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Sports Articles: Boxing Legends Part 3: Thomas Hearns

Boxing Legends Part 3: Thomas Hearns
Image from: freelargeimages.com

Thomas Hearns 'The Hitman' 'Motor City Cobra'

Hearns was one of the legendary 'Four Kings' of boxing folklore, who dominated the boxing scene of the 1980s. Unusually the quartet were the big box office draws of the time, becoming the icons of the period, despite none of them being heavyweights. They turned the focus of boxing onto them, at whatever weight they were fighting, away from the big men that usually take all the spotlight. And they fully deserved to take the spotlight, as they were four of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters ever.

"My place in history.....I leave that up to the people that can call the shots. Well, wherever they place me, I'm gonna be happy. I'll be satisfied because, they don't have to place me at all." - Thomas Hearns

Born in Memphis, Tennessee on 18th October 1958, Thomas was the youngest of three children from the marriage between Lois and John Hearns, two older sisters preceding him. Sadly their marriage ended in divorce when Tommy was aged 7 and the family of grandfather, mother, two sisters and Tommy moved to Detroit. Lois took on two jobs to make ends meet, working as a clerk and a beautician, struggling to pay the bills and a young Thomas vowed to make life better for her. She did remarry and a further 6 younger siblings joined the family, giving Tommy 4 brothers and 4 sisters.

Around that time he also gained an interest in boxing, from watching Muhammad Ali, and grew to idolise after watching him on TV, but he was a shy boy who did not speak much. As he himself said later: "Muhammad Ali inspired me to be a boxer. I knew I didn't have the gift of gab. I was too quiet. Too umm......I guess shy. I was shy was why it was. I knew I wasn't gonna be a talker." Originally Hearns interest saw him go to the King Solomon Gym.

"I started boxing when I was 9 years old, a lot of the kids in my neighbourhood went along to our local club and, one day, I asked to go with them," said Hearns. "As soon as I got in there, I was hooked. Every time you walked into that gym, there was always a challenge from someone. There were guys sitting around that would call you out for a fight. And that was just for sparring! I never turned down any of them and a lot were surprised by what they were getting in with. I fought them all. Even then, I had something."

Something he may have had, but it was not his mother's permission and he would sneak out of the window of his home on the east side to catch the bus to the west side to train, as he was afraid of his mother's reaction. Hearns admits he was terrified when she did find out: "It was a hot night that night. I think that my mother was tougher than some of my opponents. She put fear in my heart. I would rather run through a fire with gasoline drawers on than to cross my mother." Lois did relent though and became probably his biggest supporter though she would often take a doctor ringside with her to make it through the fights!

In 1967 his amateur career got off to an inauspicious start with 3 losses in his first 4 fights, which is probably why, after about four years at King Solomon Gym, his move to Kronk Gym saw legendary trainer Emanuel Steward unimpressed by what he saw of the tall, skinny teenager. Hearns admits he was not a natural athlete and Steward put him in with a skilled fighter to take a look at him. Hearn's nose was broken straight away and he just reset it himself before going again. That was enough for Steward to take him under his wing and the two became like a father and son duo with Hearns always known as Steward's favourite.

"Well, Emanuel Steward and myself, we were like father and son. We had a father-son relationship. Everything that I did, I did it because of my love for Emanuel Steward and for myself because I wanted to make Emanuel proud of what he instilled in me and getting me to where I am today." - Thomas Hearns

As an amateur Tommy racked up 155 wins and 8 losses, including the 1977 National Amateur Athletic Union Light Welterweight championship and also winning the National Golden Gloves Light Welterweight championship that year. However he was almost nothing like the fighter he was as a pro. While he kept his orthodox stance, most of the rest of his style changed due to his hard work in training. Hearns loved the training: "It was just that physical part of it, getting my body tuned up, my mind tuned up. And then learning how to fight at the same time? A lot of us are afraid to step outside of our comfort zone, but sometimes you need to take a step out there to see what's really out there for us. And once you find it, hold onto it."

While an amateur Hearns was a careful stick-and-move fighter, who relied on his long reach and nimble feet to keep opponents at bay. Steward taught him how to use his 6 foot 1 inch frame and 78 inch reach to generate power. Hearns learnt about leverage and his jab became a method to set up his chopping right hand. He had a flicker jab, sharp and stinging, but he used it as more. He would sometimes hold it out after throwing a jab to block an opponent's vision, meaning they would not see the booming over hand right that would be following, or just stiff-arm it in their face to control distance to put them in the right place for the power to tell.

Hearns height allowed him to generate immense power by punching with his over hand right down towards the floor, turning his elbow up at the last moment so that the trajectory took it over the opponent's guard with incredible force and the follow through, if he missed, would bring it round to catch his victim on the back of the head if they stepped inside. In fact he often knocked opponents down with the follow through, his power was so great. It was that development which led Steward to decide he was ready for the professional ranks in 1977, with a step up from light welterweight to welterweight to go with it.

"He was good, always good, but it was when he was about 17 that you could tell he was special, truly special. He went from being one of the weakest kids I've ever seen to one of the strongest. He started knocking out people he hadn't been able to handle before, just destroying them." - Emanuel Steward

As Emanuel Steward said, his emergence in the pro ranks saw none of his early opponents able to handle him at all. Jerome Hill was his first ever professional opponent on 25th November 1977 and he was knocked out in round 2, his second opponent Jerry Strickland only made it a round further before also being knocked out. Hearns finished 1977 with a 3rd round TKO victory over Willie Wren. 1978 started with a KO of Anthony House in the second and continued with Robert Adams, Billy Goodwin, Ray Fields, Tyrone Phelps, Jimmy Rothwell, Raul Aguirre, Eddie Mercelle, Bruce Finch and Pedro Rojas all falling before his power.

His final opponent of 1978, Rudy Barro, became the first man to take him to the 4th round, when he was knocked out, like all who came before him. With 14 wins under his belt, all convincing knock out wins, you would think he would be building up a huge reputation and be seen as a big potential star. Unfortunately for Hearns, his performances were going under the radar and no one really took any notice. In fact, those that did take notice of him were asking questions about his chin, as people struggled to believe such a skinny guy could handle being hit.

Hearns himself said: "A lot of my fights have ended early, but I am not going to take any more punches than I have to just to prove something to the fans. Can I take a punch? I'll keep you wondering." It is telling that he had yet to fight on a card in Las Vegas, where the big fights happened, as he was just not seen as a big draw to fight fans, despite that big knock out punch.

1979 rolled around and Hearns slowed down, his first opponent, Clyde Gray, lasting into the 10th, Sammy Rookard and Segundo Murillo both made it to the 8th, making his record 17 fights, 17 wins, 17 by knockout. Fight number 18 went the distance, as Alfonso Hayman was beaten by a unanimous decision, ending Tommy's perfect record just before his first Vegas fight saw him faced Harold Weston, who retired in the 6th round. Things returned to a more normal routine as his next four opponents were quickly despatched, none of Bruce Curry, Innocencio De la Rosa, Jose Figueroa or Saensak Muangsurin lasting past the third round. The year ended with another unanimous decision victory over Mike Colbert, which set up a return to Las Vegas.

Hearns made his Caesar's Palace debut in February 1980, where he knocked out 'Fighting Jim' in the 3rd round to put himself in a position to have his first title fight. The following month Thomas Hearns fought Angel Espada for the vacant USBA Welterweight title and won by TKO in the 4th. The title seemed to boost his mighty right hand further, as the shy boy gained in confidence, his next two opponents, Santiago Valdez and Eddie Gazo, never saw the end of the first round, giving Hearns his first world title chance against highly fancied Jose Pipino Cuevas.

Cuevas had been WBA World Welterweight champion for 4 years and never been knocked down before, which made him a major favourite to continue as champion. He was also a big puncher in his own right, which is why the fight was dubbed 'World War 2'. Hearns' 28-0 record had not been tested by anyone near this quality before and it would continue untested as Cuevas found Hearns' power to be unlike anything he had ever faced before. A TKO victory gave Tommy his first world title and finally made people sit up and take notice of him.

"Emanuel Steward turned me pro and he was the best trainer any man ever had, he taught me everything I know about boxing and about life," Hearns later said of this fight. "He was like a father to me. I was always a tall, lanky fighter and he taught me how to keep a man at distance, to use my long reach, so I get the time to do what I wanted to do. With my style of fighting, sometimes it's hard to predict what I am going to do. My left jab was so strong that I didn't have to be an inside fighter," he continued. "Emanuel was a tactical man, he checked out everybody and made sure I was in perfect condition every time I was there. He was just straight up boxing. For a big fight there would be seven weeks hard training and we would spar eight to ten rounds per day. I learned so much, like the things you have to watch out for. I was winning by knockout almost every time, but it didn't really surprise me. I had the punch, but I was underestimated because I was skinny. They figured they could take advantage of me and that played into my hands in the early part of my career."

"Winning a world title is what every fighter who ever turns professional dreams about and, when I got my shot, I knew it could really change my life. Everybody feared Cuevas, at the time, but I was that determined to take the opportunity I wasn't scared at all. For that fight to take place in Detroit was a big thing for me. We were in the Joe Louis Arena, where a boxer had become that popular they named the stadium after him! It was tough for any fighter from the city to try and follow him, so it was very important for me to go out there and do Joe proud. He was my hero. I got a good shot in, in the second round to end the fight and I was never that skinny kid again. I was the one people were afraid of. Ring Magazine voted me Fighter of the Year for 1980 and that was a big surprise to me. I had suddenly become so popular."

Hearns had his sights set on a unification bout with the reigning WBC Welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who he claimed was ducking him due to their experience together sparring in Leonard's early pro career. "While we were sparring, someone Ray knew must've come in the gym, because he started trying to show me up," Hearns said. "When I started returning the favour, Ray said his left hand was hurting and they stopped the work out. I think I really gave him a headache." Leonard denied the claims, saying Hearns was just not a big enough draw yet to face him.

The Hearns' camp continued their onslaught against Leonard to try and taunt him into taking the fight, with Hearns publicity manager, Jackie Callen, saying: "Let's face it. Right now, Ray Leonard is America's sweetheart. To a lot of people, Tommy is still an unknown quantity. After he beats Ray Leonard though, everyone in America will know him. He'll be a national hero." While he waited, Tommy defended his WBA belt against Luis Primera in December 1980, knocking him out in the 6th round to end the year as a world title.

Ring Magazine featured him as a cover star dressed up as a Mafioso-style hitman holding a machine gun, coining the 'Hitman' nickname around this time, along with making him Fighter of the Year for 1980, but the nickname was one Hearns disliked intensely. He regretted that cover photo afterwards, a deeply religious man who spent his spare time working with underprivileged kids. He had quit high school to turn professional, but later went back and resumed his education and he would often give talks to kids in deprived areas of Detroit, urging them to stay in school and get the best possible education.

He had achieved his dream of providing a better life for his mother, the whole family were now living in a house he had bought for them. Along with that, he also achieved another dream of his, when he joined the Detroit Police Department as a reserve officer. It is little wonder he disliked the Hitman moniker, with its connotations of violent crime and Mafia corruption. It was the complete antithesis of all the man stood for, a nice guy who just happened to excel in a violent sport.

In April 1981 Randy Shields managed to survive until the 13th round in Hearns' second defence of the WBA title, but was defeated by TKO. Hearns continued to look for a match-up with Leonard, making sure to be seen at Leonard's fights and always ready with a jibe at how he was being avoided: "Ray doesn't want to fight me. He's going to try and wait until I grow out of the welterweight class. I'm going to be around until he gives me a match, or until he decides to retire. I think he'll retire first. Ray said he would destroy my fans spiritually and my manager financially. That hurt me because he doesn't respect me. Ray hasn't been able to look me in the eye since then, but if he ever gets in the ring with me, I'll hurt him bad."

"He was a freak of nature. With his height, with his reach, with his power, with his speed, with his heart. Tommy had the whole package." - Sugar Ray Leonard

Finally it was done, when Hearns beat Pablo Baez to make his record 32-0, Leonard could no longer ignore the Detroit boxer and a fight was set for 16th September 1981. A fight that would be one of the greatest of all time despite Leonard's unflattering description of the skinny Hearns, when he said: "Here's a guy who could barely make the weight." Though he did later say that he was a whole different prospect when in the ring with him, when Hearns looked so much more powerful.

The build up to the fight saw Hearns avoid appearing alongside Leonard at press conferences as he had been made to feel foolish after one of his taunts fell flat. He had attended Leonard's rematch with Roberto Duran and threw a rubber chicken at Leonard's feet after the bout. No one laughed and Hearns withdrew from the media work for the fight because of it. With Leonard's practiced and smooth manner in front of cameras and press, it was not an arena Hearns could hope to match Leonard.

Hearns entered the fight, which was being called 'The Showdown', a slight favourite and brim full of confidence and it showed in the early rounds as he took control. By the time it entered the 13th round, Leonard was so far behind that his corner were telling him that he would need to get a knockout or lose his title. Leonard was being outboxed and knew it, so went on the attack in the thirteenth, despite struggling to see out of his left eye. Realising it was all or nothing, Leonard threw the proverbial kitchen sink at Hearns and put him through the ropes at the end of the round. Hearns was dazed and out on his feet, receiving a standing count, when the bell saved him.

The fourteenth round saw a shakey Hearns try to box and move, but Leonard continued to press forward despite his left eye now being shut. Leonard caught Hearns with an overhand right which staggered him and Hearns was pinned on the ropes before a body and head combination hit him with no reply. That was enough for the referee, Davey Pearl, to step in and stop the fight, which was the richest in sports history at the time with the two fighters banking a combined $17m.

The price the fighters paid was high, Leonard was so battered that he retired the following year due to a detached retina and said of Hearns that he was "one of the toughest guys ever....a guy who brought out the best in Sugar Ray Leonard." The two became firm friends afterwards and still remain close to this day.

Hearns later said of the fight: "You don't have to tell me what a sensational fight that was - I was in there! I was the slight favourite and I did feel confident. I really wanted to face Sugar Ray Leonard in Detroit, but we went to Las Vegas and I have to admit I wasn't really prepared for it. Physically I was ready but I wasn't right mentally. I just wasn't in the same mindset that I normally was. By the time I got in there, my plan was to outbox him. I wanted to show him that I had skill as well as a punch and he did come over to me after and say 'you can fight real good'. That meant a lot to me. We made magic that night, we helped each other be great. I lost that night, but we would meet again. But he won fair and square that time."

"The loss just made me hungry; it made me want to go out and win another title." - Thomas Hearns

After the defeat, Hearns moved up a weight, fighting at light middleweight (or super welterweight as some associations called it) for his comeback fight in December 1981 against Ernie Singletary. The fight went the 10 rounds distance with Hearns winning by a unanimous decision. He beat two more opponents, Marcos Geraldo by 1st round knockout and Jeff McCaracken by a TKO in the 8th to set up a title shot with Wilfred Benitez in December 1982.

Benitez was the reigning WBC Super Welterweight world champion, his third world title, and was an accomplished technician. Hearns shocked the boxing world by outboxing him to win a majority decision after 15 rounds, Steward saying after: "Thomas outboxed the boxer." However Hearns admitted later that he had been forced to outbox Benitez after he hurt his right hand early on in the fight and so had to use it sparingly.

Hearns said later: "Wilfred had one of those styles that made it a difficult night for anyone, but I was also really surprised by the strength he had. I was trying to box him but he moved pretty good too, and he could take a punch. He made it hard. That was the first time I ever had to go 15 rounds, which is a bit more difficult. Those last three can really tire you out. It was particularly hard when you sit on your stool at the end of the 12th, thinking of what's left to go. I was usually about ready to throw up! At that stage, you might not have a whole lot left and that's when your man can surprise you. It happened against 'Sugar' Ray but, fortunately for me, not here."

He followed that fight with a non-title fight against Murray Sutherland and then followed it up with a title defence against the European champion Luigi Monchillo. Both fights went the distance and were won by unanimous decisions as Hearns struggled with his right hand. He had been forced to pull out of a match up with Marvelous Marvin Hagler previously due to a broken little finger, after Sugar Ray Leonard turned down a rematch and also rejected the chance to take on Hagler. This prompted Hagler to say: "For a million dollars, do you know how many people would cut that little thing off?" Because of his hand problems, it was 2 years since Hearns stopped anyone at all and next up was the legendary Roberto Duran.

However this was not a peak Roberto Duran. This was a Duran who was nowhere near the shape, either physically or mentally, that he had been in previously. His non-stop party lifestyle was affecting him adversely but, for all that, he was still a dangerous fighter to be feared, which is why this fight was probably the pinnacle of Hearns' career. It was a demolition rather than a fight. Duran was floored twice in the first round and was so dazed at the end of it that he ended up going to a neutral corner initially. In the second round Duran was hit with a big right which dropped him face first on the canvas and he was stopped for a TKO victory to Hearns, Duran's first ever knockout defeat.

"When I fought Roberto Duran, everything just changed for me. All of a sudden the lights came on, and they stayed on bright." - Thomas Hearns

"I didn't know Duran, but he really tried to take the fight to me before it even happened," Hearns later said. "He tried so hard to make you think he was tough. He was, for sure, but he wanted to make me fear him before we got in there. Those were things I thought about, but I also knew what I could do. When the bell rings, all of that went out of the window, it was down to business. I saw the chance to punch and put my fist right on his chin. But he was a great fighter and I still respect him. I never judged him on the basis of that night, with the career he's had."

Duran had been number 1 contender, but his defeat left Fred Hutchings as the new number 1 contender and he was dispatched in September by TKO in the 3rd round, but Hearns had set his sights back on Hagler at this point, saying "he knows we're coming. I can see him now shaking like a leaf." He stepped up to middleweight to take on Hagler, who had been chasing a big fight for years, struggling to get any big name willing to take him on. That was why, despite being the reigning undisputed world middleweight champion, holding the IBF, WBC and WBA belts, his purse was only a little more than Hearns' cut. Hagler was guaranteed $5.6m while Hearns $5.4m.

It was billed as 'The Fight' and the two boxers began a 2 week, 21 city promotional tour to create a buzz for the fight. Hearns ended up doing most of the talking, despite usually being a quiet man, as Hagler was even more quiet. The tour generated genuine antagonism between the pair, as they rubbed each other up the wrong way. Hearns continued to annoy Hagler by taking all the headlines, even his training camp was right in the glare of the media spotlight in Las Vegas, with a huge entourage, much to Steward's annoyance. Steward called it the biggest in the history of boxing and was particularly annoyed when one of the hangers on gave Hearns a massage before the fight. Steward believed that a massage left the body spent.

On the 15th April 1985 'The Fight' became 'The War' as the two fought probably the 3 greatest rounds of boxing ever to take place. The duo almost ran out of their corners to start pounding on each other from the moment it began. Hearns got off to a great start, opening a deep cut on Hagler's forehead and stunning Hagler. However he once again suffered a broken hand in the round, though it did not stop him from hitting Hagler with some big shots.

In the second Hagler was pulled aside so the ringside doctor could have a look at the cut as the blood was flowing down his head. The ref asked him: "Can you see alright?" Hagler replied, "well I'm not missing him am I?" With Hearns trying to protect his broken right hand, Hagler came on strong and, in the 3rd round, Hagler staggered Hearns and caught him on the ropes before delivering a thundering right hand which knocked him down. Hearns beat the count but the ref stopped the fight as he was out on his feet.

Those unforgettable three rounds, and I do recommend that you watch them, were unfortunately not repeated as they were never able to agree a rematch. Hearns never got over that defeat, he pressed for a rematch for a long time afterward and even long after they both retired would often suggest the pair should make it happen again. Hearns said: "I still don't like being reminded about Hagler, every time I hear about it I just want us to fight again. He had a hard head, no wonder he was bald! It was one of the shortest yet most exciting fight most people had ever seen, but it was three rounds I just want to forget. In my opinion, both of us had drained ourselves to make the weight. But, as soon as the bell rung, we both just ran out of the corner. I punched him again and again as hard as I could, then just wondered how on earth he was taking these shots. I hit him with everything I had, it was unreal. He was a freak. He just kept coming, I am not a quitter but I think I lost heart. All I could think to do was keep popping him as he came forward. Then he got me. It only ever takes one punch to change things and that's what happened to me. There's always that danger."

Hearns quickly bounced back with a devastating 1st round KO win over undefeated rising young star James 'Black Gold' Shuler, taking the NABF Middleweight belt from him. He did not keep hold of the belt for long as Shuler was killed in a motorcycle accident and Hearns gave the family the NABF belt at the funeral. Hearns told the family that Shuler deserved to keep the belt as he had held it for longer than he had.

Dropping back down to light middleweight, Hearns next defended his WBC Super Welterweight title against the number 1 contender Mark Medal, winning by TKO, before going back up again to middleweight a few months later to defend the NABF Middleweight belt against Doug DeWitt, who he beat by unanimous decision. In this period he was struggling to get fights as a lot of fighters would duck him, as Prentiss Byrd, Emanuel Steward's assistant said at the time: "A lot of welterweights have turned down attractive offers to get in the ring with Tommy, and he's had to take on middleweights just to get a fight. Some managers are so concerned about their fighters' careers that they won't sign a contract to fight Tommy."


In March 1987 he stepped up even further, to light-heavyweight to fight the reigning WBC Light-Heavyweight champion of the world, Dennis Andries. Despite the step up, he did not struggle and knocked Andries down 6 times on his way to a 10th round TKO. The fight was most memorable for chaotic scenes in the 6th round, when Hearns knocked Andries down four times and WBC officials desperately tried to catch the ref's attention to stop the fight and save Andries further punishment. Unfortunately for Andries, the ref ignored the officials and he had to endure another 4 rounds of punishment!

The next boxing match for Hearns was scheduled for October, in the meantime, in August, he fought an exhibition match with martial arts champion Bill 'Superfoot' Wallace, in what Wallace called "one of the high points of my career, because Tommy Hearns is an absolutely fantastic person." The three round bout saw Emanuel Steward make them wear head guards, to protect Tommy against a cut after he watched the pair spar together and seeing how dangerous Wallace's kicks were.

In the October Hearns beat Juan Domingo Roldan by KO in the 4th round for the WBC Middleweight title, making him the first man in history to win titles at 4 different weights. "I had the size over everybody at light middle, so it was always in my interest to box at that weight. I believed I could hold my own at middleweight too, which I proved," said Hearns. "I think the welterweight division was better than light middle, at the time. The most comfortable I felt was at light heavy. I had a good run there. I won my first world title at light heavy against Dennis Andries in 1987, I felt really strong and bashed him around. But he wasn't giving up without a fight, he just kept on coming. I had to take my hat off to him, he was a tough guy. He made me work for it that night. That gave me even more confidence in my power when I dropped down again, although I wasn't that keen on fighting Domingo Roldan, at first. He was another big puncher, he's still the only man to put Hagler down and there was plenty that could go wrong. But that was my chance of history, to become the first boxer to win world titles at four different weights. That put me up there with Joe Louis or anybody. I remember he threw a left hook from nowhere that hit me upside my head and I was seeing stars. I had to stay away from him and use my range. I was a very happy man, to do something no man had been able to do. It was more for the people who supported me. It felt like what I owed them."

Wallace watched the fight, at Hearns' invitation and recalls in Black Belt magazine: "He invited me to come to that fight in October, and I went, but I thought 'hell, he meets people all the time, he probably won't even remember me.' So, after the fight, which Tommy won, I went to his room and he was walking down the hall, and he saw me and yelled, "Bill!" He took me to his room and there were his parents and his little girl and all his friends. He introduced me, and his father came up to me and said, "are you the one who kicked my son in the face in Miami?" I said, "that's me." Now, here it is, 15 minutes after Tommy has won his 4th world title, which had never been done before, and everybody's having their picture taken with me!"

"My thought was always to make sure the fans got their money's worth when they saw me fight. I never wanted anybody to say Tommy Hearns gave a bad show." - Tommy Hearns


Fresh from the heights of creating history, Hearns suffered what Ring Magazine chose as their 'Upset of the Year' for 1988 as Iran Barkley took the WBC Middleweight title off Hearns in his first defence. Barkley shocked all with his 3rd round TKO win in one of the biggest upsets of all time. Hearns did not mope around about the defeat and stepped up to super middleweight to make even more history by becoming the first man to win world titles at 5 weights by defeating James Kinchen by majority decision for the NABF and inaugural WBO World Super Middleweight title.

He followed it up with a fight that boxing fans were desperate to see, a rematch with 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, but it was to turn out to be the most controversial fight of his career, despite the two being good friends. Leonard's WBC Super Middleweight belt and Hearns' WBO Super Middleweight title were on the line as the pair faced off in Las Vegas. Hearns knocked Leonard down in both the 3rd and 11th rounds on his way to what seemed a comfortable win, only for the judges to controversially call it a draw. Even Leonard said publicly that he believed Hearns beat him that night. The judges were just about the only people that saw the fight that night who disagreed!

"I felt crushed, I knew I should have won and they took it away from me," Hearns recalled. "When they called it a draw, I was like 'man, what fight were you all looking at?' I had always agreed Ray won the first fight fair and square and, to be fair to him, we talked and he agreed I won the second time. I consider us 1-1. It was a personal thing and that meant a lot because I had been robbed. We were friends, so I respected his opinion. He was not only a great fighter but a great man, too. I really wanted us to settle the score for a third time, but it wasn't to be."

After defending his WBO title against Michael Olajide, there was upheaval in Hearns' career as he split with Steward as his promoter and manager. Hearns was spotted at a Janet Jackson concert with promoter Harold Smith and manager Dennis Rappaport and a reporter asked him about being with the pair. Hearns told the reporter: "I want to grow myself. I'm tired of living behind a manager. I know the business enough I can do it myself. I hope Manny and I can go our separate ways without any misunderstanding."

Steward was not all that accommodating saying, "This is typical of Tommy's mentality. It's good riddance." That brings to mind something Steward had said of Hearns in the year after his first title win: "Tommy is a shy, quiet kid by nature. He's come an awfully long way in the 10 months since he won the title. He improves every day. But in a lot of ways he's still a child. His instinct is still to look to me or his mother to get everything done for him. I think he's grown up more slowly than the average kid." Hearns saw this as the first step towards becoming a promoter himself, which he later did with mixed success, for instance promoting the fight between Mike Tyson and Andrew Golota in 2000 which ended in farce.

1991 saw performances more like the Hearns of old as Kemper Morton and Ken Atkins failed to make it past the second and third round respectively. That set up another world title shot, this time against undefeated WBA Light-Heavyweight champion of the world Virgil Hill. It was Hill's 11th title defence but he could not find a way to deal with Hearns' reach and jab and was comprehensively outboxed to give up his title by unanimous decision. He followed that with a rematch against Iran Barkley for the WBA belt, but lost to him once again, this time by split decision.

Hearns later said: "Despite all of the praise I got for beating Virgil Hill, I didn't think it was one of my greatest fights, even in just the light heavy division. I always rated my performance against Dennis Andries as better. Virgil was a slick boxer, but I was all wrong for him. I just used my long jab and that was almost enough to beat him already. Barkley seemed to have my number and dined out forever on being the only man to do the double over me. I still don't know how he did it."

His career was now winding down and Hearns fought much less often over the next few years, adding 8 more wins by beating Andrew Maynard, Dan Ward, Freddie Delgado, Lenny LaPaglia, Earl Butler, Karl Willis, Ed Dalton and Jay Snyder. The Ward fight gave him the vacant NABF Cruiserweight title, which he defended against Delgado, while his win over LaPaglia saw him pick up another vacant title. This time the WBU Cruiserweight crown. Hearns even found time to appear in the WWE wrestling, in a storyline where he fought a wrestler over the 'Hitman' moniker, which both of them are known by.

Hearns still had one big night left in his career, as he faced Nate Miller in Manchester, only his second fight outside of the USA, for the vacant IBO World Cruiserweight title on the 10th April 1999, when aged 40 years old. A unanimous decision gave him yet another title and he said later: "That was a very enjoyable night for me, I was a little hesitant about coming to Manchester but it worked out just fine. I took care of business, I was 40 years old by then and had only ever boxed outside of America once, when I went over to the Bahamas in 1981. I think it's something every fighter should experience in their career, I was given that opportunity and I was glad I took it. I am very proud of what I accomplished in the ring."

On the 8th April 2000, Hearns returned to Detroit to fight what was intended to be his final fight to defend his cruiserweight title in front of his home crowd. Sadly it was not a vintage night as he injured his ankle in the second round and, though he finished the round, he was forced to retire from the fight and lost his title. Just to make it worse, his home crowd booed him! 6 world titles at 5 different weights taking on the best boxing had to offer in a glittering career but they showed him no respect and he was forced to take the mic in the end to promise he would be back.

He never truly retired and continued to work hard in the gym like he was still a fighter. An insight into his mindset was when Hearns and Steward bumped into Hagler in London 20 years after they fought. "I still want to fight," Tommy said. "Man are you crazy?" Hagler replied. "You ought to think about doing something else. You need to get on with your life." He never heeded Hagler's advice and fought twice more, beating John Long and Shannon Landberg by TKO at the age of 46, both times his son Ronald was fighting on the undercard.

Sadly, like so many other sports stars, he suffered financial problems soon afterwards as he tried to look after his extended family. After his brother Henry was found guilty of murdering his girlfriend Nancy Barile in a house owned by Tommy, it was Tommy that paid the $685,000 wrongful death suit. Tommy ended up having to auction off most of his possessions to cover a $250,000 IRS bill in 2010 despite having estimated lifetime earnings of around $40m, losing almost every piece of history from his boxing career in the process.

With a record like his, it was little surprise when, in June 2012, Thomas Hearns was inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, with legendary rival Sugar Ray Leonard giving the induction speech.

"All I ever wanted was to be good at what I did. And in boxing I made it. And not just good, but a Hall of Famer at what I did. I was very excited about that." - Thomas Hearns

Suggested by Salah and barnesybob

To read the previous Boxing Legends article on Arturo Gatti click HERE

Written by Ed001 October 26 2018 15:24:38


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