efore the age of the Twitter celebrity, before rabbit ears and clunky UHF knobs disappeared completely, before the World Wide Web was anything other than a futuristic flight of fancy, fighters earned reputations for what they did in the ring—and how they did it.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Thomas Hearns was a baleful killer with a right hand that could punch holes through a 454 Big Block.
On August 2, 1980, Hearns won his first world title when he butchered fearsome Pipino Cuevas in two gruesome rounds for the WBC welterweight championship. His 1981 unification showdown with Sugar Ray Leonard was one of the most anticipated fights since the heyday of Muhammad Ali. Until Leonard stopped him in the 14th-round of a thriller, Hearns had been the most intimidating fighter in America—a distinction no one would replicate until Mike Tyson began making gory headlines in 1986.
Entering the bout with Hagler, the 26-year-old Hearns, 40-1, was enjoying a resurgence after a few spotty performances and a layoff due to injuries. On June 15, 1984, Hearns had reignited his waning mystique with a bone-chilling KO of Roberto Duran in Las Vegas for the WBC light middleweight title. Duran, who had repaired his own tarnished image after “No Mas” by blitzing Davey Moore for his third world title and battling 15 competitive rounds with Hagler, had never been cleanly knocked out going into his match with “The Hit Man.” But nothing—not his machismo, not his snarl, not his world-class skills—could help him against Hearns, who left Duran facedown on the canvas like a corpse waiting for a chalk outline.
By wrecking Duran with ease—something Hagler had been unable to accomplish—Hearns set himself up as a legitimate threat to Hagler.
That a welterweight who had lost his biggest fight was now in a position to challenge for the middleweight title irked Hagler and aggravated his highly-developed sense of outrage. In December, Hagler agreed to meet Thomas Hearns in April for the undisputed middleweight championship of the world. No one knows whether or not Hagler signed the contract with a sneer on his face.