30 Years Ago Yesterday: An All-Time Welterweight Classic - Leonard vs. Hearns!

By James Slater: As fight fans eagerly await tonight’s World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight title showdown between young, dangerous southpaw Victor Ortiz and unbeaten modern day master Floyd Mayweather Junior, older fans are reminiscing about an all-time great welterweight classic that took place three decades ago yesterday.

Fans who saw Sugar Ray Leonard stop Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in the 14th-round in Las Vegas will never forget the fight. It is almost certainly too much to ask for a fight half as good tonight, but you never know for sure. The Leonard win over Hearns may never be topped in terms of sizzling, back and forth action.

Today, the 55-year-old Leonard basks in the glory his amazing career brought him; the win over Hearns at the top of his mighty list of notable accomplishments. 30 years on from “The Showdown” in the Vegas desert, Sugar Ray kindly recalled his epic night for this writer earlier this year.

“First of all,” Ray said in a soft, clear voice. “Tommy Hearns was one of the best fighters on the scene at the time. He was considered invincible by a lot of people, due primarily to the way he had annihilated everyone he had faced. Pipino Cuevas (who Tommy took out inside two-rounds to take the WBA 147-pound belt he would later lose to Leonard), and all the other guys he hit, he destroyed. He had that lethal right hand and he was 6’2” - really a freak of nature! He was fast and he could punch, but still, I was very confident going into the fight.

“Maybe there was a member or two of my camp who were not so confident, because they had seen up close what Tommy could do, but I felt very confident going in. Due to my hand-speed and my lateral movement, which I knew I would use in the fight, I was confident I’d win. There were multiple concerns going into the fight - not just Tommy’s right hand. He had a great left jab, he could punch from all angles; with the left hook, the uppercut- he really could do it all. I knew I had to gain a psychological edge. I actually said that at the press conference: that I would have a mental edge because I knew I had to approach the fight the same way I would go about chopping down a tall tree. I said I’d go to the body and slowly break him down that way.”

Understandably, Ray trained harder than at any other time in his career whilst prepping for “The Hitman.”

“For the fight with Tommy, I got up at 5 A.M, and I ran three to four miles a day. I would run backwards, sideways, in circles. I ran like I fought in the ring. I simulated exactly what I would do in the fight. The running I did, it built up the muscles I’d be using during the fight. Then, at noon, I would go and practice. My training sessions lasted and hour-and-half, maybe a little longer. I’d shadow box, jump rope, spar, hit the heavy bag and the speed bag and then finish off with sit-ups. It’s funny, I never stretched too much. I guess I thought that at age 25 I never needed to (laughs). I’d spar five to ten rounds a day with good sparring partners. Then on the heavy bag I’d do four-rounds and then three-rounds on the speed bag. For jumping rope, I’d do five minute intervals to music. I loved doing it to music; I felt the music. Then I’d finish off with 100 to 200 sit-ups, to make sure the breadbasket was tight. I never lifted weights. Back then weights were a real no-no.”

Leonard made sure he always had top-notch sparring partners ahead of a fight. For the Hearns camp his team searched high and low to get him all the Tommy Hearns clones they possibly could.

“All the guys I used for the fight with Tommy were 6’2,” even 6’3,” and they all had a great left jab and a powerful right hand. For each fight, I had guys that would duplicate, as best they could, as accurately as they could, my opponent. I trained hard for Tommy’s style. I would always choreograph a fight in my head, and a great percent of the time the fight would play out exactly as I saw it beforehand.”

As fans know, Leonard rallied whilst behind on points and, with his eye swelling shut, stopped Hearns in the 14th-round. Today Leonard feels fortunate to have had great opponents such as Hearns to test his greatness.

“I’m very fortunate in that when I was fighting I was fighting during one of the best eras in the sport. It takes two to dance, and I was fortunate in that I had great, blessed fighters such as Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez to fight. I was lucky in that I had so many defining fights. What I would say to any aspiring fighter, though, is hard work is the key. You have to do boxing full time if you want to make it; there is no part-time approach. Dedication is essential.”

Now on to tonight’s fight: will Mayweather have to dig deeper than ever before to come through against Ortiz?

Article posted on 17.09.2011

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