THOMAS HEARNS became the “Hit Man” once again as he crushed Roberto Duran in the second of their scheduled 12-rounder to retain his WBC light-middleweight title in Las Vegas.
The stunningly impressive victory by Hearns sets up a big fight with Marvin Hagler, the middleweight champion. “He knows we’re coming,” Hearns said. “I can see him now, shaking like a leaf.”
The devastating hitting of Hearns as he floored Duran twice in round one and then dropped him face-first with a big right in round two showed he has not lost his punching power.
This was his first stoppage win in two years and he’s had trouble with his right hand.
But he let his punches fly at full power under the darkening night sky in the temporary outdoor arena at Caesars Palace.
Duran, 33 the day after the fight, never really recovered after being dropped by a right to the jaw with about a minute to go in round one. He was put down again just before the bell and went to a neutral corner when the round ended.
Hearns, 25, came out to finish the fight in round two – just as he said he would in his pre-bout prediction.
Duran, who was hammered against the ropes, tried to fight back with wild, slashing punches, but then got caught by the right hand that ended the fight.
Hearns’ fist connected on Duran’s bearded chin with a crack that could be heard at ringside above the crowd’s commotion. Duran pitched forward onto his face and referee Carlos Padilla signalled the finish after one minute seven seconds of the round, without bothering to count, as Duran’s seconds clambered into the ring.
Duran, one of the modern ring legends and world champion at three weights, said afterwards that he hadn’t made up his mind whether or not to retire, although he admitted he didn’t feel too good.
He relinquished his WBA light-middle title officially shortly before entering the ring to meet Hearns. It had been widely speculated that he would vacate the title but Duran wanted to wait until the last possible moment.
Now he is an ex-champ and the feeling in the boxing trade is that he should retire now, although Hearns said Duran still had a lot of good fights left in him.
Hearns, who weighed 10st 13 1/4lbs, restored his puncher’s reputation in a dramatic fashion that few thought possible, although he was the favourite.
He said afterwards: “Duran was a very good defensive fighter on the ropes, but once I got him in the centre of the ring, I was able to drop in the sort of shots I wanted to drop.”
Duran, who came in right on the light-middle limit of 11st, landed a couple of hard rights and Hearns admitted that he “had to stop and think about what [he] was doing” after getting caught in the second.
But once Hearns started to land his quick, damaging punches, Duran was overwhelmed. It was by far the most comprehensive and conclusive defeat suffered by Duran in the Panamanian national hero’s 83-bout career.
Duran was like a man in a daze as his handlers helped him back to his corner, as if he didn’t know what had hit him.
Hearns was a coldly efficient destroyer with an intimidating physical presence. At 6ft 1in he towered five-and-a-half inches over Duran and his huge reach created problems for the challenger from the start.
Duran landed a swinging right to the body early in round one but nearly got caught by a left hook counter and seemed briefly to lose his footing as he pulled back.
Hearns was moving in and flicking out the left hand to set Duran for the big punches.
Suddenly a right to the head had Duran hurt and shaken, Hearns forced him back to the ropes and cut loose. Duran slipped punches but got caught by a right and left to the chin before he moved away.
Duran sneered but it was unconvincing. Both threw punches and Duran got in a good right to the jaw but Hearns kept pressing forwards. Then Hearns pulled Duran’s head down with his left glove and swung him around before landing a right uppercut.
Referee Padilla warned Hearns not to grab his man behind the neck and suddenly Duran was bleeding from a cut over the left eye.
Duran was now looking like a fighter who knew he was in desperate trouble. A combination from Hearns of a right lead to the head and left hook to the body had Duran looking unsettled and Hearns looked supremely confident and in command of matters.
Hearns moved in, purposeful and unhurried, feinted with a left jab to the body and quick as a flash brought over a right to the chin that put Duran down heavily.
Duran propped himself up on his left elbow, got to his knees and made it to his feet at the count of five. But he looked unsteady.
Hearns was right on him as soon as the eight count had been completed. Duran waved him to come in but the invitation was unnecessary as Hearns hammered him against the ropes with both hands.
Shaken and confused, Duran tried to hold. But Hearns caught him with chopping rights, at least one of which seemed to land on the back of the head.
Then a short left, as much an uppercut as a hook, had the veteran down again.
This time Duran was up almost immediately. The bell sounded as soon as referee Padilla had finished the eight count and Duran went to a neutral corner, looking out into the crowd, until one of the seconds rushed into the ring and quickly ushered him back to his own corner.
But Duran seemed to have made a good recovery as they came out for round two, his eye injury sealed, and he touched gloves with Hearns at the start of the round.
Hearns quickly put the pressure on again. Duran landed a right and a left hook to the chin in an exchange of punches on the ropes, but it wasn’t enough to hold Hearns off for long.
A right crashed against Duran’s chin, and another, and Hearns ripped away with both hands as Duran covered up.
Now there was no stopping Hearns. He tagged Duran flush on the chin with yet another right as he continued his bombardment on the other side of the ring with Duran again caught on the ropes.
Duran fought back, as if on instinct, but missed with his desperate blows. It was a final show of defiance. Duran was in deep trouble and most of the disappointingly small crowd of about 14,000 and millions on TV and closed circuit viewers must have sensed the end was near.
Hearns missed with a big right but Duran was backing up again and in disarray. Hearns shot out a quick double left jab to the body, more feints than serious punches, and then struck with a pulverising right hand to the chin that ended the fight.
Although officially it was stopped by the referee, Duran was clearly not going to have beaten the count.
Hearns said afterwards it was one of the greatest right hands he had ever thrown – and Roberto Duran surely would not argue with that.
THE NIGHT THE PUNCH CAME BACK
IT was the most comprehensive defeat of Roberto Duran’s whole career, the final shattering right hand leaving “Hands of Stone” flat on his face. Hearns was overjoyed: “The Hitman has been on vacation, but the right I threw today is one of the hardest I’ve ever thrown.”
Duran was never again counted out. He retired against Pat Lawlor and was stopped by William Joppy when he was an old man and way past his best. Later Duran named Hearns, Iran Barkley and Esteban DeJesus as the hardest punchers he ever met in his 119-fight career.