‘The War: Hagler-Hearns and Three Rounds For The Ages’ by Don Stradley (2021)

A whole book about 8 minutes of boxing? Yep, and it’s one of the best books I read in 2021.

The era of the Four Kings continues to occupy a revered place in boxing lore. A large part of that reverence stems from the willingness of the contenders to fight each other but also the personalities and achievements of Leonard and Duran in particular. Not all crowns are equal and Hagler and Hearns are undoubtedly somewhere below Leonard and Duran in their place in the boxing pantheon. However, they both elevated their legacy and the sport when they faced each other in April 1985.

Hagler v Hearns took place at a time when boxing was struggling to recover from Sugar Ray Leonard’s retirement and a growing focus on the dangers of the sport. The book tells a number of stories all centered around three rounds of boxing that are simply unforgettable in their intensity and drama.

At it’s heart, the book is a character study of two fighters seeking fame, fortune and recognition. Two men who had enormous talent but lacked the natural charisma of Leonard, the compelling energy of Duran and who just couldn’t seem to break through the barrier that separates champion from superstar. Above all, it’s about two men who were searching for greatness and were willing to leave everything behind in the ring to achieve it.

It also tells the story of boxing in the 1980’s, it’s rise with Leonard, and it’s fall before Iron Mike Tyson would again draw US TV audiences in the same kind of manner. It captures the politics, the money, the frustration, the marketing and above all the audacity of Bob Arum in promoting a fight that wasn’t as natural a sell as Leonard v Anybody but which proved a huge success using any metric.

And of course it’s also a story about 8 minutes of boxing. The first round in particular has gone down as one of the greatest rounds of all time. The second and third offer no less drama, intensity, and passion. Stradley captures this through commentary and reflections of many of those present and paints the scene in Vegas, the glitz and glamour, the danger and the risk, in wonderful compelling detail.

The Hagler–Hearns fight played a significant role in cementing the legacy of the Four Kings. The War tells the story of the fight and the fighters but also captures what the fight meant to the sport and the sport meant to America at a time when boxing, and even middleweight boxing, could bring the country to a standstill.

Read the book, watch the fight, pick up Four Kings by George Kimball and watch the recent Four Kings Showtime documentary. Then thank me after.

What an amazing painting on the cover by @kelley_AK

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