On April 15th 1985, the greatest first round in boxing history took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
Hagler (62-3-2) won the WBA, WBC, The Ring and lineal middleweight titles against Alan Minter five years earlier via a third round TKO and was one of the most feared boxers in the world.
He had successfully defended his belt ten times, including a unanimous decision win over fellow feared middleweight Roberto Duran at the same venue he was about to make more history in.
Tommy Hearns (61-5-1) was a rare breed of fighter. With a tall and slender build, he became the first fighter that won titles in five different weight divisions. From welterweight all the way up to light heavyweight, Hearns was formidable and versatile. Trained by the legendary Emanuel Steward at Detroits KRONK gym, Hearns personified the beauty of boxing in the ’80s.
After compiling a record of 32-0, Hearns took his first loss to Sugar Ray Leonard, losing his WBA welterweight title via 14th round TKO. Moving up to middleweight, he defeated Wilfred Benitez for the WBC, The Ring and lineal light middleweight titles. He defended them four times including a second round knockout over Roberto Duran at Caesars Palace.
So it was no surprise when Hagler and Hearns finally met on that glorious spring night in 1985, that the fight was touted as The Fight of the Century. How would Hearns’ tall ,orthodox tenacity fare against the rugged, in your chest southpaw with fists like bricks?
The answer came quickly after the in-ring introductions, as the two engaged in the best back and forth boxing battle ever seen. Hearns led off with a vicious right that seemed to stun Hagler early, followed by an inside combination. Hagler survived and, switching between orthodox and southpaw, began battling back.
Hearns’ barrage in the first round cut Hagler. Yet Marvelous Marvin weathered the storm, blocking blows while pushing forward to batter The Hit Man’s body. In the final minute of the round, Hagler pinned Hearns against the ropes, beating the body while Hearns effectively counter-punched and pivoted across the ropes.
As the round came to a close, Hagler hit Hearns with a quick right that made the Detroit native stagger backwards on noodle legs.
Commentator Al Bernstein said that opening round round was perhaps the greatest in boxing history.
Hearns boxed beautifully in the second round, but Haglers reputation for heavy, accurate hands was shown thoroughly. His ability to shift stances, neutralize The Hit Man’s length and footwork, and stay close and deadly led to the culminating carnage in round three.
After a few breaks by referee Richard Steele, Hearns taunted Hagler, touching his own chin and smiling in deference to his opponent’s power. That proved fateful as Hagler, with a series of well-placed right hands, knocked Hearns into next week with 1:52 remaining in the third round.
Hearns would not survive the count and stood on shaky legs, needing assistance from Steele and the KRONK gym team.
Hagler cemented his reputation as the most dangerous boxer on the planet, and it would stay that way for another two years until Sugar Ray Leonard pulled off what many believe is the biggest upset in boxing history when he defeated Hagler via split decision in 1987. Marvelous Marvin then walked away from the sport forever.
Today was one of the greatest days ever in boxing history. And as the sport continues its resurgence, we must all recall the past in order to understand the present and the potential that it has to reach such a crescendo again.