In The Ring With “The Hitman” - Three Fellow Greats Recall Their Battles With The Legendary Tommy Hearns

By James Slater: Thomas Hearns is, rightly so, on the ballot for the 2012 Hall of Fame. For the first time has the necessary five years of retirement elapsed for Hearns to be eligible. Only the fact that the Detroit “Hitman” fought an amazingly long pro career, from1977 to 2006, has prevented him from being eligible to be voted for until now.

Hearns is a lock to get in next year, and he will surely make the trip to Canastota to give his reception speech. An absolutely magnificent fighter who solidified his legend by constantly and continually facing the very best opposition he could, Hearns was great enough to win recognised world titles in five different weight classes - welterweight, light-middleweight, middleweight, super-middleweight and light-heavyweight.

Over his near 30-year pro career, Tommy met such standout fighters as Sugar Ray Leonard (twice, Marvellous Marvin Hagler (in a fight some experts refer to when listing THE greatest slugfest in history), Pipino Cuevas, Wilfredo Benitez, Roberto Duran, Iran Barkley (twice), Virgil Hill and Doug DeWitt. Win lose or draw, Tommy’s millions of fans always knew he would give his all inside the squared circle.

In this tribute article to my hands down all-time favourite fighter in all of boxing, I reveal what a trio of greats feel about the time they spent in the ring with Hearns - three men who understand perfectly why their former rival belongs in The Hall of Fame. Two of the three men I was lucky enough to interview fought Hearns twice each, while the other lost a punishing distance fight to Tommy. All three had to dig deeper than they ever had to before in order to survive, let alone try and win, when they swapped leather with the lanky boxer/puncher.

Let’s start with Tommy’s fiercest, most famous rival - Mr. Sugar Ray Leonard (who met Tommy in 1981 and again in 1989):

“Tommy was one of the best fighters on the scene at the time [we fought],” Leonard said.

“He was considered invincible, due to the way he annihilated so many guys he faced. Pipino Cuveas and all the other guys he hit, he destroyed! He was fast and he could really punch. He had a great left jab, he could punch from all angles - the left hook, the uppercut - he really could do it all. I’m very fortunate in that when I was fighting I was fighting during one of the best eras in the sport. I was fortunate to have had great, blessed fighters such as Tommy Hearns to fight.”

Iran Barkley also met Hearns twice: in 1988 and again in 1992:

“Tommy was a great boxer and a great puncher,” Barkley stated.

“But he couldn’t take a great punch. He was the hardest puncher I ever faced though. He hit me so hard I knew I’d been hit! But that [first] fight, I refused to be hurt. I knew that [second] fight would be tough too. I watched just one fight before the rematch: the Hagler fight. I knew I had to forget about boxing to beat him.”

Doug DeWitt met Tommy in 1986, three fights before Barkley scored his shocker. Doug had a hard night:

“Tommy was great,” DeWitt said.

“I fought him when he was at his absolute best. But I tell you honestly, I think I won that fight. I swear, I won. But I should’ve tried to KO Tommy. When you’re in with a legend you have to be one-hundred-percent and I wasn’t. I was catching Hearns with good shots, though, and I honestly feel I had a shot at a KO. In the end I lost a decision.”

Article posted on 15.10.2011

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