A Perfect Ten

thomas hearnsBy Ted Sares - I prayed, thanking God, for making it all possible for me, because I knew where I came from. --Tommy Hearns

I'm one of the few fighters around who doesn't smoke, doesn't drink and doesn't get high no kind of way. --James Shuler

James Shuler was a 1979 and 1980 National Golden Gloves Champion at 156 lbs and then became a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team. He was from Philadelphia and carried the moniker “Black Gold." He qualified as a member of the 1980 Olympic boxing team that perished tragically in an air crash in Warsaw, Poland. James missed the flight, however, as he stayed home due to an injury. The crash of LOT flight 007 resulted in the deaths of 31 Americans including 22-members of the U.S. amateur boxing team along with several U.S. Olympic team candidates. The team was en route to Warsaw for a USA vs. Poland Box-off.. Team members Alex Ramos and Bobby Czyz also did not make the trip, but Calvin Anderson, Paul Palomino (brother of Hall of Famer member Carlos) and Coach Sarge Johnson were among the victims.

Then, another blow, as President Jimmy Carter imposed an Olympic boycott that forbid U.S. Olympians from competing in the 1980 games in Moscow. I have never forgiven Carter for this act of political symbolism that destroyed the hopes of so many young people, but that‘s a story for another day. Suffice to say that James Shuler’s hopes for a medal were dashed. He turned pro on September 9, 1980 and ran off twenty-two straight wins.

On March 10, 1986, he was scheduled to fight Thomas Hearns and had a sparkling 22 (KO 16) - record at the time. Hearns was at 40-2 and this was his first fight since his April 1985 classic with Marvin Hagler. Fans were anxious to see if he had recovered from the savage knockout suffered at the hands of the Marvelous one a year earlier. Both stood 6’1 and both had a 78’ reach so Hearns would not enjoy his usual dimensional advantages.

Among “Black Gold’s” victims were James Kinchen, Clint Jackson, Noberto Sabater and Sugar Ray Seales (55-7-3 at the time). Hearns’s level of opposition, however, was light years above that of Shuler’s. Indeed, it read like a Hall of Fame induction list and included names like Leonard, Hagler, Duran, Benitez and Cuevas. Some aficionados even saw this as a possible mismatch despite Shuler’s great amateur record, undefeated pro streak, and high ranking.

The Fight

The bout took place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and at stake was Black Gold’s NABF middleweight title.

The bell rang and Hearns never looked better both physically and skill-wise. He promptly used his piston-like jabs and six well spaced savage left hooks to the body to soften up and position James for the quick kill. He mixed these shots with a few menacing right crosses, but it was the body work that brought Shuler’s hands down. “The Hitman” then connected with one of the cleanest overhand right hand punches ever thrown in a boxing ring. It landed on the button and that was that. Black Gold crumpled to the canvas and was out cold at the 1.15 mark. Why referee Richard Steele even bothered to count to ten remains baffling. Maybe it was to showcase Tommy’s perfect ten as he displayed his full arsenal of awesome weapons in just over one minute. He would go on to finish with a Hall of Fame-worthy mark of 61-5-1.

James Shuler would not be so lucky. Sadly, one week later, the popular Shuler, who was Phialdephia through and through, was killed in a motorcycle accident. However, his memory remains intact by his adoring Philadelphia fans and he has a Gym named after him (The James Shuler Memorial Boxing Gym) at 750 N Brooklyn St. in West Philadelphia. It has come to be known as the Foundation of Boxing Champions and many even refer to it as the legendary James Shuler Memorial Gym. I am sure James would approve.

He was born on May 29, 1959 and left us on far too early on March 17, 1986. May he rest in peace.

Article posted on 24.11.2008

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