Some chapters of boxing history are lost in dusty back rooms and forgotten archives, some fights will be ignored and maligned and some rightly so, some however, a rarified few, will be watched for eternity. Some fights hold within them some key to the visceral parts of a human being, a link to our violent hunter gatherer past, a shot of adrenaline that evokes the fight or flight reflex while you watch them. Some fights have within them a brutal poetry through which two men express their athletic prowess, their skills and their personalities in an effort to remove one another from their consciousness. Never has this been more true of a boxing match than during the fight that occurred on the 15th of April 1985 under the bright lights of Caesars Palace, Las Vegas.
The protagonists of this tale are best summed up through their expression in the ring, so as best to explain them and their stories we begin at the first bell. The first punch was a leaping southpaw right hook, a trademark punch of the Champion in blue, Marvelous Marivin Hagler. This assault was met with a rapier double jab as the challenger circled away. The man possessing the jab and challenging for the middleweight championship of the world was the Hitman, Thomas Hearns. Clad in the famous Kronk Yellow he continued to fliker out his long jab. This is the first time in the fight you suddenly see the size and reach of the enormous Hearns, asked to take a guess at which of the fighters was a career middleweight and which was a former welterweight champion there would be no shame in guessing it was Hagler that had fought at 147lbs when it was actually Hearns. As Hagler closed in shuffling ever closer, Hearns tried to use all 78 inches of his freakish reach to try and hold back the champion with a stiff jab, just the clue Hagler was looking for.
Raised on the mean streets of Brockton massachusetts a young boxer like Hagler could only ever look up to the great heavyweight champion of the 50’s Rocky Marciano, and it was the fury of the rock he launched his next barrage at the long exposed body of Hearns. One of Hagler’s most potent weapons was rhythm, he would get himself into whatever rhythm he knew his opponents would find uncomfortable, fighting a fast fighter like Duran as he had in 1983 he offset a slow tempo to unsettle the great lightweight and welterweight champion. Hearns however thrived in a measured tempo and had been extremely successful at long range in slower paced fights, knocking out technicians like Pipino Cuevas and dominating the majority of rounds against the master boxer Sugar Ray Leonard. Hearns thrived at a slow tempo and for that reason Hagler’s stepped on the gas and set a pace like few others seen in pugilistic history. Conventional wisdom could have said Hearns would crumble under the relentless pressure of Hagler as he whipped in shot after shot to his torso but Hearns was not one to go down without a fight.
They say in situations of adversity you revert to the one thing you know best, the thing Tommy Hearns knew what to do best was throw his devastating right hand. In response to Hagler’s unrelenting body attacks Hearns exploded into his trademark right hand, the right hand that had felled so many a veteran fighter. Hagler though was not floored but incensed, he just pushed forward, throwing punch after punch without any regard for the barrage than was flying back his way. Hearns lands a flush left hook and smiles to himself as if to say, ‘that one got ya’ but again the sheer iron will of Hagler pushes him on. Marvin throws three shots, a lead left, a right hook and a left hook squaring his feet into the final punch, a tactic he used to move his opponents into his ambidextrous assaults, Hearns now takes his turn to be stunned.
Hearns skipped away, his tasseled boots bobbing as he bounces on his toes trying to compose himself and reset the pace of the fight, his trainer the late Emanuel Steward screams instruction, “Move Tommy!” He yells as the bald menace moves in once again. Realising his range finding jab would not be enough to keep Hagler away from him as it had done other opponents Hearns began to throw hard right hands across his body, just to try and keep Hagler away from him, this too though was in vain. Two monstrous ‘Gazelle’ punches, leaping lead right hooks land flush, pushing Hearns back to the ropes. Still Tommy tried, right hand after right hand, the venomous shot that earned him the moniker the “motor city cobra” and knockout so many was ineffective against Hagler. 5 in a row land flush to Hagler’s head but they have as much impact as if Hearns had used them to try and stop a speeding freight train. Hagler, now cut on his forehead, simply pushed on, as if possessed by some otherworldly force that felt no pain, no desire to stop or slow, only to be victorious. They pummeled each other in the far corner, neither defending any shot, Hagler landing every hook, Hearns every uppercut then it was over, the first round.
Three minutes with more action than most 15 round fights, before the crowd and commentators had finished looking around in disbelief, in awe of what they’d just seen the bell rang again. How could these two carry on? How could a human being endure another second of that much effort and pain? But these men didn’t ask questions, in the heat of battle a warrior doesn’t ask questions, they fight. The second round started with a huge left hand, poleaxing Hearns as he moved for another right. “Jab! Jab!” Shouted Manny Steward from the Hearns Corner, he had just found out that Tommy had broken his right hand on Hagler’s head in the first round, a fact that seemed not to bother Hearns at all as he fired a double jab right hand that reopened the cut on Marvins face. Hagler would famously say “If they cut my bald head open, they will find one big boxing glove. That’s all I am. I live it.” This is the reality Hearns was no faced with, Hagler wearing a mask of blood, with nothing to lose tearing towards him with no sign of respite. Hearns bobbed on his toes trying to avoid the raging bull, still using his jab and right hand but with less accuracy than before, all the while Marvin marched on, pushing forwards and punching Tommy every time he stopped moving. Hearns, visibly exhausted from the pace of the fight stopped and traded with Hagler and was punished with a huge Left hook right hand from Hagler who had switched in the transition to orthodox and as Hearns staggered back he remained there, showing that even in the midst of violent and chaotic exchanges he could maintain his technical ability. The Final ten seconds could have happened in a phone booth, Backed into a corner Hearns could only absorb the 19 punches that Hagler smashed him with, drawing reserves from what must have seemed to Tommy an unlimited gas tank.
As they sat down after the second their demeanours could not have been more different. Hearns sat panting staring past the bleachers of Caesars palace into the abyss. He had the sort of thousand yard stare you expect from a solider fresh off some godforsaken battlefield, Manny stewards cries of “you gotta box him, jab and move” fell on deaf ears as Tommy just stared forward. Hagler on the other hand looked like a caged animal, sat forward on his stool he looked impatient for the Petronelli brothers to finish working on his cut so he could get back in there. Hearns was in survival mode, as a veteran of 42 fights he had the instincts that were carrying him through; bouncing to try and get his legs back, jabbing to keep the man away, rubbing the glove into the opponent’s cut to slow him down and blur his vision, and for a second these instincts nearly won him the fight. After Hagler landed a solid shot referee Richard Steele called time and took Hagler over to be seen by the doctor, Hagler panicked, all of the hardship he’d faced came rushing back to him. It had taken Him54 fights to get a world title. In his first title shot against Vito Antuofermo he had clearly won but when the fight had been called a draw he couldn’t win the title. When he finally won the title against Alan Minter, the fans were throwing so much debris into the ring he couldn’t be presented with the belt. All this rushed through his head, now in his biggest fight he could feel himself being robbed, the cut stealing away his biggest win. So;
He pounced. He threw every single thing he could at Thomas Hearns, hooks to the body, hooks to the head, Hearns smiled but Hagler wasn’t put off. Right left, right left, all the hurt, all the disappointment and rejection, was being taken out on Hearns. Then bang, The soles of Hagler’s boots flex, he leaps from the canvas, his right hand flies up in the air with him then like a whip cracks back down to the floor as he lands. Nothing happened. Hearns walked away. Hagler looked up. Hearns’ knees dipped. Hagler smelled blood. In slow motion everyone in the arena stood, realising Hearns was hurt, but before anyone could really see how bad it was Hagler had taken matters into his own hands. Another pulverising right hand swept across Hearns’ jaw and as the crowd reached fever pitch Tommy crumbled at Marvins feet.
Just as swiftly as it began it was over, Marvin Hagler was victorious, swollen and cut he celebrated his victory. He was exhausted and so was Hearns, they had gone to war, as they said they would do. They had exhausted every avenue and put everything on the line. Both had proven themselves as competitors, as warriors. They had given each other a part of one another’s souls through violence alone. Several fighters talk about how after such an ordeal you feel forever bound to the person you went through it with, even if it’s them that did it to you, and you to them. They became not only enshrined in history that day but eternally bound to one another through the epic struggle they endured at one another’s hand.
Ewan Breeze of SimBoxx🥊