LAS VEGAS — Thomas Hearns awaits, perhaps in vain, for the return of Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. These two men, the only two to have beaten him, offer his only hope of validation as a truly great fighter. And yet it looks like they will spend their retirements bickering over their own disputed fight, neglecting Hearns as ever.
In the meantime, Hearns can find some solace in his record fourth title, gained by a sensational dismantling of Argentine strongman Juan Roldan Thursday night. With Leonard and Hagler at ringside, Hearns destroyed Roldan in four rounds, flooring him four times before Roldan finally decided to stay on the ring floor for good.
This is impressive if you know that Roldan had been knocked down just two times in about 175 fights, including the amateurs. Previously as upright a fighter as ever entered the ring, Roldan suddenly was spending as much time on canvas as Mona Lisa.
This earned Hearns the World Boxing Council middleweight title, one of the three vacated by Leonard after he upset Hagler in April. Though four other boxers have attempted the feat of winning a fourth championship belt, none had ever gone over the hump.
"I have something Sugar Ray Leonard doesn't have," Hearns said, "I have something Marvelous Marvin Hagler doesn't have. I have something no one else in boxing has ever had."
Hearns, 159 1/2, who earlier won the World Boxing Assn. welterweight title and the WBC junior middleweight and light-heavyweight titles--spanning a weight difference of 28 pounds--took a lot of pride in the achievement, even though boxing has become so diluted by divisions and sanctioning bodies that the achievement is somewhat less than it would have been in Henry Armstrong's day. Still, Hearns exulted.
"It's like being in a class by yourself," he said. "It's like being in a country where you're the only one there. You're your own boss, you call the shots."
Hearns presumes, perhaps wrongly, that the magnitude of his achievement will draw Leonard and Hagler out of retirement. However, those two continue to dwell on their own fight. Afterward, in a postfight interview with Tim Ryan, Leonard and Hagler did a kind of big-time wrestling routine, with Hagler insisting that the public continued to recognize one true champion and that he had been doomed by "politics." Leonard called him on that and cited him for "poor sportsmanship." Later, Leonard admitted Hagler had gotten "under my hair."
Their presence took some rightly-deserved attention from Hearns, who dominated the fight from the bell. In fact, Hearns, 29, sat Roldan down early in the first round, chopping the crouched challenger down with a right hand to the top of his head. Then, almost at the bell, Hearns knocked him down again with two rights and a left.
Still, victory was hardly assured. Roldan, 30, who was once stopped by Hagler, lunged recklessly at his taller opponent, keeping Hearns off balance.
"I tried to give a boxing show," said Hearns, who earned $1.1 million for the fight. "But it wasn't possible to happen. I tried, but the more I moved, the closer he got. I had to level off a few shots, get some respect from the man. Seemed to me there was no respect to be gained from this man."
Hearns was amazed by Roldan's relentless awkwardness, although the fighter was never accused of style. "This man is an animal," Hearns said. "I've been in fights before, but I never came out with bruises on my back, my shoulder or my chest."
Even though Hearns (43-2, with 38 knockouts) pretty much kept Roldan (63-4-2) at bay with his long right arm, knocking him down a third time in the second round, he was not safe from him. In the fourth round, the charging Roldan caught Hearns with a left hand, and Hearns' legs did a boogie-woogie dance of their own.
"I got hit and I was hurt," Hearns admitted. "Hurt bad enough to know what to do--hold on."
Hearns held on, then engaged Roldan in a furious exchange in the middle of the ring. Finally, Hearns caught him with a chopping right hand, and Roldan pitched forward to the canvas and lay there, face down, before he rolled over and was counted out by referee Mills Lane. Roldan promptly retired from boxing.
Hearns was glad of it, because he was beginning to wonder about the man. "I landed some great shots, and he shook them off. After the third round, (manager) Emanuel Steward said, 'We got to get him out of there.' I looked at him and said, 'You don't know how hard I'm trying.' "
Hearns made it sound tougher than it actually looked. And, in fact, it wasn't long before he was talking about what everybody else was talking about. "I hope this brings not only Ray Leonard back but Marvin Hagler," he said. "The public deserves a rematch between me and Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler."
The public may deserve it, and Hearns, more famous for his losses than his victories, certainly deserves it. But likely he will be left in limbo by those two Bickersons, the bald one forever getting under the other's hair.
The co-feature, an International Boxing Federation light-heavyweight match between champion Bobby Czyz and top-ranked Charles Williams, did not go according to form. Williams, although decked in the second round, came back to pummel the champion, closing his right eye by the third round. Czyz, virtually sightless, remained on his stool for the beginning of the 10th, preferring to "fight again another day."
Also on the card, Michael Nunn of North Hollywood, often criticized for a lack of punching power, won the vacant North American Boxing Federation middleweight title with a fourth-round knockout of Darnell Knox. Nunn improved to 27-0 with his 18th knockout, while Knox, ranked 10th by the WBC, dropped to 27-2.