Marvelous Marvin Hagler assumed the worst. Maybe that’s what brought out the best in him.
His face was a mess. Bright red blood dripping off his shiny bald head. These were the consequences of a battle that, through two rounds, was already one of the most intense, exhilarating and, overall, violent in the history of the ring. With his eyesight a major question, and the possibility of referee Richard Steele stopping the fight looming, Hagler knew he didn’t have much time to waste. To beat Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, Hagler couldn’t leave it up to the judges, and he didn’t, stopping Hearns with 2:01 left in round three.
“I haven’t seen that much action in three rounds in my life,” Steele said.
The greatest round ever?
The crowd at Cesars Palace knew they would be in for a treat. Hagler has long established himself as the king of the middleweight division, with his last loss dating back to the Gerald Ford administration. In Hearns, the light middleweight champion whose only professional loss was to Sugar Ray Leonard, experts and fans alike expected Hagler to face his toughest challenge in five years with the strap. They weren’t wrong.
“I told my trainers I felt good in the dressing room,” Hagler said. “And when I feel good, somebody has to fall.”
Within a minute of round one, the world knew somebody was going to fall. The question was who?
Hagler is normally patient at the start a fight, but tonight, he came out of his cage firing. Hearns was ready for him, living up to his “hitman” moniker.
Hearns nailed Hagler with a flurry 20 seconds in, and continued to deck the champ throughout the round. Marvelous stayed on his feet, and never even wobbled. At the end of round one, Hagler had Hearns on the ropes with an ambush that won him the round 10-9 on the scorecards. In 180 seconds, the two men threw a combined 165 punches.
In the midst of all the chaos, a right hand by Hearns opened the cut that almost lost Hagler the championship, and would be the main storyline throughout round two.
Hagler had enough
The second round was the least eventful of the three, but the two men kept throwing bombs. Toward the end of the round, Hagler’s face was a crimson mask, and Dr. Donald Romeo needed to take a look.
The world wondered if this meant the end of one of the greatest title runs in boxing history
When Romeo gave Hagler the go-ahead to fight on, his trainer, Goody Petronelli, sent a clear message to his man.
“This has to end now.”
To win this battle, Hagler couldn’t let Hearns see round four.
The writing was on the wall for “The Hitman” when Hagler connected with a right hand, forcing the challenger to wobble. Another right, followed by a left, sent Hearns to the canvas. Although he got up before the 10 count, the fight couldn’t go on any longer.
“I knew he’d had enough,” Steele said.
Earning their pay
After the match, Hearns appeared grateful for Steele’s decision.
“I’m not hurt,” he said. “Thank God I’m not damaged in any way.”
The two fighters embraced. Although defeated and disappointed, Hearns knew the fight transcended winning and losing.
“Nobody deserves this money more than the two of us,” Hearns told his opponent.
This was Hagler’s 11th title defense, putting him just three shy of tying Carlos Monzon’s record for the middleweight division. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying triumph.
“This was what you call a sweet victory,” Hagler screamed in the post-fight press conference. “This was war.”