Famous Ring Wars: Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns “The War”

By John F. McKenna (McJack): As boxing fans well know, fights are very rarely as good as the pre fight hype. Once in a great while though the fight not only matches the hype but exceeds it. One of those fights took place on April 15, 1985 between “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns. There have been other Super fights in the twenty six years since Hagler and Hearns put on their historic show for boxing fans and although some of them have been great fights, none have measured up to that magic night.

No one who witnessed the event will ever forget it and even Hearns fans will admit that they witnessed a fight the likes of which they would never see again. Both fighters approached the fight with supreme confidence. The fight was held at Ceasar’s Palace in Las Vegas and was hyped by promoter Bob Arum as “The War”. Undisputed Middleweight Champion Marvin Hagler, had been the undisputed Middleweight Champion since 1980 and prior to that he was the number one contender for much of the late 1970’s. Hagler had defeated Vito Antuofermo and Alan Minter to solidify the Middleweight Title. By the time of “The War” he had defended his title ten times, winning nine by knockout.

Tommy Hearns was making his debut at Middleweight after dominating the Junior Middleweight Division and performing well at Welterweight. In his first title shot he had knocked out the dominant WBA Champion Pipino Cuevas in the 2nd round. Hearns defended his Welterweight Title three times before losing an exciting fight to “Sugar” Ray Leonard, in which he was stopped in the fourteenth round. Hearns then campaigned at Junior Middleweight and won the WBC title when he defeated Wilfred Benitez. He then scored a dramatic 2nd round knockout over Roberto Duran.

“The War” was broadcast on HBO and boxing fans around the world looked forward with great anticipation to seeing this fight. Hagler weighed in at 159 ½ lbs, while Hearns came in at 159 3/4 lbs. In the first round Hagler went right at Hearns pinning him to the ropes. This surprised boxing fans because Marvin was notorious for being a slow starter. “The Hitman” unleashed his devastating signature right hand that had stopped so many of his opponents. Hagler was momentarily stunned by the punch which landed on his chin. Hearns shattered the bones in his right hand with that punch. The fact that Hearns hit Hagler with his best shot and Hagler was still standing was a psychological victory for Marvin. They clinched briefly, but within seconds they were trading power shots with Hagler again attempting to pin Hearns to the ropes. Hagler hit Hearns with a right hand that briefly staggered him. The entire first round was marked by both fighters trading power shots in an effort to score an early knockout. During one of the exchanges a cut was opened on Hagler’s forehead which would worsen as the fight progressed. Ring Magazine would call the first round of the Hagler – Hearns fight the best round in boxing history.

When the 2nd round started Hearns legs appeared to be shot as he moved around the ring on rubbery legs apparently from the work of Hagler’s body shots. Hearns attempted to slow the pace by boxing Hagler instead of trading power shots, but Hagler working inside, continued to force the action by again pinning Hearns against the ropes and unleashing his bombs to Hearns head and body. The cut on Hagler’s forehead was now bleeding profusely and referee Richard Steele briefly stopped the fight to ask Hagler if he could see through the blood which was now trickling into his eyes. Hagler, always the warrior, responded by saying “Well, I ain’t missing him am I?” In an effort to avoid Hearns left jab Hagler briefly switched from southpaw to orthodox, but quickly switched back to southpaw. Hagler was controlling the fight and constantly attempting to pin Hearns on the ropes.

In the 3rd round the blood from Hagler’s cut started to gush amid fears from his corner that the referee might stop it. “Marvelous” began turning up the heat even more, throwing everything he had at Hearns. Hagler caught Hearns with a nasty overhand left followed by a right which dropped him. Hearns willed himself to his feet by the count of ten, but he was in no condition to continue and referee Steele stopped the fight.

The boxing analysts had a field day analyzing and reanalyzing “The War”.
Most agreed that a couple of factors played into the outcome.

• From the start of the fight Hagler used his aggression to make Hearns fight his fight
• Hearns was not able to use his long reach and his great jab to full advantage

• Hearns normal mobility was neutralized by Hagler’s body shots

“The War” between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Heanrs may have been the greatest three rounds in boxing history. One would have to go back to the classic between Jack Dempaey and Luis Angel Firpo to find a fight that matched “The War” in fury and intensity.

“The War” would seal both participants forever in the memories of those who witnessed it. Marvin Hagler would finally get the recognition he had sought for so long. He was not the matinee idol that “Sugar” Ray Leonard was, but he had achieved everything that he set out to do in boxing. Hagler would go through a ritual that helps to explain his personality. He kept his Championship belt safely tucked away until Christmas. On Christmas Eve he would put his belt under the Christmas Tree. After Christmas he would tuck the belt away safely until the following Christmas and repeat the same ritual again.

To Tommy Hearns credit he did not use the excuse of breaking his right hand as an excuse for losing “The War”. Both fighters achieved more than their share of glory in their careers. Boxing fans can only hope to see another fight that matches “The War”.


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