Thomas Hearns blocked out all the noise and glitter around the crap tables at the Las Vegas Hilton last Thursday night. Hearns had his eye on something. He made his bet, flexed the fingers of his right hand and curled them into—the Thing. "Talk to me, baby," he cooed. He was addressing his fist. Out came the dice, and the point was made. Hearns scooped up his winnings and retired to suite 1470.
Two hours earlier, in the Hilton's parking lot, Hearns's right had spoken for itself. It had battered the face of Argentina's 30-year-old Juan Domingo Roldan and earned Hearns a place in boxing history: It was his fourth world title in four weight classes. By knocking out Roldan in the fourth round, Hearns claimed the WBC middleweight belt, which had been vacated when Marvelous Marvin Hagler fought Sugar Ray Leonard. Hearns had already worn the WBA welterweight, WBC super welterweight and WBC light heavyweight belts around his slender waist.
Hearns and his right hand had been looking past Roldan, hoping to dispose of that seasoned slugger so as to talk deal with Hagler or Sugar Ray. The right hand put Roldan down twice in the first round, and a left hook did it again in the second. But Roldan came back to set the pace in the third round with looping rights and slicing lefts. Haymakers landed everywhere.
Early in the fourth, Roldan caught Hearns on the chin with a hard left hook in Roldan's corner. Hearns's head snapped back, and his legs wiggled like rubber bands. He struggled to clear his head as Roldan, knowing his opponent was in trouble, wrenched his arms free of a clinch and prepared another assault.
In the biggest fights of his career, once Hearns was hurt, he was done. It happened in 1981, when he lost to Leonard. It happened in 1985, when he lost to Hagler. But it would not happen now. His world reeling, Hearns pushed Roldan back, and as Roldan stepped to the side Hearns lashed out with the right. The punch caught Roldan flush on the jaw, freezing him on his heels.
Hearns circled away, with Roldan following, but more slowly now. The two exchanged blows in a brief, heated flurry in a neutral corner, but the Thing had left Roldan totally disoriented. He had stayed on Hearns like a mustard plaster for 3� rounds. Now he stood a bit away. Hearns shot the right again on a level line with the point of Roldan's chin. It landed with a sharp report. Then came the mere formality of referee Mills Lane counting to 10 over Roldan as he lay first on his stomach and face, then on his back. "I was conscious that I was down, but there was nothing I could do," Roldan said later via an interpreter. "It made no sense to get up."
Those two right hands by Hearns in the fourth accomplished several things: They took the fight out of a man who has been known as the Hammer; they gave Hearns time to find his legs; and they got the public's attention. "My only hope of fighting Ray or Marvin again—which I want and they don't—is if the public demands it," said Hearns afterward.
Those punches also proved what Dr. Fred Lewerenz had said of Hearns's right. Hearns had broken the long bones running to the ring finger and the little finger of that hand in the first round of the Hagler bout. The Thing had often become unhinged in other areas—from the wrist to the knuckle—before. "But it's perfectly sound now," Lewerenz had said. Hearns had landed two hard skull shots in the first round, sending Roldan to the canvas each time. But how many bone-jarring punches could the right take? Ask Roldan.
The unusual Thursday night card at the Hilton was designed as a showcase for Hearns and IBF light heavyweight champion Bobby Czyz, who was expected to have it easy in a preliminary bout. Czyz was 32-1 entering the ring, but he saw his record, his face and a possible big-money fight with Hearns smeared by Prince Charles Williams, a journeyman from Philadelphia. Williams, who had a 21-4-2 record, shook off a second-round knockdown and a standing eight count in the third to pitch a shutout at Czyz's right eye, prompting Czyz to call it quits after the ninth.
Czyz, the pride of Wanaque, N.J., had overcome a broken right hand, mononucleosis and a split with his manager, and came into the ring the 2-to-1 favorite, sequins glittering. He immediately took charge. "Bobby is just too strong for him," Czyz's trainer, Tommy Parks, had said, and Czyz did appear ready to make short work of Williams. At the end of the second round, Czyz shot forward and caught Williams with a straight right to the chin. Williams wobbled but survived until the bell.