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Marvin Hagler vs Thomas Hearns remembered by Adam Smith on 35th anniversary of legendary fight

"It was epic. The greatest three-round fight in any weight class of any generation"

Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns
Image: Marvin Hagler battled Thomas Hearns for three world titles in Las Vegas in April 1985

Marvin Hagler's legendary fight with Thomas Hearns still evokes strong emotions, 35 years on from their middleweight classic, writes Sky Sports Boxing's Adam Smith.

April 15, 1985, is etched in the boxing annals forever. It is a date many boxing fans will never forget. I certainly won't - I was 13 and it was the fight that drew me to this incredible sport; that gripped me forever.

Hagler-Hearns. Mesmerising. Magical. Mayhem.

I have been so very privileged to have called some of the biggest fights of the last couple of decades. Few nights will top 'Lift-Off for AJ' and the thrilling dethroning of Wladimir Klitschko at Wembley Stadium three years ago - or that most ferocious domestic duel between my friends and colleagues Jamie Moore and Matt Macklin in 2006.

The first encounter pitting Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo together in 2005 was the greatest battle I have ever commentated on - brutal, pulsating, and THE most dramatic 10th-round ending.

Yet how I wish I could have 'called' Hagler vs Hearns for real, and not just at the television!

I grew up watching the super-fights between that wonderful group of Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. Hearns was my favourite. 'The Hitman' just epitomised everything gallant and gripping about the sport.

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Thomas Hearns
Image: The ring skills of Hearns were forged in the renowned Kronk gym

The tall, slender talented former welterweight was guided of course by the legendary Emanuel Steward and his infamous Kronk gym in Detroit.

I loved Hearns - his freakish build, his jab, his movement, the Kronk gold, his incredible power - but most of all, his natural fight in the deepest of battles.

Hearns, the world light-middleweight champion, moved up in weight to tackle feared undisputed middleweight king, 'Marvelous' Marvin Hagler.

Yet my man Tommy was pretty frightening too. Just 10 months earlier at the same Caesar's Palace venue in Las Vegas, he had iced Roberto Duran. Nobody did that to The Hands of Stone. Nobody.

The first round was absolutely unbelievable. Unreal. Hagler surprisingly took the fight straight to Hearns, and the two traded ferocious punches in three of the most astonishing minutes in boxing history. Tactics - and defence - went out of the window. Both hurt the other - Hagler was badly cut, while Hearns had already broken his right hand.

Round two was more of the same but Hearns' legs kept betraying him, and Hagler seemed to be getting the advantage - even switching to orthodox from his southpaw stance and driving Hearns back.

Hagler's cut worsened in Round three which led to his memorable line when referee Richard Steele and the ringside doctor inspected it and asked Marvin if he could see. "I'm not missing him, am I?" he replied.

This made Hagler all the more intent on the KO. He tore into Hearns, backing him up and catching him with rights to the head and chin. Hearns fell to the canvas, bravely just about staggering to his feet, but Steele stopped 'The War' at 1:53 of the third. Less than eight minutes of action. Yet it was epic. The greatest three-round fight in any weight class of any generation.

Marvin Hagler
Image: Hagler had earned a reputation as a destructive puncher

I was just a teenager and the tears flowed when my US boxing idol (Barry McGuigan was my other) was knocked out. To this day, I can recall how devastated I was. Yet the pulsating drama made me want to come back for more. And more. 35 years later, I still love this sport like no other and I respect and look up to these fighters - male and female - so, so much. Baring their souls.

During the build-up to the big Floyd Mayweather vs Shane Mosley fight in Las Vegas in May 2010, I had the honour of interviewing two of those four greats - Hearns and Leonard. As we stood chatting before the camera rolled, I told Tommy about my adolescent adoration of him. He was hugely touched. Sugar Ray not so.

"What about me?" Leonard joked. "Wasn't I good enough?"

"He liked the Hitman, Ray!" Hearns said. "You have to understand that."

"You're just about to interview me," Leonard continued, "and you've just told me that Tommy Hearns is your hero? My God!"

"At least I'm honest!" I said.

Banter with two legends. It doesn't just happen every day. It continued even when the red light of the camera came on. Ray kept jibing in with reminders of who my hero was.

Inevitably, there came the moment when Tommy talked about that devastating loss to 'Marvelous' Marvin.

"I was a young teenager watching in the early hours back in London," I told the pair of them. "I cried my eyes out when you were beaten, Tommy."

"Well, guess what?" the Hitman said. "I cried my eyes out too."

Ray interjected. "You know something? I cried my eyes out too!" he admitted. 'We all cried, all three of us!'

There was laughter all round. We even hugged it out. Irreplaceable memories.

Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard
Image: Hearns also shared the ring twice with Sugar Ray Leonard
Marvin Hagler
Image: Hagler only had two more fights after his win over Hearns

Let's not forget the winner though. When I met Marvin for the first time, I also told him that Tommy was my hero. He said he will always be one of his too.

The most affable and wonderful man you could come across. So far from the broody, menacing lone shark who used to isolate himself on Cape Cod. Those winter winds make the Cape's tip of Provincetown one of the coldest places anywhere. Hagler used to pound the beaches there in ice or snow. He could often be heard screaming in pain. Savage conditions, seagulls and solitude.

In these hard times of isolation, that was his self-imposed prison.

"Sometimes as early as 3am, seven days a week, I would run and sprint on Herring Cove beach and its surrounds," Hagler told me. "I could do 15 miles among the tough dunes, and I wore heavy combat boots. Running shoes? They were sissy shoes! I would run part of this backwards too, as I always tried to replicate movements in the ring."

Hagler holed himself up in remote, bare motels that were closed to the public. His team was sparse, just the Petronelli brothers - Guerino and Pat - and selected sparring partners, who according to sources still around today were 'brought in, beaten up and replaced regularly.' They were also never allowed to talk to Hagler on a social basis.

Between sessions, Hagler would stare intently at the ocean. It was the only way Hagler knew: fighting for himself - a trait stemming from yet another rocky boxing childhood. His family tenement was completely destroyed in the Newark riots during the summer of 1967. Twenty-six people were left dead after the disorder and devastation which caused around $10m in damages. Another tantalising tale developed from deep-rooted domestic struggles.

Yet this 13-year-old boy hated what Hagler did that night. Poor Tommy. Of course, there is so much respect 35 years on.

Marvin Hagler was indeed Marvelous, and that fight will always be known as Hagler-Hearns.

April 15, 1985, was also to give me my career path. Thank you both.

There are though still tears in my eyes when once a year, I watch back what happened in those crazy eight minutes - to Kronk's Golden Tommy Hearns...

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