‘The Kings’: Iconic ‘Complex Characters’ Revisit Legendary Boxing Moments

sugar ray leonard thomas hearns
Heinz Kluetmeier /Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

During the 1980s, Roberto Durán, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, and “Sugar” Ray Leonard took one another on, battling and brawling their way through nine of the most famous championship matches in boxing history.

Those extraordinary fights are central to The Kings, a four-part docuseries about the quartet who, as one observer notes, “dominated the era, but not each other.” They rose from poverty to prosperity, egged on by roaring crowds and soaring purses in the millions.

“I loved the way the crowd made me feel,” the 62-year-old Hearns now recalls of those heady ring days. “I always wanted to give them a little bit more.”

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The 10-part documentary, which debuted on ESPN in April, is streaming starting July 19 and shows a different side of the athlete.

That addiction to glory provides the bittersweet flip side to the so-called sweet science, as the brutal ballet took its toll on each fighter in bloody knockouts, broken bones, and, in Leonard’s case, near blindness from a partially detached retina. Each competitor played a role in the drama.

Hagler and Hearns rose hungry and fought for respect; to Durán, any win was a victory for Panama over the despised U.S.; and the telegenic Leonard was the Olympic golden boy the other three chased for top money. “He was the superstar, the new Muhammad Ali,” says Mat Whitecross, director of The Kings. “These were complex characters who really complemented each other.”

The Kings Showtime

(Credit: Chris Cuellar/Courtesy of SHOWTIME)

Whitecross took two years to pull this project together, working hand in glove with Hearns and Durán and using archival interviews with Hagler and Leonard to fill out the picture. Alongside images of Reagan-era politics and social unrest, and fresh interviews from notable commentators, what stands out are those fights that still land with power: Durán quitting his 1980 rematch with Leonard by allegedly declaring “No más” to the referee.

Leonard’s 1981 comeback win over Hearns after cornerman Angelo Dundee warned, “You’re blowin’ it, son!” And the fight many call the greatest ever: Hagler’s 1985 win over Hearns after trading a mad flurry of punches that left Hearns’ right hand broken. Hearns is still wistful over Hagler’s death March 13 at 66. “I love Marvin,” he says. “If he was still here, we could go at it again.”

The Kings, Series Premiere, Sunday, June 6, 8/7c, Showtime