Hagler vs Hearns. Next to The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, maybe the most famous boxing match in middleweight history. Billed as simply “The Fight,” what is there to say about the thrilling brawl that came to be known as “The Eight Minutes of Fury” which hasn’t already been said?
The opening three minutes, easily one of the most exciting first rounds ever, has been described and celebrated over and over again. First Hearns hurt Hagler and cut him. Then Hagler came back and hurt Hearns. Non-stop punching, three minutes of incredible, frenzied warfare and the crowd in Las Vegas and the millions watching around the world could scarcely believe what they were witnessing. One always hopes for action and drama and excitement when one buys a ticket to see a boxing match, but this was beyond all expectations, all hopes.
Legend has it that the late Joan Rivers, sitting ringside for the first time at a major fight, turned at the end of the round to the person seated next to her and asked with a mixture of awe, incredulity and horror: “Is it always like this?” One imagines every boxing fan on the planet answering in unison: “No. It is not.” Talk about a dream round in a dream fight.
But if it was a dream for fans of furious, hardcore, non-stop action, it also turned out to be a nightmare for Thomas Hearns and everyone rooting for “The Hit Man.” How could he hope to win in a match where his advantages in height and reach counted for nothing? Where Marvelous Marvin Hagler had taken his best punches and, instead of dropping to the floor, had dug in and returned fire with a vengeance?
Having been forced into a hellacious slugfest by Hagler’s attack at the opening bell, Hearns struck first, landing a huge right uppercut which briefly stunned the champion and prompted him to hold on to force a pause in the action. Hearns might then have tried to slow the pace and establish his jab, clinch when Hagler got inside, make it a match where he could box the champion and score points. But, being the natural born warrior that he was, he did none of those things. Instead, he went for the knockout.
Hagler took a huge risk when he attacked from the outset, looking to trade bombs with possibly the hardest puncher he had ever faced. But when Hearns chose to pursue an early stoppage against a champion as tested, tough and tenacious as Marvelous Marvin, that was an equally huge gamble. And when, after three minutes of frenetic and unforgettable combat, Tommy returned to his corner and announced to trainer Emanuel Steward that his right hand was broken, it was evident “The Motor City Cobra” had made a less than shrewd bet.
More than three decades later the gambles both fighters took and that incredible opening round still resonate for boxing fans, in part because it’s the kind of risk-taking we don’t see often enough from the top tier champions in the sport. Sure, we know we can count on guys like Orlando Salido or Francisco Vargas or Srisaket Sor Rungvisai to throw caution and calculation to the winds and go for the big win, but too many of boxing’s champions and elite talents are defined by the risks they won’t take.
Floyd Mayweather avoided Manny Pacquiao for five long years. Lineal middleweight champion Canelo Alvarez insisted on the farcical idea that he wasn’t a real middleweight and left Gennady Golovkin twisting in the wind while he instead fought no-hopers Liam Smith and Chavez Jr. For years, few, if any, of the obvious opponents for Guillermo Rigondeaux had the backbone to get in the ring with him. Apparently almost the entire light heavyweight division is afraid of Artur Beterbiev. And now Keith Thurman, supposedly a welterweight champion, is shamelessly ducking the deserving contenders in his division, his nickname devolving from “One Time” to “No Time.” This is professional boxing in the 21st century.
Hagler vs Hearns will be forever celebrated by seriuos fight fans because it was about two gifted boxers, arguably the best in the sport at the time, willing to risk everything for victory and glory. We took that sort of thing for granted back in 1985. We sure as hell don’t anymore. Which is as damning a statement on today’s breed of prizefighter as you’re likely to find.
So let’s celebrate Hagler vs Hearns for the right reasons. Not just for the excitement and the incredible action, but also for the spirit and drive behind all those punches, the courage to be a true competitor, the courage to take risks. When we watch and re-watch that amazing opening round, let’s remember that great boxing matches start with the best wanting to fight the best. To prove themselves. To achieve greatness. And to make history. Never forget, on that April night in 1985, both Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns did exactly that. — Robert Portis
“What can I say? It happens to the best of us. It hurts. But the man showed his greatness tonight.” — Thomas Hearns
“I want to give Tommy all the credit in the world. He came out the only way he could if he wanted to take something away from a champion.” — Marvelous Marvin Hagler
“I was shocked at the pace they set and the ferocity of the fight. I always made sure I stayed in shape as a referee, I did my running. But that fight, after the first round, I felt tired. After the second round, I was exhausted. I remember thinking to myself going into the third round, how these two guys could not keep up this pace. I was spent. It was just toe-to-toe action for every minute of each round.” — Richard Steele
“It was a roll of the dice. They both had to gamble. Hagler gambled and won, Hearns gambled and lost. I think he just punched himself out.” — Ralph Citro
“He came in, took my best shot, and fought his ass off.” — Thomas Hearns
“I have to say that was my favorite fight and not just because of the excitement, but also the fact I overcame a cut, poor refereeing, and I took the best Tommy Hearns could throw at me. I was so worked up, I felt like a monster. I wanted him to get up so badly so I could knock him down again. The way I felt I would have beaten an army that night. Whenever I watch that fight I still get chills …” — Marvelous Marvin Hagler
“When the fight started Marvin made sure the word on his hat was prophetic. He went to war and so did Tommy Hearns. Marvin charged out hard and attacked. Tommy landed a huge right hand early that had us believing Hagler might have been shook up. He would tell me after the fight it didn’t hurt him it only made him mad. The rest of the round was Hagler attacking viciously with shots to the body and head and Hearns responding with powerful right hands and uppercuts. I am not given to hyperbole, but I said at the end of the round, ‘perhaps one of the best rounds in middleweight history.’ Since then no one has ever argued with that declaration.” — Al Bernstein
“I can still feel those punches he landed on me and I drink a toast to him every time we meet. I am grateful people remember it as one of the all-time great fights. It was definitely the highlight of my career.” — Marvelous Marvin Hagler