15th April 1985, Caesars Palace Outdoor Arena, Las Vegas
Undisputed Middleweight Title
Marvelous Marvin Hagler Vs Thomas Hearns
Marvin Hagler was widely criticised for his safety-first approach against Roberto Duran in their 1983 bout. In March 1984 he faced his WBA mandatory contender Juan Domingo Roldan. The Argentinian was credited with a first-round knockdown of the champion, who had never been off his feet before. Roldan caught Hagler with a glancing left hook to the back of the head and referee Tony Perez counted it as a knockdown. "That was no knockdown in the first round," Hagler said later. "I slipped and I told the ref." Hagler went on to stop Roldan in the tenth round.
In the October Hagler made the tenth successful defence of his undisputed middleweight championship with a third round TKO victory against Mustafa Hamsho. It was the second meeting between the two. They last fought in October 1981, with the challenger taking the champion into the eleventh round, before losing by a stoppage.
These two combatants were originally scheduled to face each other at the Windsor Arena in Windsor, Ontario, Canada on 24th May 1982. That original date was scrapped as Hearns had injured one of his fingers. The bout was rescheduled for 15th July, but the 'Hit Man' wanted the venue changed to the Silverstone in Pontiac, Michigan. Hagler refused to face Hearns in the Detroit area and the contest never materialised. Each fighter blamed the other for ducking out, with the middleweight champion stating: "Hearns is afraid to fight me. He always was, and he always will be."
As interest between these two facing off against each other was at an all-time high, they agreed once again to sign the contracts. Hearns was looking to become a three-weight world champion and his long-range boxing ability and phenomenal punching power had many experts believe he had the tools to overcome Hagler's all-round southpaw skills. "But he ain't never hit Marvin Hagler,"sneered the champion. "I've taken the best shots of the biggest hitters in the middleweight division, and I've never been off my feet (Hagler considers his knockdown by Juan Roldan a slip). And this guy isn't even a middleweight. Hit Man, my ass."
Billed simply as 'The Fight', the 15,088-seat outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace was sold out, with tickets going for as much as $600. The contest generated more than $30 million dollars, thanks to closed-circuit television in six-hundred locations, offering three-million seats.
The champion was a notorious slow starter but. as he was being announced to the crowd, Hagler banged his head with his gloves, a sign that he was pumped up for action. He raced across the ring, no jab, no feeling out process, he just had destruction on his mind. He fired out a right hook and sank a left to Hearns' torso.
He banged the challenger to the ropes, but Hearns let his hands go, otherwise Hagler would just walk right through him, and hurt the champion with a right uppercut. The punch stunned Hagler as he shakily retreated to the ropes as Hearns looked to impose his will.
The champion responded straight away with some big swinging lefts and both men traded in the centre of the ring. The challenger reverted to boxing on the back-foot, getting some daylight between them. He landed some good right hands, but unlike the opening exchanges they didn't hurt the undisputed champion who was landing with lefts and rights.
First blood went to the challenger as Hagler was cut, but he just wiped the blood angrily away and continued to pursue the taller man, looking to detonate that knockout blow. He had Hearns trapped on the ropes, blood pouring from the vertical gash on his forehead, as the challenger fired off a couple of spiteful rights, but Hagler stunned the 'Hit Man' with a right of his own as the bell ended a frantic three minutes.
"What are you doing?" Steward screamed, as Hearns wore a drained expression of a fighter who had just fought a tough twelve-rounder.
"I've broken my hand.”
"You've got to stick and move. Jab. Don't fight with him."
In the champion's corner, Dr. Donald Romeo, the chief physician of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, was examining the cut on Hagler's forehead. Satisfied that the wound on the forehead was harmless, Romeo returned to his seat.
"Don't change," Hagler's trainer, Goody Petronelli, told the champion. "Just keep your hands up a little higher. Don't worry about the cut. Just keep charging and keep the pressure up."
The champion continued to look for the knocout in round two, as Hearns kept to boxing on the outside. They traded big shots, but Hearns' corner shouted to keep boxing, even though the rule book any tactics each trainer may have had was thrown out the window.
Hearns was landing big punches, but they didn't faze Hagler who nailed the challenger with lefts and rights. Even though he was boxing on the outside, Hearns' legs suddenly appeared rubbery. Now even more bad news for the champion, he was cut again, this time under his right.
Both men traded and Hearns was stunned against the ropes but Hagler's punches had lost their snap and it seemed he had punched himself out. As the bell rang Hearns smiled, knowing he only needed to stay out of trouble to become a three-weight champion as the facial damage to Hagler would only get worse the longer the fight lasted.
Hagler's trainer did a great job with the facial damage during the intermission. "This cut isn't bad, but it's bleeding a lot," said Petronelli as he worked on Hagler's forehead. "Let's not take any chances. Take him out this round." "He's ready to go," replied Hagler. "He's not hurting me with that right hand. I took his best, and now I'm going to knock him out."
Referee Richard Steele checked on him just before the bell commenced round three. Hearns used his boxing skills, as Hagler came out swinging with big lefts and rights. About a minute into the round Steele called time and instructed the ring physician, Dr Romeo, to check the facial damage. Hagler was asked if he could see. "I ain't missing him am I?" Hagler's reply persuaded Steele to give the champion one final chance to salvage his belts.
It was apparent that that there would be no fourth round and Hearns needed to box and survive 120 second more to inflict a third defeat on a magnificent champion.
Hagler came out blasting with a wild left, a short right put Hearns to the ropes and both men mauled as Steele separated them quickly. Hearns' legs still appeared rubbery as they were in the previous round.
Hearns smiled as he took a right, but another over hand right put the challenger in trouble. His legs betrayed him as he staggered backwards, almost turning in a full circle as he tried to regain control of his posture. Hagler lunged in with some wild shots, dropping his stricken opponent spread-eagled on the canvas.
Hearns lay there motionless and it looked like he wouldn't beat the count, but the warrior's instinct somehow got him to his feet. Steele, an ex pro between 1966 to 1970 knew Hearns was finished and wrapped his arms around him, as the champion raised his arms in victory.
The win put Marvelous Marvin Hagler among the middleweight greats of the past. 'Sugar' Ray Robinson, suffering from the first stages of Alzheimer Disease, sat in quiet appreciation of the newest member of the middleweight elite club.
Hearns had to be carried back to his corner. Emanuel Steward would blame that in his absence from the dressing room, a member of Hearns' entourage had rubbed down the challenger's legs. "A massage leaves the body spent and Tommy’s legs began giving out on him even before we made the walk to the ring. I was nervous,” Steward later admitted.
Later, Hearns whose WBC light-middleweight championship wasn't at stake went into the champion's dressing room and said: "We made a lot of money, but we gave them a good show.
Tell you what. You move up and fight the light heavies, and I'll take care of the middleweights.""You move up," replied Hagler laughing. Hagler received four stitches to the cut on his forehead. After his wound was treated he attended a party in the Augustus Room at Caesars Palace, speaking briefly to the celebrators.
With his wife Bertha they watched a video replay of the bout. After he witnessed the knockout for the fourth time, Hagler looked at his watch, noticing it was midnight he turned to his wife. "Let's go," his night's work finished.