In an era when "classic" fistfights exist primarily in the minds of promoters, the matching of two boxers with the superb credentials of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns is a throwback to the times when such warriors as Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano roamed the middleweight ranks. This will be a fighter's fight.
For a change, there is more analysis than hype as Hagler and Hearns sweat through the final days before their 12-round fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on April 15. And while the experts argue over which man will win, everyone agrees on one thing: Hagler and Hearns don't like each other. Really.
"I don't like him, and he doesn't like me," Hearns says in a flat voice. "That's not the usual prefight talk; that's just the way things are."
Hagler agrees and says that the only other point upon which the two fighters have ever agreed is that his world middleweight championship will be on the line. "He's chicken," the champion says coldly. "He ducked me for three years until he thought I got old. Well, I'm not old, and he's in for a helluva beating."
At his training camp in Palm Springs—his usual training site on the tip of Cape Cod was bypassed because of an unpredictable furnace—Hagler is staging daily dress rehearsals for the fight with sparring partners Larry Davis, who is a Hearns-like 6'2" with an 83-inch reach (compared with Hagler's 5'9" and 75-inch reach), and Jerry Holly, 6'1½" with an 81-inch wingspan. Taking the other two-round shift in the sparring rotation is Bobby (Boogaloo) Watts, who beat Hagler, one of only two men to do so, and that was back in January 1976.
Hagler is running a minimum of six miles every morning and enduring 1½-hour, nearly nonstop workouts six days a week. He is leading a Spartan life, as well he might, considering that old Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas, occasionally drops in on training sessions and three weeks ago invited Hagler over to his house to watch the Larry Holmes fight against David Bey.
Hagler's training camp diet is always heavy on fish and chicken, but he also has been loading up on vitamin C for this bout. In fact, when Hagler and his trainer-manager, Pat Petronelli, spotted a tree loaded with oranges on the golf course across from their hotel, the two got a sack and strolled over. After checking that the coast was clear, Petronelli boosted his boxer up into the branches to pick a few fresh oranges. Uh-oh, a golf cart came purring up unexpectedly, and when the Marvelous one saw it, he nearly fell out of the tree. "It was embarrassing as hell," Petronelli recalls. Not only had they been caught red-handed, but their captor was Bob Hope.
As for Hearns, The Road To Las Vegas runs right through the lobby of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach. There, amid the pillars and statues of cute woodland sprites, Hearns is sweating and sharpening his skills five afternoons a week in a specially constructed 24-foot ring. The challenger's only real distraction so far was a fishing trip on which he caught 40 fish...and a case of seasickness.
Hearns's usual routine is to be up at 6 a.m. for roadwork—actually beach work—followed by a shower and short nap. Then, at eight, his manager-trainer, Emanual Steward, will cook the biggest of Hearns's two meals a day. A typical breakfast menu includes veal chops or chicken, salad, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. At 2 p.m. Hearns goes down to the lobby for his workout, which concludes with six to eight rounds of sparring. Steward has the challenger working four-minute rounds with only 30-second rest periods against a stable of three, sometimes four, sparring partners a day. Among them have been World Boxing Council welterweight Milton McCrory and Don Lee, the World Boxing Association No. 3 middleweight challenger. Lee is also a lefthander, so Hearns can be ready when Hagler, a natural righthander, switches styles, which he will do.
What will happen when Hagler, 30, unbeaten since 1976 (60-2-2 overall), collides with Hearns, 26, a paralyzing hitter (41-1)?
The combination of power—between them, Hagler and Hearns have knocked out 84 opponents—and durability is decidedly impressive, and the fight may be as close as the middleweight division will ever get to a replay of Graziano's bruising wars with Tony Zale in the late '40s. In his 64 fights, Hagler has been knocked down only once, by Juan Roldan a year ago. And that was really a slip. In his drive to the middleweight championship, which he won by stopping Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, and in 10 successful defenses, Hagler has sent 50 opponents back to their dressing rooms early. "I think I can take anything [Hearns] has got," says the heavily muscled champ. "I don't believe that stuff about the Hit Man."
Hearns took up hammering his opponents when he turned pro in 1977, after a 10-year amateur career as a pure boxer. The rangy challenger punches with enough leverage to have knocked out 34 of his 41 pro opponents. He won the WBA welterweight title from Pipino Cuevas, in 1980, then lost that crown to Sugar Ray Leonard on a 14th-round TKO the following year. In December 1982 he won the WBC junior middleweight crown from Wilfred Benitez, and he continues to hold that as a hedge should he lose to Hagler.
Despite their accomplishments, both fighters are driven by motives that have nothing to do with the millions ($5.7 for Hagler; $5.4 for Hearns) they will earn. They know that boxing historians will use each man as the true measure of the other's skill, and each plans a vicious exploration of the other's credentials.
The books in Las Vegas opened with Hagler a 7-to-5 choice, but large sums of money the other way quickly made Hearns 6 to 5. The bookmakers expect a countermove by backers of Hagler but predict the fight will be even money by the opening bell. With malice, each fighter has predicted a knockout in the third round. If you agree with that, Hearns should be the pick. If the brawny champion is to knock out his man, it will come later.
Hearns needs no extra incentive to go after an early knockout. All but seven of his 34 KOs have come before the fifth round, most brought about by a sharp right hand after the victim had been thoroughly bombarded by a long and jarring left jab.
But for this fight, Hearns will be modifying his jab, firing it instead in an arc over the champion's right hand when Hagler goes southpaw.
"People think he is going to be watching my right," says Hearns. "But the power is going to be in my left. Marvin is much shorter, and for me to hit him I've got to come down with the jab. I've got to step to my left, with my left foot on the outside, and hit him sideways with a lot of pressure instead of straight on."
Assuming his jab has forced an opening in Hagler's compact, weaving defense, Hearns will unleash his lethal right. It will be more of a hook than the classic cross, and it will be aimed, not at the chin, but at the side of the head.
The prospect does not alarm the champ. "After it comes," says Hagler, "I'm going to say, 'Tommy, is that your best shot? Hey, you better hit me with that ring post over there because you just found out that Mr. H isn't going anywhere.' That's when people say he'll try to box. I don't think so. When I pop him, I think there is too much macho in him. [This, remember, is from the man who called Hearns "chicken" in another context.] I think when the crowd starts to whooping and hollering, he's going to fight the kind of fight I want it to be. He's going to start throwing them, and I'll be there, bobbing and weaving. That's when I'm going to whip this guy."
What will help Hearns, aside from his power, is his foot and hand speed and his height, all of which will negate any edge Hagler might have as a southpaw. "With his height, Tommy is looking down into the pit," says Harold Weston, Madison Square Garden's current matchmaker, who suffered a detached retina in losing to Hearns in 1979. "He'll be towering over Hagler, and Hagler will be crouching anyway, so the southpaw style won't affect Hearns."
Furthermore, Hagler has never fought anyone who could deliver a punch as fast as Hearns. "I've watched Marvin's fights," says Steward. "He hasn't been in with anyone who has the movement Tommy will show him, but even with slower opponents, every time Hagler misses a punch, he loses his balance. There is something missing. He's slipping and falling...that's a sign of age. And with a fighter who moves like Tommy, he'll really be in trouble."
In recent fights, Hagler has been cut badly over both eyes. The injuries have mostly come from head butts, but the cause is immaterial: The scar tissue is there, unmistakable targets for Hearns's ripping jab. "Tommy is going to hurt Marvin in the first round," says Steward. "The big right hand. If it doesn't knock him out, it will cut him. And the jab will cut him. And then when the blood is blinding him, he won't see the right hand coming."
While trying to solve the jab, Hagler will have to get past the first four rounds. After that, if Hagler has survived, Hearns will back off, using his long stride and snapping jab to try and hold off the champion, who will now step up his attack. Hagler, one of the most devastating body punchers in boxing, will have to get inside, where Hearns is most vulnerable. But Hearns can be a hard man to pin down.
"It's those long arms and legs of his," says Leonard, who spent more than one fruitless round chasing his elusive prey. "With those arms, when he moves he is able to hit from such a great distance that it is difficult to land a really solid shot or get off a good combination. With his legs, for every two steps you take, he has to take only one. Hell, in three or four steps, he's around the ring, from corner to corner. That can present a problem for Hagler."
The champion, however, is accustomed to men—undeniably slower—fleeing from him. He has become a master of cutting off the ring. But then, there is little that he can't do inside his 20-foot-square workshop. What makes him unique is that he fights a perfect textbook style, one neatly supplemented by heavy hands. In Hearns he has an opponent with the physique of a praying mantis, and such fighters tend to fold when whacked in the middle. It is to this area that Hagler, with his augerlike right hook, is truly devastating.
"The thing that sticks out in my mind," says Angelo Dundee, who was in Leonard's corner the night he beat Hearns, "is the left hook Ray landed to Tommy's body in the sixth round. That turned the whole fight around. That kind of dig from Hagler can break a fighter in half. Those big tall guys have a history of not being able to take a shot downstairs, and Hearns is going to take some vicious whacks to the body."
A natural righthander, Hagler gets inside by posing as a southpaw and using a fine right jab. If he can make Hearns miss with those long-distance punches, he'll slip to the inside and work hard to the body, not with one shot, but in quick bruising bursts. In the middle rounds, he'll move Hearns out of center ring, where there is relative safety, and begin to hammer at him in the corners.
By the middle rounds, Hagler's attack will begin to collect dues from the challenger's body. Hearns will be hurt, but he'll fight back from behind the jab. The champion will shift gears again, setting an even more violent tempo. Because he has thrown so many punches already, Hearns will begin to falter. The punishment he has taken to the body will rob the speed from his legs. Hagler, who himself probably will have been cut and bloodied, will nevertheless appear fresh.
In the 10th and 11th rounds, Hearns will reach down and fight back, still trying to land the one big right hand that will end it. He'll slow Hagler, but he won't have enough left to stop him. After four or five rounds, Hearns's punches lose much of their snap.
In the last round, one or both could fall, as much from exhaustion as from the effect of the other man's punches. Neither will stay down.
It will go to the judges, who are going to find they've scored the first four rounds for Hearns, the next four even and the last four for Hagler. Which means they'll probably fight again in September.
Hagler will negate the challenger's speed by trying to keep him pinned in the corners.
From a distance, the lanky Hearns will aim powerful rights to the side of Hagler's head.
The taller Hearns has learned to snap his lethal jab over the champion's tight defenses.
When Hagler slips the jab and steps inside, his primary target will be Hearns's midsection.
Both fighters will be claiming victory as Chuck Hull announces the decision.