‘The Fight’ was truly Marvelous

Feb 16, 2010 5:09 PM
Pulling No Punches by Michael Katz |

When Hagler out-hit Hearns the Hit Man

I need a winner so you get some really useless information.

Hagler in three.

I can past-post with the best of them. Marvelous Marvin Hagler, in case you missed it, did indeed stop Thomas Hearns in three rounds.

Of course, we’re getting ready to celebrate the silver anniversary of that classic battle.

And maybe you forgot, but back in 1985, I did indeed pick Marvin in three when the conventional wisdom was saying Hearns if it’s quick, Hagler late.

And with the 2010 schedule so weak in the next couple of weeks, I’m going to start picking fights that already happened. I probably should have started with the most important fight of 1985, which came Feb. 11 that year while Hagler-Hearns didn’t take place until April that year.

But I didn’t pick James Douglas over Mike Tyson, though I did write a year or two prior that Buster had the skills and talent to bother the so-called indestructible champion for a few minutes, concluding that it would take more than a few minutes to win, though.

No, let’s start with Hagler-Hearns, which for sheer excitement remains the standard by which action bouts are judged. Early in ’85, I went to Miami Beach to watch Hearns train. I thought it was an intriguing bout.

Marvin had run through all the possible middleweight contenders rather easily, winning the first eight bouts of his 160-pound reign by knockout. But now one of the greatest welterweight classes in history – and please don’t talk to me about Oscar de la Hoya, Felix Trinidad and Sugar Shane Mosley, or Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao – was moving up.

The first one to reach Hagler was that magnificent old lightweight, Roberto Duran, who had rebounded from his "no mas" effort in the Sugar Ray Leonard rematch by knocking out Dave Moore in 1983 to win a junior middleweight title. A few months later, Manos de Piedra showed Hagler that his hands were also made from lightning.

Hagler had so much trouble with Duran’s hand speed that he needed to win the last couple of rounds to eke out a 12-round decision. He did this by invading Duran’s supposed stronghold, the inside, and battering the Panamanian. The question a couple of years later was whether he would be able to get inside against Hearns’s long punches.

Duran, in his next start after losing to Hagler, was knocked stiff in two rounds by Hearns. This set up what promoter Bob Arum billed as simply "The Fight." Until Miami Beach, I had little idea of who would win. Hearns’s only pro loss had been when he faded late against Leonard in 1981, so the widespread belief was that the longer the fight went, the more the odds would favor Hagler. Hearns’s best chance, it seemed, was to catch Marvin early or cut him.

But in talking to Hearns one-on-one in his room, I surmised the opposite. "In every fight, it evolves that one guy becomes the boxer and the other the puncher," I said to Tommy, one of the straightest guys in the world. "Which one are you here?"

"I’m always the boxer," he said, and it was true that back in a wonderful amateur career, he had yet to launch his hall of fame power and even against Leonard, when hurt, he managed to outbox his rival.

Hell, with only one hand, he had outboxed Wilfred Benitez, the self-proclaimed "bible of boxing."

I was thinking to myself, yes, stay away and you can win on points – you have enough punch so that Hagler can’t rush in unwarily.

But, Tommy added, "If I get him hurt, I’m going to go for it (the knockout)."

Oops, thought I, game, set and quick Hagler KO. Hearns was so fast there could be no question that he was going to land something big against Marvin. But Hagler had not only one of the best chins in history, but his temple areas, the other bullseyes for knockout punchers, was protected by what doctors said was a skull so thick it could qualify as an NFL helmet. And as soon as Hearns moved in, he would be within Hagler’s range.

True enough, almost immediately Hearns landed a big right hand and Hagler was wobbled in his tracks. True enough, Hearns went for the gusto. True enough, at the end of three of the most incredible minutes in ring history, he was out on his feet.

Hearns was a great welterweight and a terrific middleweight. He won a title at light-heavy. I think he would have starched de la Hoya and Pacquiao and Mayweather and Mosley. But Hagler was a great middleweight. I think he would have out-boxed Carlos Monzon, whom I had the displeasure of covering a few times, and would handily have defeated Bernard Hopkins.

Yes, more brilliant selections you can not use.

Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Michael Katz