As the sport’s two most destructive fighters made their way back to their respective corners, an incredulous US TV commentator caught the moment perfectly: “An entire fight encompassed in three minutes.”
Whether or not Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler actually set out to unleash hell on each other for the first 180 seconds of their unifying world middleweight championship clash, is open to debate.
What isn’t is that boxing had never seen anything quite like it before and hasn’t since. Two supremely gifted athletes at the peak of their powers setting aside all thoughts of self preservation in trying to blast each other into submission.
It’s almost 30 years to the day since ‘The Hitman’ and ‘Marvelous’ (you just have to be good with a moniker that brazen) went Mano a Mano in Las Vegas.
I still remember watching their war the following weekend on Grandstand – no YouTube or catch up in those analogue days. The slightly fuzzy, yellowed images, as was the want of videotape from the States, only added to the spectacle for me and cemented my lifelong fascination with the sport.
Of course, for both men the fight was to prove the defining moment of their glittering careers. How could it not?
Hagler entered the fight seemingly driven by a bitterness that his achievements could still not lift him from the shadow of media favourite Sugar Ray Leonard.
For Hearns, the clash represented his chance to finally take his place in the hall of modern day middleweight greats alongside Hagler, Leonard and Roberto Duran.
‘The Hitman’ had blown away Duran and pretty much anyone else unlucky enough to step into the ring with him en route to meeting Hagler. Meanwhile Hagler was a champion who could lay claim to being the sport’s pound for pound king.
A snarling, intimidating figure, dominant in the division.
The opening bell saw both men tear into each other, landing ferocious blows that would have deprived most of their peers of their senses.
From the middle of the second round Hearns was gassed out. The sheer physical effort of landing enormous shots on Hagler that registered on the Richter Scale – while having to soak up Hagler’s spiteful worst – had taken a heavy toll.
Hearns – in full flow a gangly, unfeasibly tall fighter – was now on Bambi-like legs. Hagler though, a walking shaven-headed scowl, had problems of his own.
In getting close to Hearns to fight on the inside, he had shipped heavy blows from one of the sport’s most hurtful punchers.
Blood seeping from a cut above an eye brought the doctor to the ringside to inspect the damage. Despite being allowed to continue to fight on, the message was clear for Hagler – knock Hearns out now or see your WBA, WBC and IBF belts head back north to Detroit.
The end when it came was brutal. I remember at the time being surprised that it ended as quickly as it did. A lunging Hagler felling Hearns with a chopping right hand.
But looking back now 30 years on at Hearns lying flat on his back, staring through glazed, half open eyes at the ceiling lights, it was all too clear he was spent.
The image of Hearns being carried back to his corner in the arms of one of his team is one that has stayed in my mind ever since – much as Barry McGuigan’s ‘thousand yard stare’ has as he toiled in the desert heat against Steve Cruz.
While Hearns’ dream lies broken in total exhaustion, there behind him is the contrast of a champion, raised aloft in triumph – a victory all the sweeter in having been taken to the brink.
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