In an era when "classic" fistfights exist primarily in the minds of promoters, the matching of two boxers with the superb credentials of Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns is a throwback to the times when such warriors as Sugar Ray Robinson and Rocky Graziano roamed the middleweight ranks. This will be a fighter's fight.
For a change, there is more analysis than hype as Hagler and Hearns sweat through the final days before their 12-round fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on April 15. And while the experts argue over which man will win, everyone agrees on one thing: Hagler and Hearns don't like each other. Really.
"I don't like him, and he doesn't like me," Hearns says in a flat voice. "That's not the usual prefight talk; that's just the way things are."
Hagler agrees and says that the only other point upon which the two fighters have ever agreed is that his world middleweight championship will be on the line. "He's chicken," the champion says coldly. "He ducked me for three years until he thought I got old. Well, I'm not old, and he's in for a helluva beating."
At his training camp in Palm Springs—his usual training site on the tip of Cape Cod was bypassed because of an unpredictable furnace—Hagler is staging daily dress rehearsals for the fight with sparring partners Larry Davis, who is a Hearns-like 6'2" with an 83-inch reach (compared with Hagler's 5'9" and 75-inch reach), and Jerry Holly, 6'1½" with an 81-inch wingspan. Taking the other two-round shift in the sparring rotation is Bobby (Boogaloo) Watts, who beat Hagler, one of only two men to do so, and that was back in January 1976.
Hagler is running a minimum of six miles every morning and enduring 1½-hour, nearly nonstop workouts six days a week. He is leading a Spartan life, as well he might, considering that old Spartacus himself, Kirk Douglas, occasionally drops in on training sessions and three weeks ago invited Hagler over to his house to watch the Larry Holmes fight against David Bey.
Hagler's training camp diet is always heavy on fish and chicken, but he also has been loading up on vitamin C for this bout. In fact, when Hagler and his trainer-manager, Pat Petronelli, spotted a tree loaded with oranges on the golf course across from their hotel, the two got a sack and strolled over. After checking that the coast was clear, Petronelli boosted his boxer up into the branches to pick a few fresh oranges. Uh-oh, a golf cart came purring up unexpectedly, and when the Marvelous one saw it, he nearly fell out of the tree. "It was embarrassing as hell," Petronelli recalls. Not only had they been caught red-handed, but their captor was Bob Hope.
As for Hearns, The Road To Las Vegas runs right through the lobby of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach. There, amid the pillars and statues of cute woodland sprites, Hearns is sweating and sharpening his skills five afternoons a week in a specially constructed 24-foot ring. The challenger's only real distraction so far was a fishing trip on which he caught 40 fish...and a case of seasickness.
Hearns's usual routine is to be up at 6 a.m. for roadwork—actually beach work—followed by a shower and short nap. Then, at eight, his manager-trainer, Emanual Steward, will cook the biggest of Hearns's two meals a day. A typical breakfast menu includes veal chops or chicken, salad, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. At 2 p.m. Hearns goes down to the lobby for his workout, which concludes with six to eight rounds of sparring. Steward has the challenger working four-minute rounds with only 30-second rest periods against a stable of three, sometimes four, sparring partners a day. Among them have been World Boxing Council welterweight Milton McCrory and Don Lee, the World Boxing Association No. 3 middleweight challenger. Lee is also a lefthander, so Hearns can be ready when Hagler, a natural righthander, switches styles, which he will do.
What will happen when Hagler, 30, unbeaten since 1976 (60-2-2 overall), collides with Hearns, 26, a paralyzing hitter (41-1)?