April 13, 2012

Friday Night Fight Flashback: The Hagler vs Hearns WAR

Hagler & Hearns prepare for WAR

"Come April 15th ... in three rounds ... I WILL BE THE GREATEST!" ~ The twenty city promotional tour was now coming to it's conclusion, and Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns was doing more than his share of promoting the upcoming Superfight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler. His bold prediction was a little out of character for him, as he was known as a fighter who normally lets his fists do the talking. The same could be said of the Marvelous One. But if they were going to build interest in the upcoming title fight, one of them had to step up and play to the media.

Hearns was also known as "The Motor City Cobra," a reference to his boxing skills from back in his amateur days, but it was his transformation into "The Hit Man" that really excited the fans. At 6'1 he was taller than most of his opponents, and his right hand was deadly. Back in December 1980, on the cover of The Ring magazine, they dressed Hearns in a dark pinstripe gangster suit and wide brim hat while holding a machine gun. Hearns may have been a great boxer, but let's face it, the fans loved him for his knockouts. In one of  his recent outings, Hearns had scored a spectacular knockout of the legendary Roberto Duran. Hearns showed Duran absolutely no respect, firing two up-jabs to the body to get his guard down, before landing a sickening right cross flush on his jaw. Duran was out before he hit the canvas, face down. Hearns told  the world "The Hit Man" was back, and after the bout, he claimed Hagler "was shaking like a leaf on a tree." That quote made the cover of KO magazine, and Hagler was furious.

Hagler beats Duran

Hagler had fought Duran in his first superfight one year earlier, and may have given Duran too much respect, as he needed to win the last few rounds to win a majority decision, so naturally everyone felt Hearns upstaged him. Hagler didn't see it that way. The "Marvelous One" had a different view. In fact, he felt it was Hearns that was afraid of him. Back in 1982 when Sugar Ray Leonard retired, the two men were scheduled to fight each other, and Hearns backed out, claiming an injury to his pinky.

"You know how many people would give a million dollars for that baby pinky? For a million dollars, I'd cut that thing off!" said Hagler. With the fight called off, they both went in different directions, but once again fate brought them together.  

After the Duran fight, Hearns scored an early knockout of Fred Hutchings, setting the stage for his attempt at the middleweight title. Hearns 40-1-0 (34 KO's) was the current WBC super welterweight champion attempting to move up. Hagler did his part, knocking out his old nemesis Mustafa Hamsho in three rounds. There was an ominous sign of things to come, as Hagler wore a red cap that simply read "WAR." When questioned, he simply stated, "War, that's what's on my mind." Hagler was famous for his spartan like training, and his training camps were famous for it's "jail like" conditions. He finished his training in Palm Springs, and closed the doors to the public. Of course, the Kronk Gym had it's own reputation, as some of the best fights you will never see, were held in the bowels of the building. As you would walk downstairs to the gym, the temperature would easily hit 90 degrees. Hearns finished his training at Miami Beach before heading to Caesars Palace. There he held open sessions for the public, and danced with aerobic beauties. He even found time to shoot craps at the casinos. Hearns was very relaxed for this bout. Like Hagler, he was also confident of victory.

The fight was simply billed "The Fight," and was held April 15, 1985 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada. As the fighters warmed up in their dressing rooms, Hearns' entourage could be heard bad mouthing Hagler to boost up the confidence of their champion. "They can talk all they want, they can't help him in the ring" said Hagler. The crowd is almost equally divided, as first Hearns, and then Hagler 60-2-2 (51 KO's) enter the ring. After Doc Severinsen performed the National Anthem, Hearns gave Hagler a baleful eye as he is introduced. The intensity is equal in the opposite corner, as Hagler pounds his head as he is introduced. Richard Steele motions both fighters to center ring for final instructions, and neither fighter blinks during the intense staredown.

Both men are led back to their corners, and Hagler appears unfazed as Hearns continues to glare. Hagler went through a lot in training, and now someone was going to pay. The anticipation is high in the packed outdoor arena.

Finally, the bell rings and both men race to center ring. Hagler, who is normally a slow starter,  immediately fires a right hook to the head followed by a left to the body. Hearns, surprised that Hagler initiated the action so quickly, is trying to make space for his punches  by using his jab. Hagler is coming forward in a crouch, and fires another left to the body before firing a right cross that misses Hearns head by inches. "The Hitman" responds with two left hooks to the head of a still crouching Hagler, before firing a perfect right cross to the head. Hagler is stunned! Hearns lets his hands go and he is hitting Hagler with right uppercuts and right crosses thrown off his back foot. TV announcers Al Bernstein and Al Michaels are totally out of character, and it's understandable. They are in the moment, and they are fight fans right now, not commentators as both men begin yelling on the air through their headsets. "Oh, he bangs Marvin! Hagler is hurt, Hagler is stunned!" Hearing the two normally reserved commentators get excited, drives the fight fans into a frenzy. Everybody is up out of their seats, and Hagler ties Hearns up. His legs still look unsteady, but he is still coming forward in a southpaw stance. He lands a lead left hand that backs off Hearns. Hearns is trying to turn it back into a boxing match, but Hagler is crowding him and forcing him to either fight back, or get run over. Hearns lands another right hand, but this time Hagler handles it well. Hagler is coming forward with left and right hooks to the body. He lands a right hand to the head, and Hearns appears stunned as his back temporarily touches the ropes.

The Marvelous One at WAR!
Hagler is not giving Hearns any time to think, or any room to box. Hearns is now using his legs, and lands a left hook and then a right cross. Al Bernstein notes that Hagler should turn orthodox to block Hearns right cross. Hearns lands a low blow, but it doesn't slow Hagler down, as he lands a big right hand to the head. Hearns is on the ropes, but manages to slide out. Again, he lands a right hand to Hagler's head, but the blow is not having the same effect as earlier. Hagler is now bleeding from the forehead, courtesy of a Hearns right uppercut. Hagler ignores the blood and continues to come forward, and pins Hearns against the ropes.

Hagler is ripping him to the body and landing the left cross and right hooks to the head. Hearns is trying to fight out of the corner, but Hagler is relentless. Hearns plants his feet and hits Hagler again and yet again with viscous right hands, but the bloodied Hagler just won't budge. Hagler lands a left cross and then a huge right hook to the head, and now it is Hearns that is stunned! Hearns stumbles a few steps back, and Hagler quickly advances. They trade bombs at the bell, and a bloodied but defiant Hagler heads back to his corner.

"Wow! Perhaps one of the best rounds in middleweight history," exults Al Bernstein.

Hagler's corner is calm as they work on the cut. Meanwhile, a concerned Emanuel Steward is telling Tommy to just box. The fight fans are back on their feet as Hagler immediately goes on the attack at the start of the 2nd round, and he immediately scores with a lead left hand. Hearns is boxing, and relying on the jab as he moves around the ring. Emanuel is yelling from the corner."Keep boxing Tommy!" The crowd reacts as Hagler steps on Hearns' foot, which causes him to stumble. Hagler turns orthodox for the first time in the bout, and Bernstein believes it may be a key moment. The round is moving the way many believed the 1st round would have gone. Hearns is finding some success with the jab. Hagler is trying to cut the ring off. The crowd is roaring with every punch that is thrown. Hagler has the shorter reach, but is now getting inside. He lands the left hook. He has taken the best Hearns can offer and is now willing to take the right hands so he can land his own punches. Midway through the round, Hagler switches back to his southpaw stance and he gets instant results! The right jab is landing regular, and Bernstein admits he may have been wrong about Hagler fighting orthodox. Hagler is now working the body. Thomas' legs appear rubbery as he continues to try to box. His legs are not cooperating and now he is forced to trade with Hagler.

Hagler eats Hearns up like Pac-Man!
Hearns lands another good right hand, but Hagler continues to move forward. He traps Hearns on the ropes and lands a left cross followed by two right hooks to the head, and Hearns holds. Richard Steele tells the fighters no holding, but Hearns hangs on to Hagler's right glove. Hagler, who is bleeding heavy again, whacks him in the head over and over with his free left glove, until Hearns finally lets go. Hearns makes room, and lands a right uppercut but misses the left hook. Hagler makes him pay with a left hook to his exposed head. They are now trading, and Hagler lands a right hook and a left cross to the head with Hearns on the ropes. Hagler is turning it into a street fight as he lands some big body shots with a few low blows thrown in for good measure.

The men are still trading on the ropes when the bell rings, and the bloodied but unbowed champion heads back to his corner with a swagger, while Hearns has a sick smile on his face, as he places his right glove on the top rope and guides himself back to his corner.

Tommy sits down heavy on his stool, and Emanuel Stewart is frantic. "Just box him, Tommy! Stay away from him and move side to side." In Hagler's corner, they work on the gash on his forehead, but couldn't be happier as far as the fight is playing out. Again, the crowd is on it's feet, as Hearns is up first waiting for the bell to start the 3rd round. Just as Bernstein notes how much success Hagler has had as a southpaw, he switches back to an orthodox stance. Hagler's ability to switch from southpaw to orthodox is seamless, and creating problems for Hearns. Hagler is determined to keep it as a street fight, as Hearns tries his best to follow instructions and jab at Hagler while moving side to side. He throws in an occasional lead right hand whenever Hagler gets to close for comfort. Hagler continues to apply pressure to close the gap, and lands a right cross before turning southpaw and lands a left to the body. Hearns is finding some success with the jab, and he lands it repeatedly as Hagler continues to try and cut the ring off. He roughs Hearns up inside with bodyshots before missing a wild right hand. As Hagler's momentum spins him into the ropes, Richard Steele calls time, as Hagler's face is a bloody mess. The fight fans boo, and hold their breath, as the ring doctor is called in. He observes the cut, and sends Hagler back in almost immediately.

Hagler moves in for the kill!
Hagler is now fighting with a sense of urgency, as the last thing he wants is the fight stopped on cuts. Hagler misses a wild left hook, and Hearns is determined to keep the fight on the outside with the jab, and is moving on his toes. He lands a lead right hand, but Hagler shakes it off - and while backing Hearns to the ropes - lands a tremendous right cross to the head. He follows up with a left, right, left to the body and a hard right uppercut. Hearns appears rubbery as Steele separates the fighters. Hagler fires a left hook, switches to southpaw, and leaps with a straight jab before landing a straight left hand. Hearns is smiling as he tries to jab and move away on rubbery legs, but Hagler lands another lead straight left hand, before leaving his feet to land a huge sweeping right hand that sends a stunned Hearns flying across the ring on very unsteady legs, at one point with his back to the champion.

Hagler races across the ring and again fires another huge right hand, just as Hearns is turning back to face his tormentor. Hearns is in real trouble now. Hagler misses a wild left hook, but it puts Hearns near the ropes, with no escape route.

It's all over for Hearns in the 3rd round!
Hagler's feet leave the canvas again as he throws the fight ending right hand that explodes on Hearns' jaw. You could almost see the lights go out upon impact, and the follow through of the punch drapes Hearns body over Hagler's shoulders before he crashes to the canvas. On the way down, Hagler throws a complimentary cuffing left hand - thrown almost as an afterthought. Hearns is flat on his back, and his eyes are blank and glazed. Hagler walks to a neutral corner as Steele picks up the count. Hearns rolls over at about 7 and incredibly, is up at the count of 9. Hearns is still glassy eyed, and he is on very unsteady legs, leaving Steele no choice but to wrap his arms around the fighter and he stops the fight at 2:01 of the 3rd round!

The ringside scene is total chaos, as Hearns' mother could be heard sobbing at ringside and needs medical attention. One of the men in Hearns' entourage carries him across the ring the way you would carry a child, and places him on his stool. Meanwhile, Hagler's handlers are carrying him around the ring as he holds his gloves up in victory. "Am I the greatest?" Hagler asks Bernstein at the post fight interview. A disappointed but proud Hearns comes over to congratulate the still Middleweight Champion of the World. "We gave em' a hell of a show, we gave them their money's worth", said Hagler. No argument there. Bernstein asked Hagler if he was hurt in the first round. "No, it only made me madder. I was the champ, but I had to fight like the challenger." It was later discovered Hearns had damaged his right hand in the fight, but the classy Hearns made no excuses for the loss. Al Michaels summed it up best. "It was a great 8:01."

The fight turned out to be Marvin Hagler's finest moment. He had two more fights before retiring. Hagler's fight with John "The Beast" Mugabi was brutal, and became an instant classic. It also showed signs of him slowing down. His last fight was on April 6, 1987, a decision loss against Sugar Ray Leonard. To this day many of Hagler's fans feel he did enough to retain his belt. Hagler was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992 and is a regular attendee during Induction Weekends. His final record an impressive 62-3-2 (52 KO's). As for "The Hit Man" - he went on an incredible 21-3-1 run after the fight, beating some respectable fighters like Virgil Hill, Michael Olajide, Andrew Maynard, James Kinchen, and Dennis Andries amongst others. He picked up two losses to Iran Barkley in thrilling fashion, and a bogus one to cruiserweight Uriah Grant with an early round ankle injury where he was unable to continue. The Leonard "draw," in 1989 was a bad decision that even Leonard counts as a win for the "Hit Man." His last fight was against someone named Shannon Landberg on February 2006. Hearns final record: 61-5-1(48 KO's). He is scheduled to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame class of 2012. The fan turnout should be huge, as Leonard, Hagler, and Duran are all expected to attend the reunion. More than 27 years have passed since "The Fight" and every year The Ring magazine presents a "Round of The Year" award. Every year the winner is compared to the 1st round of Hagler - Hearns.

It's the ultimate compliment to these two living legends.

The Friday Night Fight Flashback you just enjoyed was written by self-proclaimed boxing junkie David McLeod, exclusively for KO Digest. Each week, David will flashback to a memorable fight in boxing history!