I recently found myself in Detroit, Michigan and was immediately drawn into the city’s boxing culture. Though the city itself is currently in rough shape, it seems to set the mood for the rough and relentless boxers created on it’s streets. The popular Joe Louis’ legacy was in plain view all around in the form of statues, posters, and memorabilia. The Motor City has born numerous talented boxers over the decades, but the pugilist that was most eye catching to me was the first 4-time and first 5-time world champion, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns.
Thomas Hearns, born October 18, 1958, was raised along with his eight brothers and sisters by a single mother in Grand Junction, Tennessee. At the age of five, his family relocated to Detroit, Michigan, where Hearns first encountered boxing. He began as an amateur, accumulating a record of 155 wins and only 8 losses, and conquering the 1977 National Golden Gloves Tournament in the light welterweight division. Later that year, he turned his attention to the professional ring under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward.
Hearns quickly moved from an amateur style to Steward’s world renowned pedigree of a powerful entertaining fighter. He made his professional debut on November 25, 1977, winning his first 17 pro fights by knockout (with his first 14 opponents not making it past the fourth round). After climbing the ranks, the “Motor City Cobra” entered his first world title fight with a 28-0 record. The fight took place on August 2, 1980, in which he unseated the WBA Welterweight Champion José Cuevas by second round knockout, earning the “Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year Award” for 1980.
After three successful title defenses, Hearns found himself in a unification bout with the popular WBC Welterweight Champion “Sugar” Ray Leonard. This classic bout was a back and forth between the two pugilists that saw the Hitman ahead in the judges’ eyes, fighting through Leonard’s boxing prowess. In the fourteenth round, fatigue finally took it’s toll on Hearns, causing the referee to halt the match after a flurry of punches from Leonard were unanswered. The fight took the record at the time for the most lucrative fight in boxing history, grossing a cumulative 17 million dollars for the fighters.
His reign at welterweight had ended, but Hearns was not deterred from the ring, moving up in weight to the junior middleweight division. After winning his next three fights in the division, he won his second title on December 3, 1982, defeating Wilfred Benitez by 15-round unanimous decision. Having defended the title successfully twice, the future hall-of-fame inductee Roberto Duran looked to dethrone him. On June 15, 1984, Hearns knocked out Duran in the second round, becoming the first fighter to stop the legend, and earning himself his second “Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year” award.
The following year, the Hitman moved into the middleweight division to challenge “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler in another historic battle on April 15, 1985. This was (in my opinion) one of the most entertaining bouts in boxing history. Round one itself packed more action than some championship fights have throughout their entirety. If you haven’t witnessed this iconic fight, do yourself a treat and look it up. Hearns suffered a broken hand as well as the first knockout loss of his career in this fight.
Hearns bounced back from this defeat, earning the WBC Light Heavyweight title by scoring a technical knockout victory over Dennis Andries on March 7, 1987, and the WBC Middleweight belt by knocking out Juan Roldan on October 29, 1987, en route to becoming the first world champion in four different weight divisions. He suffered an upset loss to Iran Barkley on June 8, 1988, losing his middleweight belt. On November 11 of the same year, he defeated James Kinchen by unanimous decision and claimed the WBO Super-Middleweight belt. The win earned him the accolades of first world champion in five different weight divisions.
Hearns had one last high-profile fight in his career; a chance to redeem his first defeat against “Sugar” Ray Leonard. The fight took place on June 12, 1989 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada, for Hearns’ super-middleweight title . Hearns came in to the fight with a chip on his shoulder, looking to prove a point, and ultimately dominated the majority of the action, knocking Leonard down twice throughout the bout. Unfortunately, despite popular belief, the judges saw the fight a draw. Even Leonard later admitted that he viewed the match as a loss.
The Hitman continued fighting for some years, having his last bout on February 4, 2006, and ending his career with a tenth round technical knockout victory over Shannon Landberg. He retired with a fantastic record of 61 wins (48 by knockout), 5 losses, and one draw. He had also acquired two Fighter of the Year awards, and eight world championships across five different weight divisions. In 2012, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Hearns still resides in the Motor City where he performs public speaking functions and remains an iconic sports staple of the city. From amateur champion to legendary hall-of-famer, Thomas Hearns is one of the greatest products of the Motor City’s boxing community.
What are your favorite moments of Hearns’ hall of fame career? Let me know on Twitter @TheGreatToddMan