April 15, 1985: Hagler vs Hearns

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 for a boxing match, but this was beyond all expectations, all hopes.

Hagler_vs_Hearns6666

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-hearns-sept-16
Hearns vs Hagler. Ink drawing by Damien Burton.

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.

Painting by Damien Burton

Floyd Mayweather avoided Manny Pacquiao for five long years. For years, few, if any, of the obvious opponents for Guillermo Rigondeaux had the backbone to get in the ring with him. 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 fought no-hopers like Liam Smith and Chavez Jr. This is professional boxing in the 21st century.

Painting by Damien Burton.

The “Eight Minutes Of Fury” will be forever celebrated by 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.

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  

Hagler vs 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

Southpaw Hagler
Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Painting by Damien Burton.

“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 

“What can I say? It happens to the best of us. It hurts. But the man showed his greatness tonight.”     — Thomas Hearns

“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

5 thoughts on “April 15, 1985: Hagler vs Hearns

  • April 17, 2020 at 4:21 am
    Permalink

    Terrific piece Robert for a truly remarkable and brutally brief war between two of my all time favourite fighters. It was never going the full distance. Marvin’s premeditated gamble paid off that night against a ruthless Tommy Hearns. No middleweight in recent memory fights a killer in that fashion and comes away with the win. Damn I miss the 80’s!!

    Reply
  • April 17, 2020 at 1:59 pm
    Permalink

    There is a reason that Hagler only fought name fighters who were coming up from lower weight classes. You’ll notice he had no interest in facing Michael Spinks. Same height and reach as Tommy Hearns but naturally bigger and stronger than Marvin, something Marv wanted absolutely NOTHING to do with. He never did face a fighter bigger than he was.

    Reply
    • September 19, 2020 at 9:41 pm
      Permalink

      Michael Spinks was a light heavyweight who became a heavyweight. It is irrational and biologically unreasonable to make such a comparison. Hearns was my guy that night. But after watching Hagler take Hearns biggest punches and Hearns breaking his hand in the process, just gave me a renewed respect fo Hagler.

      Reply
    • December 11, 2021 at 9:03 pm
      Permalink

      Marvin is a middle weight. Fought all of the top middle weights in his class when he had to or lose his 3 titles. …Who the hell is Michael Spinks? You mean the heavy weight guy that got lucky and beat Ali? Give me a fucking break. Middle weight class is 160 pounds.

      Reply
  • April 19, 2020 at 3:06 am
    Permalink

    Spinks was two weight divisions above at 175. Why would Hagler move up? There was no super middleweight division at the time and Marvin always walked around close to fighting weight. I think you may have forgotten about Bennie Briscoe, Eugene Hart, Bobby Watts, Sugar Ray Seales, and Alan Minter to name a few long-established middleweights of the 70’s and 80’s. Marvin fought the best before he was champion and then held the crown for seven years. I think you’re being a bit harsh on one of the greatest middleweights of all time.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *