On this day 30 years ago, the most exciting seven minutes and 52 seconds in boxing history took place in Las Vegas, Nevada, as Marvelous Marvin Hagler defended his undisputed middleweight title with a Round 3 knockout of Thomas Hearns. It was a showdown between two of the greatest stars of boxing’s last golden age and two of the best pound-for-pound fighters of all time.
Hagler came into the bout successful in 10 straight defenses, all of them by stoppage save one 15-round decision against the immortal Roberto Duran. Hearns had lost just once, to Sugar Ray Leonard by dramatic Round 14 TKO, in a fight where he was ahead on the cards. He had captured the WBC junior middleweight title from Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitnez and defended it with a stunning Round 2 stoppage of Duran.
In 1985, Hagler and Hearns were clearly the two top pound-for-pound fighters in the sport. Their matchup was eagerly anticipated and far exceeded even the loftiest of expectations.
Despite the tremendous boxing craft possessed by both men, science was immediately discarded, with Hagler charging at Hearns at the opening bell and driving him back towards the ropes. Seconds into the round, Hearns connected with his legendary right hand and staggered Hagler. The round was fought at a furious pace, with Hagler hurting Hearns later in the frame. By the end of the first, Hearns had broken his right hand and Hagler was bleeding from a cut on the forehead.
Hearns came out for Round 2 looking to establish some distance behind his jab, but his legs were clearly shot. Hagler continued to stock him relentlessly, as Hearns was forced into survival mode. The round ended with Hagler landing a furious volley against the ropes.
Hearns opened Hagler’s cut early in Round 3 and referee Richard Steele called a time in the action, so the ringside physician could assess the damage. When asked if he could see with the cut, Hagler growled “I ain’t missing him, am I?”
But with the danger that he might lose on the cut pressing on his mind, Hagler redoubled on his aggression once time was called back in. He forced Hearns back to the ropes and rocked him with explosive punches from both fists. Hearns went down and although he managed to make it back to his feet on instinct by the count of nine, it was obvious that he was out and unable to defend himself. The fight ended with the iconic image of Steele waving the fight off and then quickly wrapping his arms around Hearns, to prevent him from sagging back to the canvas. Hearns had to be carried to his stool and the victorious Hagler wore a crimson mask.
It’s been three decades and we still haven’t seen a fight anything like Hearns-Hagler, with two elite fighters battling at such a furious pace. I won’t be surprised if another three decades come and go without us seeing anything like it again.