Flashback Friday: Hagler vs. Hearns

Peter Mooney
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Major sports are finally returning for abbreviated seasons. Major League Baseball is back and the NBA and the NHL are following close on its heels … maybe. During the pandemic, we’re all learning to expect the unexpected.  

Meanwhile, sports fans can still tune into the classic replays that have replaced the live action sports the last few months. ESPN recently aired a marathon of historic boxing contests. Whether you’re too young to have witnessed these or old enough to vaguely remember them, it’s worth taking a peek at these old classics to see what you missed or recall what you saw.  Let’s travel back in time to 1985 to review one of the most savage middleweight title bouts ever between “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Thomas “the Hit Man” Hearns. We’ll take a 10 count like Hearns eventually did (sorry: no spoiler alert.) 

  1. Pre-fight: The tandem calling the fight, in addition to the other supporting cast, was just as iconic as the fighters themselves: Hall of Famers Al Bernstein and Al Michaels announced the fight and legendary Red Sox announcer Curt Gowdy hosted the show. Meanwhile, controversial Richard Steele refereed the fight (look him up on Wikipedia, kids.)
  2. It’s interesting to note that Hagler was 30, four years older than Hearns and usually considered somewhat old for a battle-scarred fighter. He likely knew that it would be to his advantage to press the action and end it early. 
  3. The menacing staredown before the opening bell was a classic one compared to these days when fighters generally avoid eye contact.
  1. The Fight: This was a barnstormer from the start with Hagler being the main aggressor, attacking Hearns to the body. By the middle of Round 1, however, it was Hearns doing the hurting, catching his opponent with big rights. But Hagler battled through the shots and kept coming forward. By the end of the round, both fighters were already cut and entangled in a violent stalemate. Many experts regard this round as the greatest in boxing history.
  2. At the beginning of the second round, Bernstein accurately opines, “You can throw the strategy out the window right now.” The match was a dog fight from the start. 
  3. In the last minute of the round, Hagler began taking control of the fight, overpowering Hearns, although, as Bernstein points out, he was aided by numerous low blows for which he was not penalized.
  4. Understanding the gravity of the situation as well as his corners instructions, Hearns began round 3 by trying to stay outside and box. But that turned out to be useless, especially since he appeared exhausted. The late great trainer Emanuel Steward later blamed this on a massage Hearns had before the fight that Steward said weakened his legs. Hearns also broke his hand in the first round of the fight. He is in the boxing Hall of Fame, but Hearns is still one of the most underrated fighters in boxing history when you go back to see what he accomplished. Don’t forget: he was coming up in weight to battle Hagler.
  5. Despite the battering he was receiving, Hearns was almost rescued by Steele, who stopped the fight momentarily to have the ring doctor examine Hagler’s cuts. Years later, Steele would not give another certain famous fighter the benefit of the doubt (again, look it up.) This time, though, he let Hagler continue. 
  6. And moments later, Hagler finished off Hearns with three straight right hands in a balletic knockout reminiscent of Muhammad Ali’s KO of George Foreman. If you ever want to see a battered, defeated fighter, look no further than the image of Hearns after Steele calls off the fight. 
  1. In the end, Hagler bullied and outwilled Hearns. As he said to Bernstein after the fight, “I figured I had to take punches to give some, but he was going to get some too.”

By: Peter Mooney CruelFan.com

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