The Fighting Life: Thomas Hearns
By Sina Latif
Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns was one of the legendary ‘Four Kings’ that dominated 1980’s boxing.
These kings being Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard, ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler and Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran. These Hall of Fame warriors cemented themselves in boxing folklore with their breathtaking encounters.
Hearns had a stellar amateur career, having fought the likes of Aaron Pryor, Howard Davis Jr, Bobby Joe Young and Ronnie Shields. He won the National Amateur Athletic Union and Golden Gloves titles in 1977, the same year he laced up his first pair of gloves in the paid ranks.
As an amateur, Hearns racked up 155 wins and only 8 losses with a careful jab-and-move style, using his long reach and nimble feet to out-box opponents.
Steward took Hearns’ amateur pedigree and taught Hearns about leverage using his 6-foot-1 inch height and 78 inch reach.
Steward later explained that Hearns was not a puncher in the amateurs, therefore the “Motor City Cobra” was given some easy touches in his first few professional bouts to build up some confidence in his power.
This obviously worked, because Hearns became one of the most formidable punchers in the history of boxing with that long right cross, becoming “The Hitman”.
In his 29th professional bout, Hearns challenged the long-reigning world champion Jose Pipino Cuevas.
Cuevas was the WBA world welterweight champion for 4 years with 11 title defences under his belt. This fight was unlike anything the untested Hearns had faced before, or so they expected. The fight concluded and Hearns was still untested. The Hitman’s power proved to be too much for the long-reigning champion, getting a 2nd round KO.
This was the birth of a boxing legend.
In 1981, the much-anticipated bout billed as “The Showdown” between Leonard and Hearns took place.
Leonard won via TKO in the 14th round, inflicting Hearns’ first pro loss in the richest fight in sports history at the time.
For a man who has also beaten Hagler, Duran and Wilfred Benitez, Leonard stated years after his retirement that to beat Hearns, “I think that was my defining moment, the pinnacle.”
Following his first loss, Hearns moved up to super welterweight and comprehensively outpointed an accomplished technician, WBC super welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez.
Hearns then proceeded to coldcock Duran in two rounds. After this, Hearns’ standing and reputation had fully recovered from his first pro career loss to Leonard. The former conqueror of Leonard, the man nicknamed “Hands of Stone” had also moved up to super welterweight with Hearns.
An anticipated fight for the ages was no different to what Hearns had already experienced with Cuevas. One right hook in the second round and Duran was face down on the canvas.
Having dispatched Duran and with Leonard leaving the sport, although temporarily in hindsight, there was one man left for Hearns to face and determine the superstar of boxing, and that was ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler.
Hearns moved up to middleweight and they had the best three rounds in boxing history.
The Hitmans’ fight against the undisputed middleweight champion, accurately called the “Eight minutes of fury”, is on everyone’s lips when talking about the most action-packed, mesmerising wars ever.
Hagler detonated a final right to the chin of Hearns whilst ‘The Hitman’ was pushed back onto the ropes in the third round and the fight was over.
Hagler later referred to that fight as ‘the very highlight of my career’.
Hearns had lost to Leonard, the best welterweight since the days of the best fighter in history in the eyes of many in Sugar Ray Robinson, who had left the 147lbs division in 1951, and there has arguably not been a better welterweight than Leonard since.
The other man was Hagler, and there has also arguably not been a better middleweight than the ‘Marvelous’ one since he hung up his gloves. During his prime, Hearns only lost to two all-time greats, the best to compete in their divisions, who adapted their styles to put up career best performances in order to defeat Hearns, and both felt a victory over ‘The Hitman’ was the highlight of their legendary careers.
Hearns proceeded to stop Dennis Andries to become WBC light heavyweight champion, before victory over Juan Domingo Roldan meant that Hearns became WBC middleweight champion, finally becoming a four-weight division champion, with the name Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns etched into boxing folklore.
Hearns’ legend was established, but he did not stop there.
He ultimately became a six-weight division champion, from welterweight to light heavyweight, in a career that spanned from 1977 to 2006. Therefore, Hearns unsurprisingly gets calls these days for a variety of boxing halls of fame.
With the men that Hearns fought, such as Leonard (twice), Benitez, Duran, Hagler, Cuevas, Barkley, Virgil Hill, Bruce Curry, Andries and Roldan, if Hearns just merely showed up, the hall would be calling.
However, Hearns didn’t just show up. He showed up to have real fights against the best, and that is why the boxing world loved him back then and still love him now, over 30 years after his prime.
Hearns may just be the biggest puncher in the history of the welterweight division, and pound-for-pound, may have the greatest right hand ever. He may have the greatest jab ever. To utilise that combination and have one of the best one-two’s in history made him utterly formidable. His boxing ability was elite.
In a sport where the word ‘killer’ is dished out at will, Hearns was a real killer. He had a killer’s instinct and was going in to knock his opponents out and if he got KO’d or lost, he would still carry on to cement greatness. He had a real champion’s mindset.
Hearns is one of the most uniquely gifted men ever in boxing and his achievements, along with his lasting bond with Leonard, Hagler and Duran will never be forgotten.