The Four Kings: Thomas Hearns vs. Roberto Duran
Editor’s Note: This feature appears in The Four Kings Special Edition of The Ring Magazine (see below for purchase information)
Roberto Duran’s intimidating persona had been severely eroded, but momentum was now in his favor after a forgivable loss to middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. A superfight triumph back at 154 would cement the return of “Hands of Stone.” With that in mind, Duran put the crosshairs on Thomas Hearns.
Hearns was eight years younger than Duran and a geometric nightmare; the height advantage of his 6-foot-1 frame combined with the extraordinary distance enforced by his reedy jabs meant that the hypotenuse to his face was an almost impossible distance to cover for most opponents. Still, the compact boxer-brawler from Panama was expected to sneer at these “advantages” and barrel his way past Hearns’ comfort zone.
Hearns was the favorite to retain the Ring junior middleweight championship and WBC belt he’d won with a majority decision over Wilfred Benitez in December 1982, but he had his own crucial test to pass to prove he still had the heart of “The Hitman” who had torn mercilessly through the welterweight division before his stunning loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981. In fact, Hearns deliberately reverted to the nickname after placating the image-conscious mayor of Detroit with a switch to “Motor City Cobra.”
Two days before the Friday of the fight, the pair ran into each other at an elevator in Caesars Palace and a telling exchange followed: An amped-up Duran vowed, “I’ll kill you,” and the drowsy-eyed Hearns smiled and mockingly replied, “No mas.” It was the 25-year-old’s menacingly mellow confidence vs. a scarred veteran trying to revive the character who had inspired so much fear in the past and finding that it just wasn’t working anymore. Hearns’ reply was the ’80s boxing equivalent of “OK Boomer.”
It may be that Duran was rattled by the situation – not by fear, a concept that he had surely heard about but probably didn’t fully understand, but by the scent of inevitability that seemed to follow him to the outdoor ring as a crowd of 14,824 (and 2 million more via closed-circuit and pay-per-view) watched in the 88-degree warmth of the sinking Nevada sun. Usually not one to sit, Duran darted from corner to corner on anxious feet for a few moments, then settled on his stool and waited to confront his fate.
After a brisk “Star-Spangled Banner” from singer Lola Falana and introductions for Duran (77-5, 58 KOs) and Hearns (38-1, 32 KOs), the opening bell rang.
Duran didn’t rush in and instead probed cautiously from what seemed like a safe distance. He was able to time Hearns a couple times and touch his chest. But Hearns could not only reach farther than most fighters, he could also get there faster – even with the handful of punches he threw, each one seemed quicker than the one before, and his jab was soon snapping at a speed that only registered as an afterimage on the TV cameras of the day. Duran hadn’t gotten seriously tagged yet, but he also wasn’t landing anything of consequence. He had to get inside.
The first trigger point came halfway through the round when Duran jabbed and then extended himself with a follow-up right, leaving a wide-open chin for Hearns to target with a sweeping counter left hook. Duran took it in stride, but it was enough to spark Hearns’ killer instinct, and The Hitman began following his jabs with mile-long rights that pushed Duran toward the ropes. Once there, the attacker swapped his jab for a left hook aimed at Duran’s questionable liver, signaling the start of a body attack that would feature heavily in the next few minutes.
Still working his jab, Hearns unleashed a textbook three-punch combo that ended with another left-hook stab under Duran’s elbow. The tender nerve-endings in Duran’s gut must’ve been speaking loudly to him at that point, because he became visibly fixated on swatting away anything aimed at his body. Hearns saw it, jabbed his opponent’s stomach and almost simultaneously went upstairs with a right hand that landed flush. Duran dropped to the canvas with 30 seconds left in the round.
Duran quickly rose and smiled as he took the count, but the next 20 seconds were all about survival as Hearns clubbed him relentlessly with unanswered punches. Referee Carlos Padilla nearly stepped in to call a knockdown as Duran’s body folded and squeezed backward through the ropes, but the unyielding Panamanian pushed himself upright and back into the fight, even attempting to swat Hearns with a left hook that was almost a jumpshot. Hearns took the opportunity to chop both sides of Duran’s body, though – left hook, right hook – and Duran went down again.
Time ran out before more punches could be thrown, but Duran was in bad shape. He had to be chased down by one of his cornermen after he stumbled to a neutral corner and searched for his stool, probably confusing the security guard who was standing there. Watching over his shoulder as the confusion unfolded, Hearns went to his corner with every reason to expect an imminent stoppage.
Body bruised but machismo fully intact and perhaps more awake than ever, Duran came out harder in the second round and landed his best punches, including solid rights to Hearns’ chin and body. It only served to stoke Hearns’ aggression, though, and another barrage erupted. A clinch provided a brief respite, but Padilla quickly separated the fighters and let downpour continue. It was near the end. Overwhelmed and again getting hammered with his back on the ropes, Duran somehow found one drop of gas in the tank and spent it on a feeble counterattack. With that gone, all that remained was the coup de grace.
Duran staggered back to the ropes and Hearns returned to the low-aimed jab for his setup, though the delirious Panamanian’s hands weren’t really responding realistically at that point and only a couple light taps to the body were needed to clear the way. The follow-up was a right hand that started below The Hitman’s waistband and slammed unhindered into the left side of Duran’s face. The knockout was instantaneous, but not the kind of short-circuiting, puppet string-cutting effect sometimes seen in one-punch KOs. Here it was more like dozing off from profound exhaustion. Duran slumped gently forward and took an unconscious step before falling flat on his face. The time was 1:07 of Round 2.
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