The combination of power—between them, Hagler and Hearns have knocked out 84 opponents—and durability is decidedly impressive, and the fight may be as close as the middleweight division will ever get to a replay of Graziano's bruising wars with Tony Zale in the late '40s. In his 64 fights, Hagler has been knocked down only once, by Juan Roldan a year ago. And that was really a slip. In his drive to the middleweight championship, which he won by stopping Alan Minter on Sept. 27, 1980, and in 10 successful defenses, Hagler has sent 50 opponents back to their dressing rooms early. "I think I can take anything [Hearns] has got," says the heavily muscled champ. "I don't believe that stuff about the Hit Man."
Hearns took up hammering his opponents when he turned pro in 1977, after a 10-year amateur career as a pure boxer. The rangy challenger punches with enough leverage to have knocked out 34 of his 41 pro opponents. He won the WBA welterweight title from Pipino Cuevas, in 1980, then lost that crown to Sugar Ray Leonard on a 14th-round TKO the following year. In December 1982 he won the WBC junior middleweight crown from Wilfred Benitez, and he continues to hold that as a hedge should he lose to Hagler.
Despite their accomplishments, both fighters are driven by motives that have nothing to do with the millions ($5.7 for Hagler; $5.4 for Hearns) they will earn. They know that boxing historians will use each man as the true measure of the other's skill, and each plans a vicious exploration of the other's credentials.
The books in Las Vegas opened with Hagler a 7-to-5 choice, but large sums of money the other way quickly made Hearns 6 to 5. The bookmakers expect a countermove by backers of Hagler but predict the fight will be even money by the opening bell. With malice, each fighter has predicted a knockout in the third round. If you agree with that, Hearns should be the pick. If the brawny champion is to knock out his man, it will come later.
Hearns needs no extra incentive to go after an early knockout. All but seven of his 34 KOs have come before the fifth round, most brought about by a sharp right hand after the victim had been thoroughly bombarded by a long and jarring left jab.
But for this fight, Hearns will be modifying his jab, firing it instead in an arc over the champion's right hand when Hagler goes southpaw.
"People think he is going to be watching my right," says Hearns. "But the power is going to be in my left. Marvin is much shorter, and for me to hit him I've got to come down with the jab. I've got to step to my left, with my left foot on the outside, and hit him sideways with a lot of pressure instead of straight on."
Assuming his jab has forced an opening in Hagler's compact, weaving defense, Hearns will unleash his lethal right. It will be more of a hook than the classic cross, and it will be aimed, not at the chin, but at the side of the head.
The prospect does not alarm the champ. "After it comes," says Hagler, "I'm going to say, 'Tommy, is that your best shot? Hey, you better hit me with that ring post over there because you just found out that Mr. H isn't going anywhere.' That's when people say he'll try to box. I don't think so. When I pop him, I think there is too much macho in him. [This, remember, is from the man who called Hearns "chicken" in another context.] I think when the crowd starts to whooping and hollering, he's going to fight the kind of fight I want it to be. He's going to start throwing them, and I'll be there, bobbing and weaving. That's when I'm going to whip this guy."
What will help Hearns, aside from his power, is his foot and hand speed and his height, all of which will negate any edge Hagler might have as a southpaw. "With his height, Tommy is looking down into the pit," says Harold Weston, Madison Square Garden's current matchmaker, who suffered a detached retina in losing to Hearns in 1979. "He'll be towering over Hagler, and Hagler will be crouching anyway, so the southpaw style won't affect Hearns."