“WHEN the bell rings, a monster seems to come out of this man,” Pat Petronelli said about the fighter he co-managed, Marvin Hagler. “To take the title away from him, someone will have to kill him.”

It was 1985 and the middleweight king was preparing for his next challenger.

But Thomas Hearns didn’t care what Petronelli, or anyone, had to say about Hagler. Not a damn. He had been waiting for the man they called “Marvelous” for a long time.

“I don’t like Marvin,” he snarled. “Never have and never will. I just want to tell you something, get there early and sit tight. Don’t blink. You might miss the fight.”

Hearns knew he could win. He had been watching Hagler carefully. He watched in 1983 as Roberto Duran extended Marvin over 15 tight rounds. Six months later he watched Duran fall at his own feet in just two. Anything Hagler could do, Hearns could do better.

Marvin didn’t care for Hearns, either. The champion was certain Hearns had pulled out of a proposed 1982 meeting out of terror. Hearns blamed an injured finger for the fight not happening back then. Hagler was not a man of excuses. He was furious. Hearns’ withdrawal had cost him a handsome payday. Hearns was a fraud in Hagler’s eyes.

“I have my mind focused on one thing and that is to destroy him, to knock him out,” Hagler said. Emblazoned on his cap were three letters: W-A-R. Hagler pointed to the warning. “That’s how I feel. War. That’s what is on my mind. I have been feeding the faith and starving the doubt. There is no doubt in my mind that I can’t win this fight or I won’t knock Thomas Hearns out.”

Dislike became hatred as the fight grew close. Demand to see the grudge match far exceeded the 15,700 tickets on offer at Las Vegas’ Caesars Outdoor Arena. In faraway London, cinemas at Leicester Square and Gants Hill charged £20-a-seat to watch it live in productions staged by Frank Warren. The world was waiting for the opening bell.

When it came, it triggered an explosion that stunned everyone.

The missiles launched from their respective bases, drawn to the heat of the enemy. There was no feeling-out process; all respect had long gone. Violence clattered off their heads, each blast designed with devastation in mind. Something had to give. With less than a minute left in the first session, it did.

Blood spurted from Hagler’s forehead. He had been wounded in the mayhem. He angrily brushed away the red stream, aware of the possible consequences.

Round two. A relentless Hagler had to knock Hearns out. But the spindly slugger refused to fold. Instead he punched back. Fire met fire. And then Hearns struck claret again. A fizzing shot split the skin under Hagler’s right eye. The champion’s title was being washed away in a bloodstream.

The end came suddenly in the third. Hagler had been warned by referee Richard Steele that the fight could be stopped in his rival’s favour. He refused to lose. A right hook landed on Hearns’ skull. His long legs could not keep up with the momentum and he staggered back, almost spinning full circle. Hagler knew he had him. With promises of destruction racing through his mind, he applied the finishing touches. Three more blasts and Hearns collapsed. For several seconds he was lifeless but scrambled to his feet. But he was too punch-drunk to continue. He had lost the war.

“He’s a great champion and he proved that tonight,” Hearns said. “I have to say that, and I’ll say this, too. It was a damn good fight.”

Result: Marvin Hagler (USA) w rsf 3 Thomas Hearns (USA)
Date: April 15, 1985
Venue: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
At stake: World middleweight title, Hagler defending
Scores: Harry Gibbs 20-18 and Herb Santos 20-18 for Hagler; Dick Young 18-20 for Hearns
Ages: Hagler 30, Hearns 26
Weights: Hagler 11st 5 1/4lbs, Hearns 11st 5 3/4lbs
Records: Hagler 60-2-2, Hearns 40-1
Attendance: 15,700
Purses: (before percentages) Hagler $5.3million, Hearns $5.2million

Read More: ON THIS DAY