You figure the Hagler-Hearns fight is a good entertainment investment, so you plunk down $25 to watch it on closed-circuit TV at Capital Centre.

You pay $3 to park your car (unless you happen to be among the six or eight people who live close enough to walk to the arena). Before you sit down, you get your $3.50 beer, $2.10 kosher hot dog, $1.90 popcorn and $1.15 hot pretzel.

The main event begins at 11:20 p.m. It's all over at 11:30 p.m. Ten minutes of fun for under $40. The smart folks had left their engines running.

Maybe for some, the experience was a ripoff. But in all honesty, the intensity of the brief duel, featuring the most incredible championship first round in recent memory, made the price tag seem negligible.

My own fight entourage -- I never travel to championship bouts without a driver, two bodyguards and a tax accountant -- arrived at 8:45 p.m. This was my first appearance at Capital Centre since I boycotted the place when Abe Pollin played his Now You See the Caps, Now You Don't game in 1983.

The prefight telecast, starting at 9 o'clock, seemed interminable because of an unexciting undercard in which each fight went the distance. The real action was in the arena itself.

The Capital Centre crowd was engaged in endless Hagler-Hearns debates; not one word of the federal budget deficit was spoken all night.

Curt Gowdy, the host for Top Rank, Inc.'s production (HBO -- which outbid the networks for the replay rights -- will show the fight Monday at 10 p.m.), interviewed Donald Curry, Jake La Motta and Angelo Dundee. Dundee proved the most prophetic, picking Hagler because he's a natural middleweight. Dundee said Hearns set up with his feet too wide apart, had bad balance and "could run into some real good right hooks" from Hagler.

ABC's Al Michaels and ESPN's Al Bernstein shared the ringside chores, chatting calmly and amiably during the preliminaries, keeping the prefight hype to a minimum and presenting nice capsules of each boxer's career right before the main event.

Then, at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, the largest American flag in the world was unrolled, Doc Severinsen played the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the long-awaited fight began.

And all hell broke loose.

Hagler, as if shot out of a cannon, provoked a furious brawl. The Capital Centre crowd of 18,905 -- short of the arena's closed-circuit record of 19,033 in June 1980 for Leonard-Duran -- was in a frenzied state. And Michaels and Bernstein were battling for the microphone and bumping into each other, frantically trying to describe a fast-break fight.

While Michaels detailed every punch, Bernstein analyzed every punch -- at the same time. They often talked simultaneously. Had the play by play been done in Portuguese, it would have been no less comprehensible.

In defense of the two Als, imagine being the town crier of a sleepy hamlet, and suddenly, without notice, the Russian Army, Halley's comet and the Lennon Sisters appear at once on Main Street. In your haste to get the word out, you, too, might sound hysterical.

When Bernstein could be understood, he was making good points. He spoke of how Hagler was working Hearns' body when they got tied up, how the referee was hurting Hagler by breaking the fighters out of clinches prematurely and how Hagler was switching from a left-handed to right-handed stance to confuse Hearns and to better defense the challenger's right hooks.

With the fighters' corners wired for sound, we got to hear manager Emanuel Steward repeatedly tell Hearns, "Just box him, just box him," before the fateful third round.

And when it was over, there were three inescapable conclusions:

* Top Rank's fine production and Telscreen's superb picture made it feel as if you were there.

* Closed-circuit boxing, teetering on the edge of extinction in recent years, can survive only if highly attractive matchups keep developing. Hagler-Hearns went to more than 700 U.S. and Canadian sites. At D.C.'s Convention Center, which only started selling tickets four days prior, 7,651 attended. The problem is that there are hardly any matchups out there worth seeing. And recall that Sugar Ray Leonard's May 1984 fight against Kevin Howard drew 2,043 to Capital Centre's closed-circuit telecast.

* The only way to beat Hagler these days is to tie one hand behind his back, make him stand in a bucket full of water and allow him to throw punches only in even-numbered rounds.