Hearns vs Duran: Malice At The Palace
“I don’t just need to win, I need to be devastating,” Thomas Hearns said prior to his pivotal bout with Roberto Duran in 1984.
Hearns had been treading water since his titanic struggle with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981. Hearns came up short in one of the fights of that incredible decade. A proposed fight with Marvelous Marvin Hagler failed to materialise when Hearns withdrew through a finger injury, which drew much ridicule from Hagler.
In the six bouts since the loss to Leonard, the ‘Hit Man’ moniker seemingly belonged in the past. Only two of those wins came inside the distance, a reluctance to throw the previously injured right hand, even in sparring, rendered Hearns a far less frightening opponent than he had been when he was surging his way to the world welterweight title. A seemingly fragile right hand and confidence left Hearns in a state of stagnation. It probably wasn’t a career on life-support, but it certainly needed a rebirth.
Duran had recovered from his ‘No Mas’ shame. A redemption recovering performance to rip the WBA world light-middleweight title from Davey Moore in 1983 saw Duran redeem much of what he lost in the rematch with Leonard.
A losing fight with Hagler enhanced Duran’s reputation further. Only a strong finish stopped Duran from becoming the first-ever four-weight world champion. Fighting to restore his fighting pride, Duran put a dent into the myth that Hagler was an invincible champion.
But Duran hadn’t fought since the fight with Hagler. Inactivity and his patented way of enjoying his life saw his body gain over 50 pounds. Heading towards the heavyweight division, Duran headed to training camp with reluctance, not for the first time in his career, the focus was to lose weight.
Hearns reportedly had his best ever training camp, but Duran had a camp from hell. Overweight and feeling ill for much of his training camp which restricted what he could do, Duran had a battle just to make the championship weight. The unusual flabby appearance a sign of the problems he had experienced.
Duran was being chased to defend his WBA world title, Mike McCallum the mandatory challenger was kept waiting. Duran wanted or needed a big money fight, Hearns in many ways, was in the right place at the right time.
The bout was originally scheduled for Nassau in the Bahamas, but when the finance fell through it was moved to Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The financial woes persisted and there was still real doubt the fight would happen until the day before the fight. Millions would be lost on a fight that deserved better.
Hearns, the WBC champion couldn’t unify the division, the WBA stripped Duran the moment he entered the ring. But it wasn’t a fight about titles, both fighters saw the fight as a route to Hagler. But Hearns was the fighter on a mission, he had predicted a second-round stoppage. Nobody had ever stopped the Panamanian legend before, and with Hearns hardly showing the power of old, it looked a prediction of pure fantasy. The betting line was 2-1 it would go the full 12 rounds. It looked a safe bet.
But Hearns knew he needed more than a routine points win, he needed and wanted Hagler to sit up and take notice.
Duran was never in the fight, he was cut early in the fight, and by the end of the first round, he had been knocked to the canvas on two separate occasions. Duran was lucky the second knockdown came at the end of the first round. The bell almost certainly saved him. In eighty-two previous fights, only Esteban De Jesus had put him on the floor.
Duran fought on out of instinct and memory, but Hearns would not be denied. One of the most devastating right hands ever thrown in a boxing ring landed flush on Duran’s jaw. Falling face-first to the canvas, Duran was unconscious before he hit the floor, no count was needed.
The loser headed home to Panama and was reportedly arrested and thrown in a local jail. The reasons for his arrest were unknown and unproven, one story of the officer in charge losing money on the fight was suggested, whatever the truth, Duran was released the following morning. Despite announcing his retirement after the defeat to Hearns, this was far from the end of the Roberto Duran story, Iran Barkley would testify to that.
As for Hearns, he had done what he set out to do, Hagler would finally be in his future. Before the fight, Hearns had said: “The Hit Man has been away for a while, he’s been on vacation.” With the extended holiday over, the previously overly protected right hand had earned its owner the fight he wanted.