Hagler And Hearns Went To ‘War’ 36 Years Ago Today

By Boxing News - 04/15/2021 - Comments


Four-Part Documentary Series Chronicling The Rivalry and The Era of Durán, Hagler, Hearns, and Leonard Premieres Sunday, June 6, at 8 p.m. ET/PT Exclusively on SHOWTIME

Photo credit: The Ring Magazine via Getty Images

NEW YORK – April 15, 2021 – From 1980 through 1989, four great champions and future Hall of Famers raised the level of their sport. It was boxing at its best, at its most enthralling. Over the span of one glorious decade, they fought each other nine times.  Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Durán, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, and Sugar Ray Leonard, known collectively as the “Four Kings,” formed a fierce rivalry and arguably the greatest period in the history of the sport.

SHOWTIME SPORTS DOCUMENTARY FILMS will be presenting THE KINGS, a four-part series chronicling the four fighters’ dramatic and divergent ascents to greatness and the legendary matches they produced. They dominated an era of their own creation, but not each other. The weekly series premieres on Sunday, June 6 at 8 p.m. ET / PT on SHOWTIME, with all episodes being made available across the network’s on-demand and streaming platforms at premiere.

Today marks the 36th anniversary of the epic middleweight championship battle between Hagler and Hearns. Long considered the high-water mark of the Four Kings era, Hagler-Hearns stands out for the drama and brutal non-stop action that was compressed into just over eight minutes from start to finish. The fight and the opening stanza were consensus Fight of the Year and Round of the Year, respectively, but many consider both as one of, if not the, all-time best in their respective categories.

Below, please find the observations and recollections of those who covered that fight, many who are featured in THE KINGS.

“I remember the week of the fight, Hagler wore a baseball hat with ‘WAR’ on the front, and I thought, ‘eh, the usual pre fight hype’, until the first bell, then I said, “WOW, Hagler was right.”

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– Teddy Atlas, Hall of Fame trainer and boxing analyst

“I covered the fight as a columnist for The New York Times. Here was my lead: Until Thomas Hearns fell, with the assistance of a smashing right to the face by Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and was ruled the loser at 2:01 of the third round, hardly a second passed that one of the fighters wasn’t throwing and landing a stunning blow.”

– Ira Berkow, ringside for The New York Times

“The excitement at the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace was palpable. As I sat ringside I did something I now do regularly before a match. When both Hagler and Hearns had entered and were in the ring I took my headsets off just to feel the emotion of the crowd better. I wanted to live that moment. Now, I do that before every big match just before it begins. At the end of the first round, I said on the telecast, ‘This is one of the best rounds in middleweight boxing history.’ I may have been underselling it.”

– Al Bernstein, SHOWTIME Boxing analyst / ringside, called the fight as part of the live closed-circuit telecast team

“I knew trouble was brewing when in the last leg of their nationwide press tour, Marvin stuck dinner napkins in both ears as Tommy stood to continue three weeks of boasting about a third-round knockout. ‘He’s half right,’ Hagler later groused. The first round sucked the air out of the arena and the finish was Hagler’s violent response to all the forces he believed had tried to deny him greatness his whole career.  Marvin took all his frustrations out on poor Tommy and left him in a heap on the floor, broken like an old beach chair.”

– Ron Borges, ringside for the Boston Globe

“I was sitting first-row ringside that night next to Ed Schuyler Jr., the great AP boxing writer. We were anticipating a good fight, but we had no idea how good. The bell rang and suddenly Hagler and Hearns were fighting in a fury that was hard to comprehend and just as hard to describe. When the round ended, I remember looking at Schuyler shaking my head, not saying a word, and he did the same to me back. It was like ‘What did we just see?’ I’ve seen thousands of fights, but to this day that three minutes of mayhem is forever etched in my mind. No need to watch the old video, I remember it almost punch by punch. Greatest first round ever, and top five in greatest fights I’ve ever covered.”

– Tim Dahlberg, ringside for the Associated Press

“A wise old journalist once told me, ‘If you’re covering a fight, or anything for that matter, that’s truly sensational, don’t try to write it that way. Underplay it.’ I think of that advice whenever anybody mentions Hagler-Hearns. For fight fans, it was invigorating, inspiring, incredible – everything we could ever hope for. For fight writers, it was a bit different. How could we describe that first round without overstepping our bounds?  Sometimes it’s easier being a fan.”

– Steve Farhood, SHOWTIME Boxing analyst / Covered the fight as senior writer for KO magazine

“I will always remember sitting in the truck, as the producer of the telecast, and telling Marc Payton, the director, to stick with the hand-held camera in the last minute of the first round, mesmerized that they had planted themselves in front of that camera. It was the longest three minutes of action in my entire career. I turned to Marc at the end of the round and just asked, ‘What the hell was that?’ It was actually a more emphatic expletive than that.”

– Ross Greenburg, executive producer of the fight telecast

“At the end of the first round I was literally speechless. The action had been so incredibly intense – they had attacked each other with the kind of ferocity you only see in a horror movie – that I had watched it all with my mouth wide open, and in the dry desert air my mouth had become completely bone dry, so I was unable to get a word out when Ian Darke asked me for my comment. Eventually I managed to say, ‘That’s the greatest round of boxing I’ve ever seen.’ And all these years later, it still remains so.”

– Colin Hart, ringside for The Sun and BBC Radio

“Whenever I’m asked to name the most exciting sporting event I ever attended, I respond, ‘Hagler-Hearns.’ Never do I have to explain.”

– Barry Horn, ringside for the Dallas Morning News

“Greatest first round in the history of boxing at any weight. Hearns hits him with the best right hand he ever threw, wobbles him, opens a cut on his forehead but two rounds later Marvin fights off the blood and knocks him out. Seventy years covering boxing and I never saw anything like it.”

– Jerry Izenberg, ringside for The Star-Ledger

“Being at ringside for the eight minutes of fury known as the Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns fight was as close as anyone could come to understanding the days of gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. The first round was all-out warfare with both fighters exchanging their best power shots. Hearns tried to box in the second, but Hagler wouldn’t let him, and when the blood started pouring from a cut on Hagler’s forehead in the third and there was a danger the fight might be stopped, Hagler later said, ‘It turns me on, the monster comes out.’ Boy, did it! I never will forget the image of one of Hearns’ handlers cradling him like a child and carrying him to the corner, which is why I led with that picture. Easily the most savage boxing match I’ve witnessed between two all-time greats.”

– Greg Logan, ringside for Newsday

“Although the action and drama lasted eight-plus breathless minutes, it actually was over in the first minute or so when KO star Hearns landed a flush right and Hagler didn’t blink. It was then I realized that Hagler, normally a patient stalker, had signaled his intention to use his middleweight strength to challenge a big welterweight by pounding his chest defiantly just before the opening bell rang. A night and fight to remember.”

– Larry Merchant, ringside commentator for delay telecast

“Obviously the greatest round of boxing I’ve ever seen, let alone called. One of those moments that you knew the magnitude of as it was happening. That first round felt like it was a half hour long.”

– Barry Tompkins, SHOWTIME Boxing analyst / ringside to call the delay fight telecast

“I didn’t know what to expect since it was my first time watching a fight at a movie theater. Whites and Blacks in Memphis only socialized around sports back then. It was a mixed crowd in the theater, but the same reaction: pure joy and excitement. Everyone stood throughout the entire fight. It was violent, courageous, and thrilling.”

– George Willis, covering from a closed-circuit outlet in Memphis for The Commercial Appeal

“I covered that fight, and many others, for The Detroit News. I’ll never forget the absolute savagery in the way Hearns and Hagler went at each other from the opening bell, and the way the crowd roared with every punch. One telling moment: Hearns connected with a wicked left hook that turned Hagler half around from the force of the punch — but never fazed him.  It has been called the greatest short fight in history, and that stands up to this day. The first round set the tone. I remember after the fight someone asked Larry Merchant of HBO how he scored that first round. ‘I gave them both 11,’ he replied.  That said it all.”

– Mike O’Hara, ringside for The Detroit News

“My memory of the first round: action so immediate and reckless that spectators were left breathless. So were the reporters at ringside. I was there for the Boston Globe, and I remember the veteran scribes who sat paralyzed after the bell, unable to type or scratch notes, me included.  A deep gash opened above Hagler’s right eye, and Hearns’ right hand fractured. In the third round, with blood running down Hagler’s nose, the referee stopped the bout and asked Hagler if he could continue. Hagler snapped: ‘I’m not missing him, am I?’  When the bout resumed Hagler attacked quickly, bounced three long rights off of Hearns’ head, and watched him twist downward to the canvas.”

– Steve Marantz, ringside for the Boston Globe

“I remember how difficult it was, on a tight deadline, to give justice to that spectacular first round. How many superlatives could I pack into the story without inducing nausea?  Hagler quietly, confidently selling the fight – simply, wearing a cap with ‘War’ emblazoned on the front. Then that nail-hard infantryman, coming, always coming after Hearns. Hearns out on his feet, chin on referee Richard Steele’s shoulder and then carried to his corner. I can still hear the crowd roaring throughout the short fight, knowing all of us were witnessing a brawl for the ages.”

– John Phillips, ringside for Reuters

“What I remember about this war was there was no feeling (each other) out, they just came out slugging from the opening bell! It was so loud outside at Caesars Palace, the most iconic venue, that made this fight even more special. I wish more fights were outside. I also thought that Referee Richard Steele did a great job and just let them fight!”

– Marc Ratner, Nevada State Athletic Commission Inspector for Hagler-Hearns

“Hagler-Hearns was the first major fight I covered and the first time I was ever in Las Vegas. I was there to do sidebars and run quotes for Greg Logan, who was doing the main story for Newsday. I got a seat in press row when press row was truly ringside, literally within 10 feet of the ring apron. And after the incredible first round, I was on my feet, my legs quivering, when I noticed all the other older, more grizzled reporters were standing too, stunned by what we all had just seen. At that moment, Eddie Schuyler of the AP turned to me and deadpanned in that sardonic manner of his, ‘You know, kid, they aren’t all like this.’ He turned out to be right. Over the next 38 years and who knows how many first rounds, I have yet to see another one like that.”

– Wally Matthews, ringside for Newsday

THE KINGS is produced by Box To Box Film in association with Ingenious Media.  The series is executive produced by James Gay-Rees (Amy, Senna, Drive To Survive) and Paul Martin (Diego Maradona, Drive To Survive), produced by Fiona Neilson (Oasis: Supersonic, Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams) and directed by Mat Whitecross (Oasis: Supersonic, Road To Guantanamo, Coldplay: A Head Full of Dreams).

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