fb-pixel Skip to main content
Leigh Montville

Hagler vs. Hearns: The warlord won the fight and took prisoners

Marvin Hagler retreats to his corner after knocking Thomas Hearns to the canvas in the third round of their 1985 bout.Jim Wilson/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

The following column ran in The Boston Globe on April 16, 1985.

The blood came down the face of Marvelous Marvin Hagler in a steady red rain, but it absolutely did not matter. Nothing mattered.

He could have done anything he wanted to do. Couldn't he? This was his night of nights.

Wasn't it?

The message he had put on the hat he wore every day he worked was 'WAR' and that was his approach. WAR. For two full rounds and two minutes and one second of a third he fought one of the fiercest, loveliest wars in all of boxing history as he dropped Thomas Hearns last night to retain his middleweight title in the parking lot of Caesars Palace.


“I wanted to do it better than Sugar Leonard did it, better than Roberto Duran did it,” the 30-year-old champion from Brockton said. “This is the sweetest victory of them all.”

He was cut in the first round. He was hit with the most fearsome shots a taller, supposedly stronger man could muster. He was in danger of having the fight stopped at any minute due to the blood.

Didn't matter.

On this night of nights, he could have walked through firestorms. He had a look, a glow, a ferocity about him that would not be denied. Stop the fight? He would stop the fight, himself, when he wanted to stop the fight.

Wouldn't he?

"Tommy predicted the third round, but he went back to his corner at the end of the second a little slow," Marvelous Marvin said. "That's when I knew he was in trouble. He can't count past three anyway."

There had been a dozen different scenarios predicted about how this fight would unreel, but the one that was fact was the one the bald-headed man always wanted. He would come to Hearns. He would force the action. WAR. He would keep trucking through any damn punishment Thomas Hearns could serve and win the war.


The first round was as good as any round of boxing that ever has taken place. Marvin came straight ahead. Hearns did not move, did not dance away. The action happened at a speeded-up pace that left no time to take notes or make comments.

The closed-circuit broadcasting crew, keeping track of punches thrown and landed, decided that 24 punches were being landed for every minute of the fight. Landed! There must have been 30 punches, maybe 35 per minute. Heavy stuff. Hard. Noisy.

"I never have seen three rounds of action like that," referee Richard Steele said. "And I've been a referee for 15 years."

The first round was a total macho test, two trucks driven from the far ends of a track, directly at each other, as fast as possible. Again and again. Marvin came out of it with the cut on the forehead above the right eye, almost a two-inch dueling slash, but Hearns . . . Hearns came out of it wobbling.

Didn't he?

"He hit me with the right hand, but I kept coming," Marvin said, repeating exactly what he had said would happen. "He hit me and it didn't work. The more he punched, the less strength he had."

Forget the one misguided judge who had Hearns winning the first two rounds. The other two judges had the score correct. Marvelous Marvin had taken an edge in control by the end of the first. He was in control by the end of the second. There was no end to the third.


Was there?

The fact that Steele stopped the fight for a second in the third round to have Dr. Donald Romeo look at Hagler's cut only seemed to seal Hearns' doom. Back from the look by the doctor - "All the blood was coming from the forehead," Steele said - Marvelous Marvin was looking to end the night.

Marvin Hagler had a bandage on the cut on his forehead after the fight.Jim Wilson/Globe Staff/The Boston Globe

A roundhouse right started Hearns going, turning to one side, sort of lurching off to find shady glen with clean air. Marvin was on top of him in an instant. Two more rights had Hit Man on the floor. Goofy.

He was on his feet by the count of nine, but referee Steele looked into Hearns' eyes and saw only a reflection. There were no objections.

"He was just not responding," Steele said. "His knees were wobbly. His eyes were glazed."

The win gives Hagler the little spot in boxing history that always has eluded him. This was the opponent who was supposed to give him so much trouble, the challenge that was rated even. This was the type of fight he never had and the type of performance he never had.

From the beginning, he had downplayed Hearns. He never had respect for Hearns' power. He never had respect for Hearns, period. This was not the wait- and-see approach that marvelous Marvin had shown with Roberto Duran. This was the wade-in, get-it-over rush of power, skill, and - above all - determination that have made him a champion and kept him undefeated for seven straight years. This was his best.


Wasn't it?

"I wanted to open Vegas wide open," Marvelous Marvin said, a smile on his face. "I guess I did."

I guess he did.