It's a boom time for boxing, with one of the sport's finest years in recent memory barely two-thirds finished and a handful of blockbusters still to come before the calendar flips again.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his pound-for-pound crown against Mexican darling Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, Juan Manuel Marquez taking aim at a fifth title against welterweight belt holder Timothy Bradley Jr. on Oct. 12 and Manny Pacquiao preparing to bring world-class boxing to China against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23, there has never been a better time to celebrate the pomp of the must-see prizefight than right now.
And so, over the next several days, we'll be counting down boxing's top superfights of the ESPN era (since Sept. 7, 1979, for those of you scoring at home), as picked by our panel of boxing experts. Of course, we know there can be, ahem, disagreement on such a subjective topic, so we'd like to know what you think about our choices, get your picks and hear any other comments you might have related to our project. Just tweet using the hashtag #ESPNsuperfights, and we might feature your comment below.
There are action-packed fights, and then there is this: The unforgettable spectacle waged by Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, who slugged it out with such mind-blowing reckless abandon that it came to be revered as the quintessential action fight, the one that all others are measured against.
The fight didn't last long -- less than three full rounds (8 minutes, 1 second, to be exact) -- but it was perhaps the most electrifying three rounds in boxing history. It was three rounds of pure violence on boxing's grandest stage between two of the best in the business who, along with Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, defined the sport in the 1980s.
Hagler and Hearns both would have preferred a fight with Leonard. Hagler was hungry for the spotlight and the enormous purse it would bring, and Hearns wanted revenge for his only loss, a 14th-round knockout to Leonard in their legendary 1981 undisputed welterweight championship fight. But with Leonard in one of his retirements and out of the picture, Hagler and Hearns turned to each other.
The 30-year-old Hagler, 60-2-2 with 50 knockouts (and having avenged both losses), was the undisputed middleweight champion. The 26-year-old Hearns, who was 40-1 with 34 KOs, had put the loss to Leonard behind him and won the junior middleweight title, but he was moving up in weight to challenge for Hagler's 160-pound crown.
Many forget that Hagler and Hearns had originally been scheduled to fight in May 1982, but Hearns suffered a right hand injury, forcing it to be postponed and later canceled, angering Hagler.
They both continued fighting other opponents, but when the time was right, Hagler-Hearns was eventually made again, this time for April 15, 1985, at the outdoor arena at famed Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. A massive promotion ensued, including a nearly two-week media tour to more than 20 cities across the country.
Day after day, Hagler and Hearns went face-to-face, insulted each other and answered the same questions over and over. They quickly grew tired of each other and got so deeply under each other's skin that they nearly came to blows during the media tour. More than once.
By the time they got to the ring, they seemed to want to kill each other.
When the bell rang after a huge buildup, there was no feeling-out period to speak of. They stormed at each other, and it was on. Punch after punch, neither man let up in an incredible first round hailed by many as the greatest in boxing history.
It was absolutely wild.
Hagler hurt Hearns right off the bat with a right hand, and they spent the rest of the round engaged in a series of fierce toe-to-toe exchanges.
Hearns busted open a cut on Hagler's forehead and, as we would later learn, also broke his right hand -- the power weapon that had disposed of so many previous opponents.
"That was an entire fight accomplished in three minutes," broadcaster Al Michaels exclaimed when the round ended.
The pace did slow in the second round, but it's all relative. There was no way that it could equal the blistering pace the fighters had set in the first three minutes. Still, it was action-packed despite Hearns being a bit rubber-legged.
They spent the final half-minute of the second round in an extended exchange as blood poured from the cut on Hagler's forehead. His corner did an admirable job closing it up between rounds, but it opened again in the third. With Hagler's face covered in blood, referee Richard Steele called timeout to have it examined by the ringside doctor.
Obviously concerned that the fight might be stopped because of the cut, Hagler went after the knockout, pushing even harder than he had in the first two rounds. He cracked Hearns with a right hand that rocked him and kept the pressure on, eventually landing another clean right to the side of Hearns' head to sent him staggering sideways. Hagler followed up with two more right hands that left Hearns limp and falling to the mat like a discarded towel. Somehow, a semi-conscious Hearns got to his feet by the count of nine, but he was gone. Steele wrapped an arm around Hearns and waved the other high overhead, ending one of the most incredible fights in boxing history.
Hagler, his face a bloody mask, celebrated while Hearns was carried back to his corner by one of his handlers. They had fought three rounds that will live forever.
— Oscar T Ramirez (@OscarTRamirez) August 30, 2013
Hagler-Hearns hands down, I was only 2 but my grandpa had 200 VHS tapes with nothing but boxing and would replay it for me #ESPNsuperfights
— Eddie Montanchez (@Ezstezz) August 30, 2013
#ESPNsuperfights I remember watching Hagler vs Hearns with my pops on closed circuit TV. The fight game just ain't the same anymore.
— pharaohsarmy fitness (@pharaohsarmyRKC) August 30, 2013
— Darryn M. Briggs (@darryn_briggs) August 30, 2013