"How ready can you get?" Hagler asked three days before the fight. "I want to get it over with. After a while, all the talking gets to you. I go to sleep now listening to myself talk."
Talk they eventually did, though it took Hagler a while to learn the strange new language Duran brought into the ring. And Hagler's discomfort with the relatively passive Duran showed in long, inexplicable lapses of his own originality and will, until he became aware that his title was truly at risk.
Aside from Referee Stanley Christodoulou—who did a superior job of preventing Duran's low blows from becoming a factor while letting the fighters fight—the only man in the ring who knew at all times what he was doing was Duran. "People think I'm going to go crazy in there, like against Leonard," Duran said before the fight. "But, no." Though decidedly undersized and outgunned—Duran is an inch shorter than Hagler and has eight inches less reach—he arrived at the 14th round with a chance, on more than the judges' cards, of finessing Hagler's belt from him.
It was a strange fight, with small eddies and currents that made it difficult to score, but fascinating for what it revealed about the personalities of its leading men. Duran is an imaginative actor onstage, an original who creates ring drama by the mere feint of his head. Hagler is a stoic, without creative urgency or flair. He's a stalker, conservative and cautious, almost insecure, whose ring presence can be likened to that of a mechanic in a garage—speak softly and carry a big wrench.
The first round was a sleepwalk. "I knew that Hagler was waiting for me to get inside to fight with him," Duran said afterward, "so he could get his punches in with force." Nothing doing, of course.
When Duran didn't attack in the second, Petronelli began to worry: "I thought, 'What's going on here?' "
Not that much, really, which was the source of Petronelli's concern, though the fighters did mix it up somewhat more than they had in the first round. Hagler caught Duran with a solid right jab, a punch Duran would feel throughout the fight, and he scored uppercuts to the body and head when they fought inside. But Duran was making himself a difficult target and finding the range with his straight right hand, the punch that eventually took him as far as he went.
"Duran was fighting the smarter, more composed fight," Ovesen would say. "He made Marvin miss and countered on his own. I made those two rounds for Duran, but not by much." The fight was going as Duran and Spada had planned it. "I fought him at half-distance," Duran said. "I was waiting for him to unload so I could score on him. Whichever hand he unloaded, I was ready to counter. He didn't confuse me with anything. I was beating him without mixing it up too much."
Petronelli's foreboding deepened. "Duran waited and waited and waited for Marvin to lead," he said. "We had to change our tactics and go on the offensive, which isn't really Marvin's style." So at the end of the third, Petronelli told Hagler, "This ain't going too well. Put the pressure on him."
Through the uneventful fourth and fifth rounds, Hagler showed a harder jab but to little effect. "He'd slip and counter, slide back and wait for me," Hagler said. "When you're trying for a knockout, it's the hardest thing to get. That's what I was after, but you have to let them come. He wasn't there. Duran is too crafty to go after for a knockout. You leave yourself open, and he takes advantage of it."