The world knew what it had almost as soon as it was over. Top Rank’s retrospective documentary “The Fabulous Four” was a staple on VHS nearly thirty years ago. Over the past thirty years, the library of films and books on the welterweight and middleweight era of the 1980s has grown steadily. The gold standard for the library has largely been the late George Kimball’s “Four Kings”.
This tome now has a competitor.
Posted in September, longtime boxing writer Don Stradley takes his take on the era with a captivating look at the most famous eight-minute drop in boxing history. “The War” is the story of the 1985 middleweight championship classic between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, the winding road it took to get there, and a shared biography of the two men.
It starts from the stands.
Stradley makes a fun choice to open the book. Rather than opening with an anecdote of what it might have been ringside on April 15, 1985, Stradley describes the scene during Boston Garden’s closed-circuit viewing of the contest. It is a book centered on a single fight and the experience of Hagler fans in his native Massachusetts. The experience of seeing Hagler-Hearns, his electric ability to attract anyone who sees him for the first time, is part of what makes the fight so special.
Later in the book, Stradley uses examples from professional and classroom sports environments that still use him as an educational and motivational tool. Many boxing books attempt to capture what certain special fights looked like; their construction, their coverage and their consequences. This is a unique read in its subtle line on visceral immersion that a great fight can endure long after its first airing. This line through juxtaposes well with several accounts of Caesar by those who were there and state that despite all the energy and violence on a TV screen, it was so much more to be there live.
Any look back at Hagler-Hearns needs to bring context to their era and there are plenty of staging for generational co-stars Leonard and Roberto Duran to make their presence felt. The time is the essential framework which surrounds the combat. By focusing on a single event, there is a depth of detail that enriches the story.
Bob Arum’s effort to build the fight is a big part of the story. Hagler-Hearns almost happened in 1982 and his implosion is often reduced to an injury to Hearns’ finger that may not have been the cause of his scuttling. Stradley is able to look more at what broke the fight. From a distance, the Leonard era was built around four big stars who broke the bank, but real time may be another thing.
Hagler-Hearns was a big fight in 1982, but it wasn’t going to be a super-fight that he became and if it had happened he might have ended up losing money. Despite a big wallet promise, “SelecTV, the Los Angeles-based pay-per-view company pledged to help promote the fight, found Hagler-Hearns to be a tough sell … early estimates of this that the fight could draw were well below Arum’s prediction. It wasn’t just the TV cast that were skeptical at the time, especially in a year when Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney has vowed to eclipse all other happenings. As Stradley said, “Las Vegas was also not impressed with the opportunity to host a Hagler-Hearns fight. Claiming that Arum was seeking $ 2 million for the rights to the live site, Caesars Palace … said the contest was only worth $ 750,000.
Nuggets like these are sprinkled throughout the book and are important because part of the story is how big Hagler-Hearns got in 1985, a boon on the bank that came to a foothold. as one of the last closed-loop mega-events before pay-per-view has established itself as the new (and more convenient) standard.
Hagler and Hearns’ life stories, and their relationships with their coaches, are built with chapters on each (Chapters 2 and 3) before a sort of prelude to the showdown. Then it’s the colorful tale of a multi-city press tour with psychological games between cities. For example, “Hearns quickly found a fun way to irritate Hagler. He argued, with some merit, that he was the biggest star and deserved the best cast. Hagler didn’t want it. Later there were races between competing limousines.
There are similar details for training camps and fight week festivities and, of course, a deep dive into the fight itself.
The book is not perfect. He is wrong about some minor details. One example comes in the aftermath of Hagler-Hearns and the story of how a rematch that never was turned into Hagler-Leonard instead. After Leonard’s victory over Hagler, he is described as “rejecting the middleweight belts that Hagler had cherished for so many years”, forgetting that the fight was, in terms of sanctioning the body belts, only for the WBC title. . The WBA stripped Hagler before the fight and the IBF would not sanction him. The effect was the same.
This is not a book on Leonard-Hagler and leaves a little quibble. A bigger one, and Kimball did too, lies in the extended stride for both men. Several Hearns fights after Hagler, including title wins over Juan Roldan and Dennis Andries, and losses against Iran Barkley, are mentioned. Missing Hearns’ late career victory over Virgil Hill, an end-of-career gem that’s one of the most impressive of his career.
What’s not missing is the human element for both contestants, plunging into dark corners for Hagler, including allegations of drug addiction and domestic violence and Hearns’ estrangement and reconciliation with the late Emanuel Steward. . Stradley doesn’t write a hagiography and the book is better for that.
For those who were there when it was live, and those who have learned the legend in the nearly four decades since their clash, “The War” will be an engaging read. “The War” can be found on Amazon or at www.hamilcarpubs.com.
Cliff Rold is Editor-in-Chief of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America.