Hagler—Hearns: Will & Determination (1985)
by Pete Madzelan - While living in Chicago back in 1981, I attended a few of Marvin Hagler’s workouts before his title defense against Mustafa Hamsho. The workouts were awe inspiring as the intensity from Hagler’s laboring determination oozed from every droplet of sweat that percolated from his body.
Article posted on 14.04.2010
His work ethic was never forgotten. Being in the presence of a great champion was never forgotten.
But time travels on; calendars get tossed and history is sometimes and unfortunately forgotten. Though at times forgotten, history is always there. It remains, and time and again it surfaces to conjure up old stories. One such story is that of the 1985 Middleweight Championship Fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas (Hit Man) Hearns..
On a cold winter’s day in February 1985, the Hagler—Hearns fight was announced at a New York press conference that was followed by a 22-city tour in 12 days to promote it as simply “The Fight!”
They would meet on April 15, 1985 in Las Vegas, at Caesars Palace’s 15,000-seat outdoor stadium. Bob Arum called it the “biggest fight since the first Ali-Frazier fight.”
Even before the bell for Round 1 echoed, the fight was an instant classic:
--Marvin Hagler was the undisputed Middleweight Champion with a record of 60-2-2; he was Ring Magazine’s 1983 Fighter of the Year.
--Thomas Hearns was the Super Welterweight Champion with a record of 40-1; he was Ring Magazine’s 1984 Fighter of the Year.
As the fight neared, Sportswriter, Jerry Izenberg summed it up: This fight “could be the purest of big-league boxing matches in a long, long time…no gimmicks…no shameful racism…no untested paper tigers. And as of yesterday, in this city’s neon-scented sports books, still a dead-even pick ’em prize fight.”
Marvin Hagler was known as a no nonsense discipline laborer, who didn’t ride a supersonic jet to the top, rather, like most laborers, he toiled along the back roads away from the glittering neon of the bright lights. Marvin, the outsider, fought in small joints like Portland, Maine and New Bedford, Massachusetts. His two defeats were in Philly against local legit schooled fighters, Bobby (Bugaloo) Watts and Willie (The Worm) Monroe. He knocked out both in rematches. Ironically, Watts was one of his sparring partners for the Hearns fight.
The back road years didn’t stop the steel-will of his determination. Simply put, he kept on keepin’ on…
“You go through a lot of frustration periods, where the money wasn’t there. The opportunities weren’t there. You work just as hard as the next man, and you don’t get the breaks, some other dude gets the breaks. So I had to make my own breaks.”
In contrast, Tommy Hearns’ rocket to the top ascended without roadblocks, culminating with a sensational 2nd round knockout of Pipino Cuevas. And then, it crashed in 1981, when Ray Leonard knocked him out. The next morning, Hearns said, “I didn’t want to get out of bed. I didn’t want to talk about it.” He brooded for months.
It was a lost so devastating that it could’ve broken a lesser man. But Tommy Hearns came back, beating the likes of Wilfred Benitez and stopping Roberto Duran in 2.
Hearns trained for the Hagler fight in Miami, where he concentrated on stamina. He ran seven miles along the beach, boxed with 18-ounce gloves; worked 4 minute rounds with 30 second rest periods and jumped rope using a heavy steel like cable.
What was quickly obvious was he had grown into a full-fledged middleweight. His upper-body had thickened across the chest and back and his broad shoulders were that of a light-heavy. Emanuel Steward added when most fighters go up in weight they’re usually best at their original weight, but with Hearns, “The bigger he grows the better he gets.”
As Hearns worked in Miami, Hagler was also readying himself.
Because of the unpredictability of winter, the Hagler camp changed venues, switching from his usual regular camp in Provincetown on Cape Cod, to the desert heat of Palm Springs, where he put himself in what he called it, “jail”.
While training, Hagler was always all business. In an era of glitz and hype, he didn’t travel with an entourage. In fact, besides the Petronelli brothers (Pat, his manager, and Goody, his trainer), there was a PR guy and his three sparring partners. That was it.
Though his style was stripped to the bone, it didn’t mean he was blind to the contrast of Hearns’ style. “Tommy’s got all those bodyguards around him. He’s throwing his money around, buying Rolls-Royces like a little kid would do. I tell you, I don’t like Thomas. I don’t like his personality.”
Angelo Dundee—Hagler KO 8
Eddie Futch—Hearns decision
Bert Randolph Sugar—Hearns KO 4
Dr. Ferdie Pacheco—Hagler
Gil Clancy—Hearns decision
As dictated by contract, the fighters had to arrive in Las Vegas days before the fight. Their separate personalities—the contrast between them (what made the fight so intriguing) played out when they arrived in town.
Hearns set up headquarters at Caesars Palace. There wasn’t any doubt; he was loving his moment in the limelight, even to the point of showboating as he worked out at beneath Caesars’ chandeliers, in front of high rollers who were arriving for the fight and crowds of gawking onlookers, who paid $2 for the privilege. Tommy freely talked to the crowd and tossed them yellow Hitman caps. Later, a few nights before the fight, at Café Roma, Hearns was seen arriving for dinner with a group of 10. Undoubtedly, he picked up the tabs.
By contrast, Hagler stayed away from the high rollers and the in-crowd—whoever they were at the time—by doing what got him to this point, he worked. Instead of Caesars, he went to Johnny Tocco’s Las Vegas Gym and locked the door saying, “I like the smell of a gym instead of a circus.”
The writer, Pete Hamill quoted his trainer, Goody Petronelli: “That’s all he knows, work. To Marvin, boxing is a kind of manual labor.”
Hagler knew it wasn’t going to be easy. His manger, Pat Petronelli said, “Tommy Hearns is a great fighter. We know we’re going to have one helluva fight with he guy.”
Nothing came easy for Hagler, beginning from his back road journey to his wish upon a star for a break—a title shot—that came in 1979 against Vito Antuofermo. The result saw him getting blatantly jobbed by blind officials.
He kept on keepin’ on, and won the championship by knocking out Alan Minter, and then defended it again and again and again. As the defenses mounted, he felt there was something missing—that was the recognition for his accomplishments.
In a New York Times article, Marvin said, “I used to think, what do I have to do, kill somebody to get the notoriety? It’s a terrible thought, but what I learned is, you have to keep trucking, you have to keep the faith. This fight is at the right time because I’m mature enough to want it, mature enough to handle it.”
As Hagler worked, both for legacy and recognition, his contrasting counterpart was doing the same.
Though Hearns was bathing in the limelight with sycophants and back-slappers around him, his work was concentrated and sharp. He sparred almost 200 rounds and pronounced himself ready, both mentally and physically. His confidence level was sky high, and verbally jabbed Hagler, calling him “old” and predicted a 3rd round knockout. He even had his future planned out: After Hagler, “I’ll make a couple of defenses and go up to light heavyweight…I want to make history.”
His supporters boarded confident Hearns train, saying all the ingredients to the fight were adding up to victory, beginning with his added muscle that would increase his punching power that was already lethal. He had genuine one-punch knockout ability. Plus his height and reach advantage will give Tommy an edge, especially in taking away Hagler’s strength of counter-punching.
Even Marvin’s manger, Pat Petronelli conceded points to Hearns, “Tommy Hearns has the quickest pair of hands in boxing today. That’s his asset. He’s very hard to counter punch.
Speed was an important factor, but many believed the key to a Hearns victory would be his sledgehammer jab.
Emanuel Steward said, “The jab is the fight. If Tommy uses his jab properly, Hagler will never get close enough to hurt him.”
To which Hearns concurred, saying he was going to be an “aggressively defensive fighter.”
This thinking emanated from Hagler’s easy time in defeating boxers who came at him. Those who did became cake—easily digested. Hearns wasn’t planning on doing that. And secondly, in his fight with Roberto Duran, Hagler showed what was perceived as slippage—maybe too much respect for Duran, but he did fight without the usual fire and intensity. Duran should be given credit because after 13 rounds, he was leading on the judges’ cards. A rally in the last two rounds saved the title for Hagler.
It was noticed that Duran’s speed gave Marvin trouble. And Hearns’ speed was better than Duran’s. Not only that, but Hearns ko’d Duran.
Hagler dismissed it all. “Roberto Duran is history. Thomas Hearns is my future.”
And Hagler’s stated future posed a problems for Hearns in the present. First, Hagler being a southpaw could prove difficult because Tommy fought only one in his career. In fact, it was reported, Emanuel Steward disliked southpaws so much that any left handed who walked into the Knonk Gym was turned around.
And then there was the problem that revolved around Hagler’s furious infighting; pressure that never lets up. One only has to remember how Hearns was hurt by Leonard left hook to the body in the 6th round of their fight.
The fight developed into questions from a multiplex of contrasts—from personalities to a clash of fighting styles.
Was Tommy’s extreme overt confidence equal to Hagler’s determination and discipline?
No doubt, Hearns has speed of hand and foot, and said he would be an aggressively defensive fighter. But, could Tommy’s boxing ability and good left jab control the tempo, taking the play away from Marvin, who is a better than average boxer, being equally proficient with left or right?
No doubt, Hagler will be persistently moving forward with deceptive speed and an architect’s knowledge of cutting the ring in half. Will that offset Hearns’ boxing ability and allow Marvin inside, where let up isn’t in the dictionary, and Tommy, well, he doesn’t particularly like hanging out in that infighting neighborhood?
No doubt, Hagler can hurt an opponent with either hand; he’s a legit middleweight. Can Hearns take a middleweight’s onslaught?
No doubt, Hearns is a right hand bomber. But, at 160, can he dent Hagler, who has never been hurt?
Roberto Duran—Hagler KO 5
Carlos Monzon—Hagler KO 8
Larry Holmes—Hearns KO 5
At the final press conference, Hagler, wearing a baseball cap with the word WAR inscribed on it said, “I have nothing against Thomas personally. I just don’t like him.” He then ended the nonsensical back-and-forth bantering of Hagler being a “midget” and Hearns being a “freak” with “I didn’t come for shuckin’ and jivin’, I came to fight, and I’m ready.”
Pat Petronelli drew blood with “Thomas Hearns was a great welterweight and great super welterweight. But now he’s going into a man’s backyard and there is a ‘no trespassing’ sign up. Look at him (Hearns). Do you think he’s going to take this man’s title away?”
On fight day, Bob Arum said closed circuit sales would probably eclipsed Holmes-Cooney and Leonard-Hearns combined.
It was a warm Nevada night; the temperature hit 83 degrees when they entered the ring. Hagler came into the ring wearing a short navy blue velvet robe. Hearns entered first in a short, scarlet robe with gold trim.
Pete Hamill’s incredible writer’s eye noticed “a full platoon of 11 men came up to the corner with Hearns…seven were talking to him and four more stood on the apron, all looking important for the television cameras. Hagler waited alone.”
When the bell clanged Round 1, the action was non-stop—breathtaking. Iconic Academy Award winning writer, Budd Schulberg called it the “most ferocious first round since…the legendary Dempsey—Firpo fight.”
Immediately, Hagler left caution of a usual slow-starter behind. He came out quick, springing ferociously from his corner…and attacked, forcing Hearns to stand his ground and fight.
Before the fight, both Hearns and Steward talked of Hagler’s slow starts. Hagler knew this and countered with “He likes to establish his game plan early in the fight. I couldn’t let him do that.” So Hagler warmed up longer than usual in his dressing room.
There were a couple of times during round 1 when Hearns, with feet planted and in perfect position, landed his thundering signature right hand. The punches momentarily stopped Marvin in his tracks—one of them hurt Hagler and Hearns knew it. When that happened, the plan to stick and move and pop-shot stinging rights went out the window. It was adios—goodbye to a Hearns prefight comment of “I’m not going to stand there trading punches. I’m not a trader, not in this business.”
When Hearns landed his bombs a problem rose in headlines from the smoke. Though shaken up, Marvin didn’t stopped coming. He dug deeper into himself and fought from where he came from: “I’m a worker, and that’s what got me here.”
That his bombs didn’t halt Hagler’s forward movement had to send a discouraging message to Hearns, who did open a cut over Marvin’s right eye. When the bell ended the round, Marvin did what he wanted—he took command.
After the fight, Hearns was asked why he slugged it out: “I had to slug it out. I had to, it was there. It presented itself. Hagler kept running in…”
Between rounds, everybody watching attempted to exhale their collective three-minute held breath.
Round 2 came with everybody sucking in a breath of anticipation. Hearns attempted to box, using his reach advantage as his corner screamed at him to box—box. He moved backwards and punched, but was only periodically successful. Afterwards, Teddy Brenner, the matchmaker of Madison Square Garden said, “Sugar Ray Robinson could move backwards and hurt you, but Hearns couldn’t.” No, he couldn’t.
Though Hearns responded in spurts and opened a cut on Marvin’s forehead, his mental will and all that prefight confidence was being drained from him by the uncompromising Hagler, who afterwards said, “Tommy was very cocky, and I had something for him.”
Hagler continued to press forward, showing the strength of his determined will, his deeper resolve. He got Hearns on the ropes and relentlessly barraged him. Along with Tommy’s will, the prefight Mutt and Jeff theory—Hearns’ height (6’ 1” to 5’ 9”) and reach advantage disappeared like dust into the warm Vegas night, as did as his speed and punching power.
The action in Round 3 was momentarily paused when with blood streaming down Hagler’s face, Referee Richard Steele called up Dr. Donald Romeo to examine Marvin’s blood smeared brow.
The fight continued, but Marvin Hagler didn’t need to be told what was happening. He knew the writing of a possible cut stoppage was being written on the wall.
In that moment, during the short doctor’s pause, Hagler, who craved recognition as a great champion, was historically linked in juxtaposition with the greatest champ on them all, Sugar Ray Robinson. In 1951 at the Polo Grounds in New York, Sugar Ray found himself in the same predicament against Randy Turpin. A cut threatened Robinson, who responded by knocking Turpin out in the 10th round.
Like the great Sugar Ray, Marvin responded. He leaped at Tommy—landing a looping, lunging right coming from a southpaw stance and changing from a jab into a meteor flashing hook. It started Hearns on his way towards goodnight. It was followed by another right…Tommy slowly sunk to the floor, flat on his back.
It was over. Richard Steele, the referee, who was working in his 32nd title fight said, “I haven’t seen that much action in 3 rounds—ever.”
Hearns was carried to his corner by one of his formal dressed entourage wearing a boutonniere. In defeat, many of the back-slappers vanished from his side, and once again, he was left to again pick-up the remnants of his career and start over.
Hagler was also carried—on the shoulders of supporters. “This is the feeling I wanted a long time ago. I wanted to gain the respect of the media and the public, to have the eyes of the world on Marvelous Marvin Hagler.”
Those eyes were on him. He had them all, and he would be forever Marvelous.
Tommy Hearns went to Hagler’s dressing room to congratulate him. Hagler said he “showed a lot class by comin’ in.”
A few days after the fight, X-rays revealed fractures of the ring and little fingers on Hearns’ right hand. Some speculated the damage was done before the fight. Both Hearns and Emanuel Steward denied the rumor.
Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns will be forever linked. As writer Jerry Izenberg wrote, “What Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns fashioned here will make it forever impossible for anyone who saw it to call one’s name without thinking of the other.”
Those who were there and those who watched it will be left with a classic boxing memory—a slice of history, who when asked about it, can respond in the words of Budd Schulberg, “Yes…it really happened, just the way you heard about it, a great champion imposed his will on a famous challenger in the opening round.”
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