Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns: His Five Best Ring Performances
By James Slater: As fight fans have read, the great Thomas Hearns is one of the 45 listed names eligible to be voted in for The Hall of Fame next year. Sure to get voted into the prestigious Hall in Canastota at the first time of asking, “The Hitman” probably achieved two or three times as is needed to go in amongst his fellow boxing immortals.
Article posted on 06.10.2011
Arguably the most exciting prize fighter on the planet from the late 1970s right up until the early 1990s, Hearns captured titles all the way from welterweight to light-heavyweight (with a number of lesser belts also won as high as cruiserweight!). Hearns, who quit the ring with a fine 61-5-1(48) record in 2006, fought a who’s who in each of the five divisions he conquered.
Hearns may have lost the two biggest fights of his career - against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981 and Vs. Marvellous Marvin Hagler in ’85 - but his fearsome ring talents saw to it that a number of greats fell at his feet.
Here, by way of a tribute to the man who will be giving an acceptance speech at Canastota next June, I list my choices for Tommy’s five best-ever ring performances.
In reverse order, here is the very best of “The Hitman!”
5: WU12 Virgil Hill, June 1991 Las Vegas.
A considerable underdog going in against the former Olympian and current, unbeaten WBA light-heavyweight ruler, a 32-year-old Hearns rolled back the years in adopting his superb, often underrated boxing skills. More “Motor City Cobra” than “Hitman” on this night, Tommy out-jabbed, outboxed and out-punched a pure boxer in the 27-year-old known as “Quicksilver.”
Winning by a close but unanimous verdict - 116-112, 115-113 twice - Hearns put the first loss on Hill’s previously 30-0 record. Hearns also added yet another trophy to his enormous collection. It would be six years before Hill lost again.
4: Draw12 Sugar Ray Leonard, June 1989 Las Vegas.
Thought to be a “shot” fighter going into the rematch that had taken almost eight long years to come to fruition, Hearns once again shocked the experts as well as his opponent. Boxing and slugging against the biggest, most important rival of his entire pro career, a 30-year-old Hearns scored two knockdowns over Leonard, as well as out-punching him and hurting him on a number of occasions.
Having waited so long to get a chance to avenge his first pro loss, Tommy put everything he had into the fight tagged “The War.” Holding a desperate Leonard off in the 12th and final round as “Sugar” went for the finish he knew he needed if he was going to win, Hearns grinned as the man who had previously stopped him unloaded everything he had to no avail. The draw turned in by the judges fooled no-one: Hearns had, as he put it himself, “removed the monkey from my back.”
3: KO4 Juan Domingo Roldan, October 1987 Las Vegas.
Fighting for a unique place in boxing history eleven days after celebrating his 29th birthday, Hearns became the first man in his sport to have won world titles at four different weights. In a great slugfest of a fight that took place two days before Halloween, Hearns almost ended Roldan’s challenge in the opening round, as his famous right hand scored two hurtful knockdowns. Tommy would have to fight a little harder to claim the vacant WBC middleweight crown, however. The Argentine bull was sent down courtesy of a left hand in the next stanza, only to survive again.
Roldan then shook Tommy in the 4th, the Detroit legend’s often shaky chin casing his legs to wobble briefly. Hearns held as the crisis passed, and then finished his man off in style later in the session. Another crushing right hand did the job; leaving Roldan flat on his face for the ten-count.
2: TKO2 Pipino Cuevas, August 1980 Detroit.
Fighting for the first time for a world title, a 21-year-old Hearns utterly annihilated a man who had won his last 12 fights, all but one by KO. The fearsome Mexican was known for his withering power, and many expected the defending WBA welterweight champ to retain his belt for an eleventh time. Instead, fans witnessed the arrival of a new superstar who could hit even harder than Cuevas.
A smashing right hand sent Cuevas reeling and to the canvas in the 2nd, and his corner-man wasted no time in diving in to save his beaten fighter. Some say this KO (or TKO) was the best Tommy ever scored as a welterweight.
1: TKO2 Roberto Duran, June 1984 Las Vegas.
The performance that saw the peak, the quintessential “Hitman” doing serious damage to a fellow all-time great!
Duran, sporting an incredible record of 77-5, had never been knocked out before - in a pro career that dated all the way back to 1967. In his previous bout, “Hands of Stone” had lost a close 15-round decision to middleweight king Marvin Hagler. Now dropping down in an effort to win Tommy’s WBC light-middleweight crown, Duran suffered the hiding of his life.
Twice in the very 1st-round Hearns dropped the legendary Panamanian. Also cut in his first painful three minutes in the ring with the 26-year-old, Duran was soon to be put out of his misery. Desperately trying to fight back as he was forced into the ropes and under real fire in the 2nd, Duran was then hit flush with THE right hand bomb of Tommy’s star-studded career. Out before he hit the mat, Duran was left face-first on the canvas.
Hearns, then 39-1, had reached the very pinnacle of his four-decade career!
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