Ranking the Nine “Four Kings” Fights

The rivalry between the “Four Kings” - Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran – dominated the sport in the 1980s. It remains the byword for courage in the ring, for being prepared to fight your biggest rivals instead of taking easier options. In total, the four men fought nine times, at four different weights and in three different cities:

* The sequence began and ended with Ray Leonard versus Roberto Duran: Duran outpointed Leonard at 147 pounds in 1980 and Leonard returned the favor at 168 pounds in 1989.

* Seven of the nine fights were in Las Vegas, six of them at Caesars Palace. The first two Leonard-Duran contests were in Montreal and New Orleans, respectively. 

* Five of the nine went the distance; Hearns and Duran each fell twice by stoppage – Hearns to Leonard and Hagler; Duran to Hearns and Leonard.

* Three fights – Leonard-Duran I and II and Leonard-Hearns I – were at welterweight; all three Hagler fights (one each against Hearns, Duran, and Leonard) were at middleweight. Hearns-Duran was at 154 pounds. Leonard-Duran III and Leonard-Hearns II were at super-middleweight.

* Leonard went 4-1-1 against his fellow “Kings.” Hagler went 2-1, Hearns 1-2-1, and Duran 1-4.

* Leonard was the only one to score wins over all three of his rivals.

Here is one person’s rankings of the pugilistic nonet:

9. Ray Leonard W 12 Roberto Duran

Mirage Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

December 7, 1989

The best thing about this fight is that it wasn’t a 15 rounder. The last, and by some distance the worst, meeting between any of the Four Kings saw Leonard score a dominating 12-round decision. Reporting for Boxing News, Harry Mullan wrote that “Duran, once the embodiment of macho fighting qualities, fought like a bored old survivor whose sole aim was to get through the night’s work with the minimum inconvenience or embarrassment so that he could go home and count his pay. Leonard was quite happy to go along with Duran’s policy of non-aggression, and spent most of the 12 rounds retreating briskly around the ring while the 38-year-old Panamanian plodded aimlessly after him.” Which basically sums it up.

8. Thomas Hearns KO2 Roberto Duran

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

June 15, 1984

The most one-sided of all the encounters between the Four Kings. Duran was more focused on the women he had left in his hotel room and with whom he had been spending time instead of training for Hearns. Having sent Duran to the canvas twice in the opening frame, the Hitman dropped him face-first for the count in the second round of this junior middleweight contest.

7. Ray Leonard D12 Thomas Hearns

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

June 12, 1989

Notwithstanding a late rally by Leonard that had Hearns reeling, the man from Motor City probably deserved the win in this past-its-prime rematch. Hearns dropped Leonard in rounds three and 11, Leonard scored a 10-8 round in the fifth and, on one scorecard, another two-point round in the 12th – the latter sufficient to earn him a split draw.

6. Marvin Hagler W 12 Roberto Duran

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

November 10, 1983

A year previously, Duran was considered all but finished after dropping a somnambulistic decision to Kirkland Laing, But knockout wins over Pipino Cuevas and – on his 32nd birthday – Davey Moore breathed new life into the Panamanian, even though he entered his challenge of Hagler as a big underdog to the middleweight champion. In a surprisingly close affair, Duran boxed from the outside and led on all three scorecards through 13 rounds, until a Hagler surge in the championship rounds secured the win by the narrowest of margins.

5. Ray Leonard W 12 Marvin Hagler

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

April 6, 1987

“How do you like it? How DO you like it?” proclaimed HBO commentator Barry Tompkins rhetorically after the final bell of this long-awaited clash for Hagler’s middleweight crown. Hagler, who had been trying to get Leonard into the ring for years, only to be thwarted by Leonard retiring not once but twice, did not like it at all. Convinced he should have won, he retreated to Italy and never fought again. Hagler’s error was in giving away the first few rounds by boxing orthodox instead of southpaw, as well as acceding to Leonard's requests for a larger ring. The former Olympic gold medalist used every inch of the ring to circle around Hagler and flurried furiously in the final 30 seconds of most rounds in an attempt to steal them. The strategy worked, and Leonard took a split decision win that divides fans to this day.

4. Ray Leonard TKO 8 Roberto Duran

Superdome, New Orleans

November 25, 1980

Leonard, smarting from defeat in the first bout with Duran, knew the Panamanian had been partying and gaining weight in the immediate aftermath and set about making the rematch as soon afterward as possible, to give Duran insufficient time to work himself back into shape. Instead of being dragged into a Duranesque brawl as in the first fight, Leonard boxed and bamboozled his opponent, until “Hands of Stone” waved his hands in disgust and turned away in the eighth round. Duran denied he actually said the words, “No mas,” and claimed he quit because of stomach cramps from having to lose weight too quickly. "I made him quit", Leonard said. "To make a man quit, to make Roberto Duran quit, was better than knocking him out."

3. Roberto Duran W 15 Ray Leonard

Olympic Stadium, Montreal

June 20, 1980

The first of the matchups of the Four Kings was one of the best. Former lightweight champion Duran entered the ring with a record of 71-1 (56 KOs), while Leonard was undefeated at 27-0 (18 KOs). Duran won the mental battle before the first bell, goading Leonard into standing toe-to-toe with him instead of using the boxing skills he would deploy to great effect in the rematch. Although Leonard eventually realized his error late in the contest, it was by then too late, and Duran’s lead was unassailable. It was arguably the biggest win in Duran’s 119-fight career.

2. Ray Leonard TKO 14 Thomas Hearns

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

June 16, 1981

After twelve rounds of this meeting between rival welterweight titlists, Hearns was comfortably ahead, having surprised the cognoscenti by outboxing the boxer. “You’re blowing it, son,” Leonard trainer Angelo Dundee famously told his charge after that round. “You’re blowing it.” Suitably energized, Leonard came out for the 13th round in attack mode, blasting Hearns through the ropes and then dropping him again near round’s end. Hearns was now mortally wounded, and Leonard backed him to the ropes in the 14th, unleashing a series of combinations until referee Davey Pearl stepped in.

1. Marvin Hagler KO 3 Thomas Hearns

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

April 15, 1985

Middleweight champion Hagler took on junior middleweight champ Hearns in this highly anticipated clash that yielded three of the greatest, most violent rounds in boxing history. Wasting no time, the two assaulted each other in the first round with violent exchanges, during which Hearns broke his right hand. “This is still only the first round!” exclaimed Tompkins breathlessly as the two men battled in what The Ring later adjudged to be the greatest opening frame in boxing history. The pace slowed fractionally in the second – Hearns later acknowledging that “that first round took everything I have” - and then, in the first minute of the third, a cut opened up on Hagler’s forehead. Afraid of losing his title on cuts, Hagler hurled himself at Hearns, sending him stumbling awkwardly across the ring, Hagler in pursuit. Hagler launched a right hand that exploded on Hearns’ jaw, and the Hit Man went down. Although he somehow hauled himself to his feet before the 10 count, he was clearly finished, and referee Richard Steele waved it off.