Duran, meanwhile, was using every trick picked up in his 80 pro bouts (of which he had won 76) to keep out of harm's way: gliding left and right, then facing Hagler straight on, now giving him angles, then slipping and bobbing under punches, picking them off with his hands and arms, even turning his head to avert Hagler's savage uppercuts. "They were strong,' I Duran said. "I turned my head to be careful of his right because it's his most dangerous hand. His left is dead. The hand he most relied on was his right."
Hagler had trouble with Duran's hand speed, and he often couldn't find Duran's head. "I wasn't getting my jab off the way I generally do," said Hagler, who was more effective when he switched from a lefty to a righty stance, which brought him two feet closer to Duran. "It seemed everybody was disappointed that I didn't knock him out. I felt that way myself. But he wasn't that vulnerable to a knockout. It was hard to hit him with a solid punch. I didn't catch him with a solid shot."
Oh, but he did, especially in the sixth, when he tagged Duran repeatedly and heavily with lefts and rights to the body and head and appeared to have him on the ropes. Duran needed his chin of stone to survive the sixth, but the fight was clearly Hagler's if he would only reach out and grasp it. And now Duran had another obstacle to contend with. In the fifth round he'd driven a hard right to Hagler's forehead, and thereafter he felt pain in his right hand every time he landed it. Hagler never knew this.
Duran soon came to feel that his major protection against all-out attack, his cocked right hand, was so enfeebled that it left him vulnerable. "I was a little scared because he was coming in straight up," Duran said. "I could reach him with any right, but actually I was scared to throw the right hand." To survive, if not to win, Duran kept throwing it anyway through the rest of the fight.
All of this might have been moot had Hagler seized his advantage. But he didn't. Though Duran hadn't hurt him—and apparently couldn't hurt him—Hagler fought from the seventh to the 10th rounds as if Duran were Larry Holmes.
"He came to tear my head off," says Duran, "but when he saw that I could hit him hard, with strength, he got scared and became a coward. That's why he didn't take too many chances and mix it up with me. Everyone was saying he was a destroyer, but when he hit me, he didn't do anything to me. His punches absolutely did me no damage. He got scared every time he threw a jab because I could get my right in under it. That's why he held off so much."
Why Hagler, whose general motto is "Destruct and destroy," came so close to self-destructing became a central question following the 11th round, when he danced and let a tiring Duran back into the fight. What was he worried about? "I'm not a fool either," Hagler would say, "going in to get hit. You don't barrel in there on a guy like Roberto Duran. Why take unnecessary punishment unless you have to? I'd been effective and was winning the fight, so it isn't like I had to go in there and take the punishment to bomb him out."
No matter. Hagler won the fight by heeding Petronelli's advice and battering an exhausted Duran for the last six minutes of the fight, finally shedding his caution when he had to and taking the fight to the challenger. Briefly, Hagler was marvelous again. "The better man won," Duran said, after two judges had given Hagler the victory by one point, the other by two.
Ironically, the loser came away with $4 million and his reputation enhanced, while the winner stepped out of the ring with $8 million and his image diminished. And all the possibilities seem to be Duran's, with a unification bout against WBC junior middleweight champion Thomas Hearns and another multimillion-dollar payday in the offing. Hagler, who ran his record to 58-2-2, is left to fight in the mediocre middleweight division, with his next defense against Juan Domingo Roldan, the Argentine who knocked an inept Frank Fletcher unconscious in a fight before the main event.
Hagler proved himself the best middleweight on the block, while Duran showed that he is a fighter for the ages and should again be the object of celebration.