his challenger. Hearns would have a definite fight on his hands with this guy. The bout took place at the Hilton hotel in Las Vegas and all onlookers watched with interest to see if “The Hitman” could score his most important victory.

The start was fabulous and it didn’t look like much more than three minutes would be needed for Tommy’s dream to come true. He cracked Roldan with right hand after right hand and scored two knockdowns, one at the start of the round and one right at the end. Then the bell sounded, temporarily ending the terrific pasting that Roldan was being made to suffer. Juan was unable to change tactics in the following two rounds and was on the receiving end of yet more hellacious punishment. He was sent south again at the start of round two, this time from a left by Hearns, and Tommy looked a dead cert for victory. But this was Thomas Hearns after all and being as he is possibly the most exciting fighter ever then something other than a straightforward and easy win just had to happen. Making history wasn’t going to be quite so easy!

Tommy did have a somewhat vulnerable chin at times and it was partly due to this that he was so exciting to watch. There was always tension for his adoring fans when they watched him fight, he could be hurt or knocked down before he got the other guy out of there, which he usually did of course; but the edge of your seat was all you ever needed when Tommy fought!

Sure enough danger struck, in round four, as a big left from Roldan caught Hearns while he was on the ropes. His legs temporarily buckled and gasps were emitted by his loyal followers. Tommy had enough control of his wits to hold and grab until his head cleared though and thankfully his brief flirtation with disaster passed. To the delight of the huge crowd, most of whom were firmly on “The Hitman’s” side, a massive wallop from the most famous right hand in boxing put Roldan back in his place as Tommy came firing back in a sensational burst of action. Then came the finisher. A punch similar to the one that had destroyed Roberto Duran slammed into Roldan’s head and he was left face down on the canvas without a chance of beating the count.

Hearns had done it! He had pulled off something that no other boxer ever had. Men like Alexis Arguello, Henry Armstrong and Duran himself had tried and failed to do what he’d just done. This record making achievement earned Tommy a title that he could never, ever lose. His status as an all time legend was now set in stone.

In the post fight interview Hearns was joined by a congratulatory Marvin Hagler. Tommy beamed as talk turned to the possibility of a rematch. Marvin shook Tommy’s hand and told him to look after his belt real good until he came back, if he came back. Hearns revelled in the fact that even the two men to have defeated him hadn’t done what he just had and he spoke of his hopes of this making them want to come back and do it again. “There’s gotta be a way”, he joked.

Unfortunately, as we all know, Hagler stayed retired and the mouth watering possibility of another fight as good as their first encounter remained unrealised. But as we also all know, Tommy would have more luck enticing the first man to ever beat him back into the ring. A rematch with a certain Mr Leonard would be his soon! For now though ,Thomas Hearns could savour his tremendous accomplishment. 1987 had ended on a very good note indeed for Detroit’s favourite son.

Article posted on 13.12.2005

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