Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Fight

In 1985, my friend Jeff and I decided to go to Las Vegas for the Marvin Hagler - Tommy Hearns fight. Tickets were $600, and well in advance I called Caesars Palace and reserved two of them.

A couple of weeks before the fight, the results of some lab tests came back and Jeff's doctor told Jeff he had leukemia and only a short time to live. Jeff and all around him were devastated, and Jeff was in no emotional state to go to the fight.

I thought about the extra ticket and called my father. He had been a fight fan for more than fifty years, this could be the fight of the century, and Hagler was from my father's home town, Brockton, Massachusetts. My father lived in New Hampshire and I in the Chicago area.

I explained to him about the extra ticket and told him I could think of no better use for it than to take him to the fight. "I'll fly you first class to Las Vegas and back. Call it your birthday present."

"I don't think so Donnie. I'm not much for traveling any more." I was flabbergasted. I knew he had never seen a fight this big in person and that he thought Hagler walked on water. But I couldn't talk him into it, and he suggested that I call my brother Billy.

I did, but he wasn't home. A moment or two later the phone rang, and it was my father saying he had changed his mind. (Good thing Billy wasn't home, huh?)

In the event, he flew from Boston to Dallas and thence to Las Vegas. I picked him up at the airport and we took a cab to the Flamingo - I had waited too long and even the Chicago Caesars office could do nothing for me in the way of rooms at Caesars.

Dad had never been to Las Vegas and I showed him around. My gambling made him nervous and he only watched a few minutes of it. He found "his" game at the slot machines, and won several hundred dollars during the trip.

So . . . on the big day we walked over to Caesars Palace for the fight, or actually for the preliminaries, which were unremarkable. The seats were about half full when we got there and we had no trouble finding ours. People trickled in during the prelims, and soon the place was jammed. From time to time someone "special" would arrive and the announcer would inform us of it: Robert Goulet and Olivia Newton-John came as a couple, I believe; Jose Suleiman, the head of the World Boxing Council, arrived and was roundly booed; John and Bo Derek arrived (Bo Derek never did anything for me in her movies, dressed or undressed, but in person she was the loveliest creature I had ever seen); and by far the biggest ovation was for Muhammad Ali when he arrived. Lots of people were introduced in the ring, eventually including the referee, Richard Steele, and the fighters.

I was astonished by the money being bet around us. People who were strangers to each other were making five and ten thousand dollar bets and giving the money to third party strangers to hold. My impression was that the Detroit (Hearns) contingent outnumbered the Hagler contingent. Personally, I thought it was about an even matchup. Dad was utterly confident about Hagler's chances, but it was difficult for me to guess how much of that was due to Hagler being my father's home town boy.

The fight got underway and the pace was furious from the opening bell. Neither was attempting to box. Each was set on creaming the other, with Hagler, the shorter man, determined to get his head on Hearns' chest and make it a street fight. Hearns hit Hagler with a tremendous right. It stopped Hagler only for a second and then he moved toward Hearns again, throwing punches. Hearns had thrown and landed his very best shot and it hadn't been enough. We were less than halfway through the first round and only Hearns' die-hard fans still thought he would win. But the excitement certainly was not over. They continued fighting at a frenzied pace until the bell.

The second round was almost as intense as the first, and in the third round Steele stopped the fight for a moment to have the doctor look at a pretty good cut on Hagler's forehead, probably caused by that Hearns right in the first round. My father muttered something to the effect that he wouldn't be able to stand it if the fight were stopped for a cut.

The fight continued and Hagler knocked Hearns out in that third round. Later, the first round was voted the best first round of the century by sportswriters.

We flew back together as far as Chicago and the plane and my dad continued to Boston. He later made and framed a collage consisting of magazine pictures, newspaper articles, and his plane ticket and fight ticket, with a typewritten note about his "birthday present." He's gone now, and I have the collage and eventually I will get around to adding my fight ticket to it.

Oh, and Jeff did not have leukemia. His lab results and someone else's had somehow been mixed up. Sheesh.

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