FORGED in the heat and sparring wars of Detroit’s Kronk gym, Thomas Hearns helped make the name of that intimidating production line. Afforded the opportunity of greatness by the rivals he got to fight, Hearns never shirked from a challenge.
Tall with tremendous reach, Hearns had knockout potential in either fist, belied by his slim appearance. That provided him with the components of a fearsome operator and he put them to such good use he appeared unbeatable. Not a noted banger as an amateur, he brought the power out his long frame as he developed. Turning pro Hearns had 17 fights before he found someone who could last the course with him.
In a remarkable age for the sport, Hearns had the courage to go in with anyone. He may not have beaten them all but the “Hitman” produced some true classics. The unbridled ferocity of the three rounds he shared, at middleweight, with Marvin Hagler are unforgettable. He had two showdowns with Sugar Ray Leonard who emerged as the greatest of their era.
In their first encounter, a 1981 welterweight unification duel, Hearns was so far ahead on the cards he merely had to survive the last two rounds to win the super-fight. Hearns had fought himself to a standstill and beyond. Leonard had to turn on an immense finish to knock him down and stop him in this 14th. “This fight surpasses all my professional accomplishments,” Sugar Ray said afterwards.
That loss may have stripped him of an air of invulnerability but it shouldn’t be forgotten how he acquired it. After ripping through his professional apprenticeship, Hearns met the WBA’s long time welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas and sensationally stopped him in two rounds.
After his reverse to Leonard, the “Motor City Cobra” moved up to light-middle and comprehensively outpointed no less than Wilfred Benitez to pick up another ‘world’ crown.
At that weight he amazingly destroyed Roberto Duran in two rounds. In his previous fight the ferocious Panamanian had been competitive with Hagler at middle, when he lost on points, but Hearns destroyed him with ruthless efficency. That victory set the Detroit star up for the three rounds of brutal mayhem with “Marvellous” Marvin.
Hearns may not have been able to stand up to the intense bombardment of Hagler but he proved his fighting heart but coming back once again. A visit to light-heavyweight brought him Dennis Andries’ WBC light-heavyweight title. He relinquished that to return to middleweight but Iran Barkley shocked him inside three rounds in 1988.
The following year he got the rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard he so desired. They fought at super-middlweight, both past their prime but still combined for another great fight. They hurt each other along the way and finished level on a draw, though the result could have gone to the “Hitman”. It left Hearns feeling he had proved a point. “I answered the questions about my chin,” Hearns said afterwards.
“I’m proud of the draw. They could have gone the other way.”
With his warrior spirit, Hearns was hardly content to call it a day. He outpointed Virgil Hill for another light-heavyweight ‘world’ title and he lost again to Iran Barkley, this time on a split decision.
Like so many great champions, the virtues that made Hearns indomitable in his time kept him in the ring long after his peak was gone. In 2000 he couldn’t make it past two rounds with Uriah Grant at home in Detroit. He resurfaced again in 2005 and 2006 when he should have been enjoying a hard earned retirement. It also put back his richly deserved induction to the Hall of Fame, which happened this year, 2012.
The Hearns name lives on, with son Ronald following his father into professional boxing, and the name still carried enough weight to have taken Ronald to a ‘world’ title fight. But it’s Tommy’s achievements of the past and his indelible bond with Leonard, Hagler and Duran that will never be forgotten.