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Hearns vs. Duran 40 years later

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Four decades later, Thomas Hearns’ second-round sawed-off shotgun blast to the jaw of fellow boxing legend Roberto Duran is still the one-punch knockout against which all one-punch knockouts are judged. Despite its ferocity, that single right hand remains a timeless moment in boxing history, with the audio every bit as memorable as the concussive visual.

On June 15, 1984, Hearns defended his WBC super welterweight championship against Duran outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. The fight could have been a unification bout, as Duran was stripped of the WBA version of the title for failing to meet mandatory challenger Mike McCallum. Hearns was the more lucrative opponent for the legendary Panamanian, but, as great as McCallum was, he was also the more dangerous, especially in this weight class.

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In retrospect, this fight featured the greatest lightweight of all time against arguably the greatest super welterweight of all time. Duran’s 5-7 frame was puffed up and he had a 66-inch reach, whereas Hearns was 6-1 with a pterodactyl wingspan of 78 inches. For comparison purposes, “The Hitman” had the same reach as former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali. Think about that!

After slaughtering the lightweight division throughout the 1970s, Duran had intimidated WBC champion Sugar Ray Leonard before dethroning him in “The Brawl in Montreal” in June 1980. Three years later, “Hands of Stone” pushed middleweight champion of the world Marvelous Marvin Hagler all the way before losing a close unanimous decision. However, for whatever reason, Hearns spooked Duran long before a punch was thrown.

“Tommy would come in and pull Duran’s cap down over his head when Duran was in Deroit training for Kirkland Laing,” said Hearns’ trainer Emanuel Steward in an interview with the late sportswriter Ralph Wiley before the fight. “Duran would just leave the room. Back then, Duran called Tommy a jinx. If the fight were called off today, Duran wouldn’t mind. No one looks forward to facing Tommy.”

When the bell rang on that hot June evening in Sin City, all of Duran’s nightmares came true. In the opening round, Hearns landed his letter-bomb jab at will, scored two knockdowns and opened up a cut around his opponent’s left eye. At the end of three minutes of hell, Duran went to the wrong corner and bounced awkwardly in embarrassment before being ushered back to his stool.

Things only got worse in round two. Hearns continued to land his signature weapon — the straight right hand to the head — and followed up with multi-punch combinations. Everything the champion threw had gunpowder on it including a spine-breaking left hook to the body. Suddenly, Hearns froze Duran with a huge right to the head, which forced the challenger to wail away with uncoordinated return fire before falling into a clinch.

When the fighters were separated, Duran backed up a few feet, but he was a sitting duck. Dazed and bewildered, the challenger didn’t have the legs to mount an offense or the wherewithal to activate defence. Sensing his opponent’s plight, Hearns’ set-up for the coup de grace was obvious and readable but went unseen by a badly hurt fighter. Hearns dipped low and found the range with two light left jabs as his feet inched closer. The gap now closed, Hearns’ power bar for the right reached 100% and he pushed the button. WHAM!

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Had Duran been alert, he would have avoided the punch by stepping off to the side or ducking under it. Instead, it caught him flush on the point of the chin and knocked him out cold on impact. Trapped against the ropes when The Hitman’s bullet hit the target, Duran could only go forward, and all 154 pounds of him crashed into the canvas face-first. Referee Carlos Padilla didn’t count because Duran’s team rushed the ring, terrified that their hero had been hurt permanently.

Without sufficient time to recover, Duran was unwisely hauled to his feet by his seconds. The stricken ex-champ was out of it and wouldn’t have known whether he was in Caesars Palace or Buckingham Palace at that point. Thankfully, the great man came around and left the ring under his own steam after congratulating Hearns on his greatest-ever win.

The legendary Duran achieved so much in the ring that this fight and the result are viewed as something of an aberration on his Hall of Fame resume. Bottom line: The much larger Hearns was a stylistic nightmare and he would have knocked Duran out 100 times out of 100. While there’s truth to that, The Hitman deserves huge credit for his execution that night.

Duran fought a lot of big guys, and nobody came close to doing this to him.

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