In the second round, Marvin Hagler smelled blood -- his own. It was all over his face and -- Ohmygod -- was his precious title in mid-passage to the braggart, to Tommy Hearns?
Nope. This was to be only a prelude to Hearns' own demolition by Hagler in 2:01 of the third round. Still wearing the red badge of distress, a newly energized and desperate Hagler took it to Hearns again, this me-or-you war, before any fool of a timid referee or a panicky commission doctor could stop it in Hearns' favor.
And when, aftertimes, they speak of boxing's most ferocious wars, they'll measure them all against the one they fought Monday night. Max Schmeling's one-round massacre by Joe Louis? A picnic compared to Hagler-Hearns. Leonard vs. Hearns? A stroll in the park. Somebody said Dempsey vs. Firpo in 1923. A year too dim to be remembered. So disagreeable and unpleasant were these two parties from the opening bell, this one will stand for the ages.
Hagler was worried after 58 seconds of round three when the referee asked the ring doctor to look at his bleeding wounds -- over and under the right eye and from the bridge of his nose.
Not, for Hagler, the Las Vegas curse again. Here, in 1979 they cheated him out of the middleweight title he won from Vito Antuofermo, those scurvy judges with their mean little pencils who called it a draw. And last year, other Vegas judges forced him to half-murder Roberto Duran in the last two rounds before they'd give him an edge in the scoring. And now, the Las Vegas devilment at work again. Maybe.
It was touching. Two rights, disguised by Hagler as jabs from his off-and-on southpaw stance, turned magically into vicious right hooks that caught a retreating Hearns and signaled the end.
Round one may always stand as the ultimate in melees, in both bravado and bravura. The notes here read: "They both wanted it over quick." With nobody blinking, they had only scorn for each other's big shots. Hagler brushed off Hearns' first explosive right to the chin as if Hearns had pitched a dud. Hagler couldn't slow Hearns either with his vaunted head or body shots.
The round one action was so violent that even the referee was timorous about stepping between them else he might get in the way of somebody's punch. His was a gingerly performance. So fierce and close was round one that it would be proper to score it 10-10, giving each the maximum for an even round.
But in round two it was Hagler who began to be the boss, bulling Hearns into the corners and against the ropes and laying it on him. It had been Hearns' habit in those situations against lighter men to clinch and wait for the referee to break them, but Hagler wasn't permitting many clinches and the referee wasn't eager, and Hearns had no option but to keep fighting. Somewhere in the exchanges, Hearns did open cuts above and below Hagler's right eye. Hearns wasn't flinching.
In haste, Hagler swabbed the blood away lest an inquisitive referee take too long a look at the damage. Also surprisingly, Hearns' corner made no protest of the ton of Vaseline being applied to Hagler's face, but a fight pattern new to Hearns was being established. He was frequently in retreat from the unremitting assault of Hagler, and he was retreating clumsily, stumbling over his own feet before regaining his balance in time to meet the next rush.
It had been Hearns' plan to make Hagler lunge in his left-handed posture and then nail him with a right over Hagler's left. It worked in the first moments, rarely thereafter. But it was plain as both slugged away that the strategy of both had gone out the window early in the fight.
Hearns failed in his usual plan to be in control from the beginning, the strategy that served him well against Leonard in the early rounds. Hagler wasn't permitting anything of the sort. Never had Hearns fought a man so intense, on the march at all times. Unlike Hearns, who at some points sought to relax a bit, the relentless Hagler never nodded.
Hearns tried to target Hagler's bleeding area with his barbed jabs, only to become too busy protecting himself in close.
Hagler's switch of stances from left to right and back again, sometimes only subtly, served him well, and it was the last switch in round three that set Hearns up for the knockout with that decoy right jab that became a fierce hook.
Hearns sought to break away after being nailed, but all he could manage was a dazed stroll toward a neutral corner in sideways fashion. Whereupon Hagler leaped in for the kill. Fighting now as a right-hander, he avoided Hearns' feeble attempt to wrestle, and finished him off. At the count of nine the referee signaled Hearns' handlers to come into the ring and claim their man, now reduced to a limp, 159 3/4-pound sack.
Hearns had spoken before the fight of gaining his place in history. He did, but as Hagler's 51st knockout victim.