As fight fans know, the nine-year, nine-fight rivalry known as “The Four Kings” gave us plenty of drama, to put it mildly. Great two-way fights that went the distance, devastating KO’s, and some of the most celebrated rounds in boxing history were provided by Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran. But the most shocking KO, the most violent knockout, came when Hearns and Duran met.
It was 36 years ago today when “The Hitman” and “Hands of Stone” met at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas (Vegas the scene of many of the fights between “The Four Kings”) and what happened proved stunning. Hearns, who had lost just one fight – this to Leonard in the classic welterweight showdown of 1981 – had won the WBC/lineal and Ring Magazine 154 pound title with a 1982 decision win over Wilfredo Benitez (Benitez often dubbed “The Fifth King;” the amazing Puerto Rican having fought all of the four but Hagler).
Duran had just gone 15 hard and close rounds with Hagler up at 160 pounds. Now, fans were enthralled over what would happen when the Detroit killer puncher who could also box superbly collided with the Panamanian hard man who was also a brilliant defensive fighter. Underneath a dipping Vegas sun, the two legends would share the ring for less than six minutes.
Hearns, at his absolute peak at age 25 (at his peak in terms of physical ability as well as global stardom; Hearns a genuine superstar in the 1980s) went right at Duran. Duran was past his best at age 32 yet was still Duran; still a man who feared no-one, who was as tough as he was clever. Hearns had predicted a quick KO win. Who believed him? Soon enough, Hearns proved he meant business.
Hearns was all over Duran, showing him zero respect, his fast hands blazing at their inviting target. Soon Duran was down. Then he was down again. This was incredible. Duran had scarcely touched the canvas in his previous 82 pro fights, now here was Hearns making mincemeat out of the man many people today call the greatest of them all. Duran, dazed as he was, walked to the wrong corner at the bell, the end of the most punishing round of his career over. And then came the finish.
Hearns, his famed right hand doing its most efficient work, drilled Duran, the bomb landing flush and sending Roberto down on his face. It was over inside just two rounds. It was epic. It was sensational. The referee saw no reason to issue a count.
Hearns had destroyed a man who had just gone 15 rounds with Hagler, and who was far from finished (as Duran’s superb 1989 comeback win over Hearns’ conqueror Iran Barkley would prove). For now, there was only one king, and his name was Hearns, Thomas Hearns.