Book Review: The War
By Chris Akers
“What we just saw was the Hager-Hearns of the featherweight division,” said Larry Merchant at the end of a back-and-forth battle between Naseem Hamed and Kevin Kelley at Madison Square Garden in December 1997.
The use of a world middleweight title fight that happened in 1985 to describe a bout that took place twelve years later was a succinct way to explain four rounds that had more cation than a lot of twelve round fights.
Hagler-Hearns has become a metaphor to describe fights that are short, ferocious, and which oscillate in ascendancy within rounds. Even if a boxing fan is too young to have watched the fight live or has never seen IT before, describe a fight as like Hagler-Hearns and a high percentage of boxing fans will know what you mean.
How Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns came to meet in that ring at Caesars Palace on that April night is the subject of the book written by Don Stradley, simply titled The War (published by Hamilcar).
The book focuses on the backgrounds of these two fighters; their upbringing, their boxing careers, and their fight for recognition in the shadow of Sugar Ray Leonard’s stardom.
There are similarities between the two men.
Both come from single-parent families. Both came from cities that were struggling to survive and had endured several riots at that time.
Neither of them was a big talker, and this affected the promotion of that fight, where a lot of the soundbites were repeated at press conferences as they went city to city to take place. The length of the promotional ‘Magical Mystery Tour’ also didn’t help in that regard, making both fighters irritable in its latter stages and even developing into an argument at one point as to who gets to fly in which private plane!
With Leonard’s (premature) retirement, Hager vs Hearns was the most logical fight to make. It almost was made a few years before, only for Hearns to suffer an injury to his finger.
The consensus as to how the fight would play out is that Hearns would box and move at range, though some people thought that the fight would be shorter, including the two protagonists. Hagler himself in the months leading up to the fight had told journalists how it would play out. No one took any notice.
For a fight which is part of the tapestry of boxing’s modern-day classics, and like Ali vs Foreman and Ali-Frazier has been discussed and dissected ad nauseum, Stradley manages to give the events leading up to and including the fight a freshness, by not only describing new stories that are related to the bout but also explaining how the outcome of that fight and the action that took place within it affected their careers thereafter.
This is another boxing book from Hamilcar and though not blending boxing with crime like the other books in their catalogue, it is still just as compelling and arguably with a lot more detail than a lot of the books they have released, and it comes highly recommended.