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There was a strong wind blowing through Las Vegas Monday night, but it could not sweep away the smell of raw violence as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns hammered at each other with a fury that spent itself only after Hearns had been saved by the protecting arms of referee Richard Steele. The fight in a ring set up on the tennis courts at Caesars Palace lasted only a second longer than eight minutes, but for those who saw it, the memory of its nonstop savagery will remain forever.
Hagler's undisputed middleweight championship was at stake, and for the first time since he won it from Alan Minter in 1980, people had been questioning his ability to retain it. In the weeks leading up to the fight, Hagler fumed as the odds tilted back and forth before settling on the champion by the narrowest of margins. Hagler's pride was sorely stung, and a deep burning anger wrote his battle plan.
It was a simple strategy, one that could have been designed by Attila: Keep the swords swinging until there are no more heads to roll, give no quarter, take no prisoners. There would be only one pace, all-out; only one direction, forward.
It was a gamble, for Hagler would be exposing his 30-year-old body to the cannons that had knocked out 34 of the 41 men his 26-year-old challenger had faced and had earned Hearns the nickname Hit Man. "But he ain't never hit Marvin Hagler," the champion sneered. "I've taken the best shots of the biggest hitters in the middleweight division, and I've never been off my feet [ Hagler considers his knockdown by Juan Roldan a slip]. And this guy isn't even a middleweight. Hit Man, my ass."
Hearns, as the challenger, came into the ring first—tall and strikingly muscular at 159� pounds—wearing a red robe with yellow trim. He jumped up and down to limber up his leg muscles, and then he strolled around the ring smiling. Hagler followed, in a royal-blue robe over trunks of the same color. Most champions keep challengers waiting alone in the ring as long as possible, but Hagler had warmed up well in his dressing room and he wanted to make his appearance while the sweat was still oiling his body. Entering the ring, he fixed Hearns with a scowl that never wavered, not even during Doc Severinsen's trumpet version of the National Anthem.
When the bell rang, the war was immediately on. "I think Marvin may come out so fired up that we'll just have Tommy stick and move," Emanuel Steward, the challenger's manager, had said. " Hagler will be so juiced up, after seven or eight rounds it'll rob his strength. Then we'll go for the late knockout."
But Steward underestimated just how juiced up the champ would be. Hagler never gave Hearns a chance to do anything but fight for his life. The 5'9�" champion swept over his 6'2" opponent like a 159�-pound tidal wave. There were no knockdowns in the first round, but only because both men were superbly conditioned and courageous athletes. Surely each hit the other with plenty of blows powerful enough to drop lesser mortals. In all, 165 punches (by computer count) were thrown by both fighters: 82 by Hagler, 83 by the challenger.
Startled by the intensity of Hagler's assault, Hearns replied in kind. He's normally a sharpshooter from the outside, but only 22 of his 83 punches were jabs. Hagler, attacking Hearns's slender middle with his first volley, threw none. "I started slugging because I had to," Hearns admitted later. "Marvin started running in, and I had to protect myself."
It was a sensational opening round. Both fighters were rocked during the violent toe-to-toe exchanges, and midway through the round the champion's forehead over his right eye was ripped open either by a Hearns right hand or elbow. With Hagler not bothering with defense, Hearns went for the quick kill. His gloves became a red blur as he rained punch after punch on the champion's head—and it would prove his undoing.
"He fought 12 rounds in one," Steward said later.