Review by Budd Bailey
I hope you’ll excuse a quick personal story about the 1985 fight between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, which is at the center of Don Stradley’s book, “The War. It might have been the best birthday present I ever gave my parents.
Both of them grew up in Brockton, Massachusetts, where Hagler spent part of his life. So they followed Marvin’s career once he became famous. When the event was scheduled to be shown on closed-circuit, I bought them tickets (and one for me) for the fight at Shea’s. Their birthdays were three days apart, and about a week before the bout.
You probably remember the fight, an epic battle from the opening bell. The theater quickly turned into bedlam. My mother said after the first round, “I’ve never seen a round like that.” I replied, “I don’t think anyone has.”
Hagler-Hearns is still remembered as one of the greatest two-sided fights in history. If you don’t remember it or never saw it, go watch it on YouTube. It will take you less than 10 minutes.
When you’re done, you can move on to the book version. Stradley has put together the story of the fight between the two men, with those 10 minutes serving as the climax and centerpiece of the story.
Boxing really was in its glory in those days, with great fighters such as Hagler, Hearns, Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran competing for various titles. They seem to lift each other’s skills up, particularly when one met another. The public responded by opening up its wallet, making the purses of those bouts very substantial.
Hearns was something of a physical freak at first, fighting at a mere 147 pounds despite a 6-foot-1 frame that left him all arms, legs and fists. Hagler was a true middleweight, and was one of the all-time greats at 160 pounds. It took a variety of wrong turns and detours before they finally agreed to be in the same spot for a fight. That was followed by a long publicity tour across the country, and it’s still tough to tell how much true animosity the men had for each other, and how much they simply wanted to sell the fight. In particular, Hagler was always a difficult personality to sort out – and that went on for the rest of his life.
As fight time approaches in the book, Stradley writes the story well enough so that the reader is anticipating what might happen, and what he might learn about it. I don’t know if the phrase “spoiler alert” applies to an event that was held more than 35 years ago. But the author reveals that Hearns’ legs felt quite dead even before the bout started, perhaps because of an ill-timed message. Stradley also says Hagler broke his hand, probably early in the first round. His performance becomes even more heroic under those circumstances, although his ultimate fate had been determined at that point.
That night was the highlight of Hagler’s career. He lost a close decision to Leonard a few years later, and walked out of the business with his faculties intact but with a chip still on his shoulder. Hearns’ career did have a second act, although he is still best remembered for his fights with Hagler and Leonard.
Stradley didn’t talk to Hagler, Hearns or promoter Bob Arum for the book, which leaves this a little bit of an outside-looking-in book. Even so, this supplies enough to details to satisfy anyone looking for a recap of the fight. “The War” checks in at 250 pages or so, which may seem like a lot about 10 minutes of action – at least for some. Still, for those who remember the fight or who want to learn more about it, this is a book that should leave everyone satisfied. Too bad my parents around around to read it.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)