By: Sean Crose
Both Tommy Hearns and Roberto Duran were already legendary figures back in 1984. Duran, the hardened Panamanian tough guy, had finally earned back the respect he had lost after quitting on Ray Leonard in the middle of their 1980 New Orleans rematch by besting Davey Moore and giving middleweight powerhouse Marvin Hagler all he could handle. Hearns, on the other hand was on a six fight win streak after being bested by Leonard in an all-time fight classic several years earlier. As history would go on to prove, both men were serious threats and would remain so for what seemed like ages.
Before they would move on to further glory, however, they would have to face each other. On the line would be Hearn’s WBC super welterweight strap. Duran’s WBA version of the title might have been at stake as well, but Duran gave that belt up rather than fight his mandatory opponent, Mike McCallum. The bout itself was to be held in Las Vegas, outdoors at Caesar’s Palace, to be exact, after the planned Bahamas location proved to be incompatible.
Duran was thirty two years old at the time of the bout, but he had proven age to be just a number when he gave Hagler a run at middleweight just a few months earlier. To consider the Panamanian finished at this point in his career would be a terrible mistake, something Hearn’s trainer, Emanuel Steward, knew all too well. “I can see it going so many ways,” Sports Illustrated quoted Steward as saying beforehand, “and one of them is Tommy hitting Duran with a real shot and Duran just standing there grinning. It could really frustrate Tommy.”
Hearns, though, was not to be frustrated by Duran, at least not in the ring. This was the chance for the guy known as “The Hit Man” to start knocking people out again. Hearns might have won a new title and beaten the likes of Wilfred Benitez since the Leonard loss, but he hadn’t been the frightening puncher he was before the Leonard classic. “His whole value judgment is based on how hard he can hit,” Hearn’s doctor was to be quoted as saying. “This man actually lives and exists mentally from the power of his right hand. It’s his self-image.”
With so much on the line for both men, it was clear that this fight was a big deal. Indeed, it would be no network television event. It would be aired live via closed circuit and pay per view. What’s more, each man would make over a million dollars. With big events, after all, come big bucks. To the undoubted surprise of many, however, the fight ended up being a big blowout. That doesn’t mean it was a dud, however. Indeed, Hearns-Duran still stands as a thrilling, if completely one sided, two round action fest.
It was said that Duran intensely wanted the Hearns fight. Yet within the first round that evening, the 2-1 underdog was dropped before the live crowd of close to 15,000 people. What’s more, Duran was dropped again before the round was over. To make matters worse, Hearns had dazed his man so badly that Duran went to the wrong corner after the bell sounded ending the first chapter. “He surprised me,” Duran reportedly told his corner. Before rising for the second round, however, Duran explicitly instructed his team not to stop the fight. It was as if the man knew what was coming.
The days of quitting were indeed over for Roberto Duran, but a terrible loss was now imminent. Finding his man with his back to the ropes in the midst of a savage bit of handiwork, Hearns fired a right hand for the ages. It hit Duran so cleanly, with such power, that the iconic fighter literally fell flat on his face before a stunned crowd. There was no need for a count. Indeed a count would only have prolonged what was a finished fight. Doing the right thing, referee Carlos Pedilla stopped the bout. The ferocious Hearns was back by virtue of a single frightening shot that echoed throughout the early Vegas night and beyond.
The story, of course, wasn’t over for either man. Less than a year later, Hearns himself would be the victim of a timeless knockout, courtesy of the gutsy Hagler. He would then move on to redeem himself against Leonard (thanks to a controversial draw) before, incredibly, earning himself a light heavyweight championship. And Duran? Well, the not so old man would go on to stun the world again by besting the terrific Iran Barkely for the middleweight title later in the decade. The lesson? Great fighters can never be counted out – even after they’ve been counted out.