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 regarding his legacy
As indicated in my last post, my favourite fighter of all time is the Motor City Cobra, Thomas “Hitman” Hearns. Despite having the physique of someone unlikely to win a world title, Hearns possessed a power in his right hand that would drop almost any man it came into contact with and used that power to win titles from welterweight all the way to cruiserweight throughout a career that spanned four decades.
Today (October 18, 2012) is Hearns’ 52nd birthday and I thought I would honour my favourite fighter by counting down my top 5 favourite fights of his. Keep in mind that this list is strictly based on my own opinion.
5) Thomas Hearns vs Marvelous Marvin Hagler (April 15, 1985)
Brutality. That’s the word that comes to mind whenever I think of this fight. Hearns was stepping up to challenge middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in one of the most anticipated fights in years. These two didn’t like each other and saw the other as the only thing standing in their way towards greatness.
From the opening bell they didn’t waste any time as both fighters stood in front of each other and began to slug. After the first round Hearns came back to the corner and told his trainer Emanuel Steward that he had broken his right hand.
In the third round a cut in the middle of Hagler’s forehead threatened to stop the fight and make Hearns the winner by TKO. However the Marvelous one stepped on the gas and sent Hearns wobbling and then ended the fight with a big right hand. Despite all the punishment he had absorbed, Hearns was able to summon the courage to get back on his feet. However referee Richard Steele had seen enough.
Hagler and Hearns both earned each other’s respect during the fight with Hearns telling the press afterwards, “The man showed his greatness and I have to say that it was one damn good fight.”
It became the standard for which all great wars are measured and will continued to be talked about for years to come.
The reason I have this at the bottom of the list is personal. Even though it is one of the greatest fights in history, I always feel a little pain seeing my hero lose. But to be fair, there were no losers that night.
A little known fact about this fight: It was almost going to take place in my hometown of Windsor, Ontario
4) Thomas Hearns vs Dennis Andries (March 7, 1987)
After losing to both Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns decided that he would have to go a different way to achieve his own greatness. After defeating Doug DeWitt at middleweight, Hearns jumped up two weight classes to light-heavyweight and challenged champion Dennis Andries at Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan.
Hearns won the first five rounds but just as the commentators were beginning to say that he wasn’t being as dominating as expected, Hearns unloaded a right hand that dropped Andries.
If you’ve never watched this fight before, do so and pay attention to the sixth round because it’s one of the strangest I’ve ever seen. Andries is dropped four time in total but referee Isaac Herrera allows the fight to go on even while officials from the WBC are trying to get his attention and stop the fight to spare Andries any more punishment. But fight continued and Andries was dropped in the ninth and finally in the tenth and afterwards the fight was stopped.
Hearns had won his third world title and in his next fight would actually go down in weight to win the middleweight title, securing his place in history as the first man to win titles in four different divisions.
3) Thomas Hearns vs Pipino Cuevas (August 8, 1980)
The 28-0 Hearns entered Joe Louis arena for what was the biggest test of his young career against Mexico’s dreaded Pipino Cuevas for the WBA welterweight title. Because of how quickly this fight ends, a lot of people might forget how good Cuevas was coming into the fight.
At the age of 18 he had made history by becoming the youngest man to win the welterweight titleHag. After that he made 11 successful defenses, 10 of them by knockout and was seen as a possible future opponent for Sugar Ray Leonard.
From the opening bell, Hearns dominated with his quick left jab and at times would hurt the champion. In the second round, a right hand from Hearns unloaded onto Cuevas’ chin and the champion wobbled like a slinky. Another quick right hand and the champion was down. Despite getting up by the count of eight, Cuevas’ trainer immediately jumped in the ring to save his man from any more punishment.
It was a dominating performance from Hearns, giving him his first title and putting the rest of the welterweight division on notice.
2) Thomas Hearns vs Roberto Duran (June 15, 1984)
This fight was a premonition for what Manny Pacquiao vs Ricky Hatton would be like. You had two fighters, both big punchers finally facing off in a super-fight. While Duran had lost his previous fight with Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title, he did make a good show of himself and was the only man to lose a decision to Hagler during his championship reign.
After controlling the first half of the fight with his long jab, Hearns unloaded a right hand that dropped Duran for only the third time in the legend’s career. Hearns went back on the attack and in the final ten seconds of the round unloaded a combination that seemed to lift Duran off the ground before he came back to the canvas. He jumped back up but you could tell that Duran was hurt as he began to walk towards the wrong corner.
Round 2 was most of the same with Duran unable to get inside due to the length of Tommy’s arms. One minute into the round Hearns had Duran on the ropes and threw perhaps the biggest right hand of his career. Duran dropped and was out before he hit the canvas and his corner rushed into the ring to save Duran. That knockout along with two additional defenses of his Jr. Middleweight title are what made Hearns 1984’s Fighter of the Year.
1) Thomas Hearns vs Sugar Ray Leonard II (June 12, 1989)
Even though it was a rematch people had wanted to see for a long time, most felt it had come too late after their first fight in 1981. Both fighters had seen better days; two fights previously, Hearns was knocked out by the unheralded Iran Barkley in the third round. And while he was able to bounce back and make history again by gaining a fifth title against James Kinchen, it had been a struggle.
Leonard on the other hand had won a controversial decision over Marvin Hagler and in his previous fight had been knocked down by Donny Lalonde. Leonard rallied to stop Lalonde in the ninth but the general public felt that this wouldn’t be a very competitive fight.
Thomas Hearns was out to prove otherwise. He was outboxing Leonard and in the third round shocked the Las Vegas audience by dropping his opponent. While it looked like Hearns might get the upset, in the fifth round Leonard rocked Hearns with a big left hook and suddenly it looked like history would repeat itself. Hearns was on the defensive as Leonard tried his best to get Hearns out of there.
Tommy regained himself and continued to outbox Leonard, even scoring another knockdown in the 11th. Once again however, Leonard hurt Hearns and had him on the ropes as referee Richard Steele watched closely. Hearns was able to stay standing and reached the final bell against his famous rival. While many at ringside scored the fight for Thomas Hearns, the judges saw otherwise and scored the fight a draw.
Despite an outcome that reflected his own feelings, Hearns was satisfied with his own effort. Years later Ray Leonard would admit that he lost that fight.
“In my eyes, Tommy won that fight,” Leonard said. “I consider us one-one. One for him, one for me.”
Hearns would go on to win another title at light-heavyweight only to lose it in a rematch with Iran Barkley. He fought regularly throughout the 90’s but never on the same level he experienced in the 80’s. A fight with Roy Jones Jr. was rumoured to be in the works during Jones peak but it never materialized. Hearns retired after spraining his ankle and losing to Uriah Grant. He came back in 2005 winning by TKO in the ninth. His final fight was in Auburn Hills, Michigan in 2006 where he scored a TKO against journeyman Shannon Landberg.
Today he’s in the hall of fame and regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time.