Lee Groves

10: Greatest one-punch finishes

5. Thomas Hearns KO 2 Roberto Duran – June 15, 1984, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nev.

 

For a few years during his prime Hearns suffered from an identity crisis. Adopting the nickname “Hit Man” at the start of his professional career, Hearns knocked out his first 17 opponents and developed a menacing, fearsome in-ring reputation. But at the request of a Detroit mayor who was sensitive about his city’s image, Hearns changed his sobriquet to “The Motor City Cobra” and at times he reflected it by showing off his underrated boxing skills. 

Before his megamatch with Roberto Duran, however, Hearns had a second change of heart. He declared that the “Hit Man” was back and that he would knock out Duran in two rounds. It was a bold – and, to some, a nonsensical – prediction. That’s because Duran not only owned “hands of stone” he possessed a chin of iron. In 82 fights over 17 years, Duran had suffered only two knockdowns, both off Esteban DeJesus left hooks. More than 10 years had passed since the latter knockdown and in that time Duran had faced the likes of Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Pipino Cuevas, Sugar Ray Leonard and Carlos Palomino without so much as blinking.

Hearns, however, must have known something. Duran was unusually respectful of Hearns, both before and during the fight. His demeanor was unsettlingly docile and he demonstrated little of the fire that had defined his in-ring character. He even initiated the touching of gloves at ring center once the fight began and did so thrice more in round one, even after a cuffing left and a sneak right uppercut opened a cut over Duran’s left eye. Still, few expected that the fight would last less than five minutes.

Hearns took command from the very start and he punctuated his dominance in the final minute of round one by landing a trademark cross to the face that dropped Duran at ring center. Up at five, Duran smiled in embarrassment but with eight seconds remaining a barrage capped by a left-right to the body decked Duran a second time. Imagine this: It took Hearns just 25 seconds to duplicate a feat that had previously taken 17 years to complete. That was the power of the “Hit Man.”

The best was yet to come though. After another monstrous right hurt Duran in round two, the pair engaged in a wild exchange along the ropes. Duran backed toward the strands with his hands at chest level. Seeing this, the “Hit Man” scored the vicious rub out of his career. A laser guided right cross armed with nuclear force exploded off Duran’s jaw and sent the Panamanian falling face first to the canvas. No count was necessary and Duran’s second raced into the ring to tend to their charge.

Duran was heard to ask afterward “what did I do wrong?” The answer: Signing the contact to fight Thomas Hearns.

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