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Toward the close of the 12th round last Thursday night, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran fought at a savage pace. Duran scored with hard, straight right hands to Hagler's face, and just before the bell blood trickled from Hagler's swollen left eye, as Duran taunted Hagler by pointing to his chin and saying, "Hit me! Hit me!" Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion, obliged with a hard right as he chased Duran into a corner.
The crowd of 14,600 in the stadium at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas was on its feet roaring long after the bell had sounded. But the 12th, which Duran won with such a flourish, was mere prelude to what would happen in the next round. Duran brought the multitude up again, and again, and then it was chanting, "Dooooran! Dooooran! Dooooran!" Spurred on by the crowd and driven by the force of his own furious will and considerable talent, Duran, the WBA junior middleweight champion, appeared to seize control of the fight.
Midway through the 13th, Hagler struck Duran with a mighty left to the face, but Duran countered to the body, jarred Hagler with a sharp right to the head, cracked him with another right and then a third, and followed with a left and a right. Now someone in the crowd was blowing a bugle, a clarion call, it seemed, for Duran. At the bell he landed a final right to Hagler's head, and Hagler smiled sarcastically as he went to his corner. It was Duran's round, and Hagler knew it.
Suddenly—and quite miraculously—there was a sense in the stadium that Duran, a 4-to-1 underdog who had been so roughed up in the sixth round it looked as if he'd never make it to the ninth, had not only survived but might yet prevail; that the former lightweight and welterweight champion of the world was about to make history by becoming the first man ever to win four world titles; and that Hagler's middleweight crown, which he'd won three years before and had successfully defended seven times, all by knockout, was in grave danger of being taken.
Hagler was simply Marvin now. It was Duran who had been marvelous. At the end of the 13th, Luis Spada, Duran's manager and strategist, told him, "You win the last two rounds, you win the fight. Throw punches. Make points. You have to win the last two rounds!"
Goody Petronelli, Hagler's trainer, told his man the same thing. Almost four years earlier at Caesars, Hagler had suffered his biggest ring disappointment, losing his first bid for the middleweight title when the judges, in a highly questionable decision, called his fight with then champion Vito Antuofermo a draw. Now Petronelli feared a similar shaft. "I want a strong 14th and 15th," he told Hagler. "You can't make this fight close. You've got to win these last two rounds."
At that point judge Guy Jutras of Canada had the fight even, at 124-124, while judge Yasaku Yoshida of Japan, whose indecision had been such that he'd called six rounds even, actually had Duran ahead 127-126, as did Ove Ovesen of Denmark, 125-124. If many at ringside would later be astonished at the judges' cards—Hagler had certainly landed more and harder punches to this juncture—it was unmistakable that Duran had craftily fought within reach of victory in the 12th and 13th rounds.
That this was so, after what Duran had been through during the preceding year, and particularly in the previous 51 minutes, gave an otherwise routine evening a sudden sense of moment. Only 363 days earlier, in the Orange Bowl in Miami, Duran had decisioned someone named Jimmy Batten in what appeared to be the closing fight of his career. It was a dreadful performance for a man who had once been so consummate a fighter, and it looked as if he had lost the skills that had served to make him the fighter of the '70s.
But then, 2½ months later, Duran whipped Pipino Cuevas, and on June 16 of this year he stunningly lifted the junior middleweight title from the inexperienced Davey Moore by stopping him in the eighth round. Despite the skeptics, who could not forget that Duran quit in the eighth round of his 1980 welterweight title rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard and who doubted that something of the old Duran remained, promoter Bob Arum made the Hagler-Duran fight. Both fighters trained with fervor, and by the time they arrived in Las Vegas they were dead fit for the occasion of their lives. On the morning of the fight Duran weighed in at 156½, Hagler at a pound more.
"I'm in the same shape I was when I fought Leonard the first time," said Duran, referring to his WBC welterweight title victory in June of 1980. And he was additionally armed with a strategy, devised by Spada, that called for Duran to box—to move rather than attack—and induce Hagler to miss.