Leonard v Hearns II-Was "The War" really a draw?

09.01.06 - By James Slater: Ray thought Tommy was shot. That's what his critics said, and this was the only reason he was granting Hearns a very long overdue rematch. "The Hitman" was thought to be damaged goods by many so called experts and "Sugar Ray" himself , they claimed, considered Tommy to be no way near the threat to him he once was. There may be some truth to this, Ray always did stack every possible advantage in his corner-just ask Mr. Lalonde or Mr. Hagler- and maybe the form Hearns had shown in his last few fights had convinced him that a relatively easy, financially huge, KO win was a definite were he to grant Tommy the wish he'd been dreaming of for eight long years. Whatever Leonard's reasons for taking the fight, Tommy was ecstatic. He didn't care at all what Leonard thought of him. He knew what he had left inside and that "Sugar Ray" would be rudely awakened if he was entering the ring with him for the second time with any comfort coming from allusions of overwhelming superiority. Hearns was massively motivated at the chance of defeating a man he knew he was better than. All he'd needed to prove it was Leonard's name on the contract, and now he had it. He was absolutely resolute he would not lose to Ray Leonard for a second time. The hype began for "The War."

June the 12th 1989 finally arrived and a sell out crowd, along with a huge pay-per-view audience, sat back and awaited the start to 1981's sequel. Leonard had been angered by Hearns' dig at him when he'd accused Ray of having used steroids to achieve the strikingly muscular physique he'd been sporting recently. "The Hitman" really got under Leonard's skin with a quip that had started off as a joke. He didn't really believe he'd dabbled in steroid use, but the wind up worked and now maybe Tommy had the upper hand in the psychological games.

Leonard entered the ring with the words Amandla written on his trunks. This was a display of his feelings regarding the apartheid situation in South Africa. Hearns wore his usual Kronk colours. After his long introduction by M.C Michael Buffer, Hearns, in intimidating style, beckoned to Leonard with his right arm extended. Ray did his best to ignore him, and, after his own lengthy intro, the two awaited the first bell.

Tommy came out stalking, his left jab serving him well as usual. Leonard looked quite slow on his legs as he fought in a flat footed style. In training he had repeatedly practised putting everything into one punch, loading up and scoring with power. His game plan, judging by his start to the fight, was to get a spectacular KO win. These tactics, if they didn't get the desired result, would surely see him fall behind on points.

In the third, all thoughts Leonard may have had towards having an easy night vanished as he was sent to the deck courtesy of "The Hitman's" right cross. The punch landed flush but Leonard tried to fain not being hurt. The follow up punch barely clipped the back of his head but the damage had been done by that first right. Ray sank to his knees and had a worried look on his face as he took the count that told us the knockdown was indeed genuine. It had looked like a slip at first but with the benefit of slow motion replays all could see the big right hand that had caused the knockdown. As in their first fight, Leonard would have real problems with Tommy's height and reach, as well as with his class boxing skills. This fight was really going to be something and if Ray had thought Tommy was an over the hill fighter he knew now that he'd made a serious error!

The fourth round was Tommy's too and he was winning the fifth until Leonard had his first big success. He caught and hurt Hearns with a good shot before opening up and letting blows fly from all angles. Tommy had to soak up a lot of punishment, but this he did, and in so doing he proved that all talk about his chin being virtually non existent was unfounded. Ray had thrown everything he had in an effort to get his man out of there, and failed. The sixth round belonged to Hearns and he was really starting to stack up the points by this stage. He rocked "Sugar Ray" in the seventh and backed him to the ropes. Leonard had never looked so hittable as Tommy blazed away! But he managed to come back as his rival's attack slowed and a two sided round delighted the crowd. It may not have been as good as their exceptional first encounter, but this fight's billing as "The War" was being more than justified already. As was its dedication, to the original "Sugar Ray", the incomparable Ray Robinson, who had passed away on April the 12th of that year.

Going into the last third of the bout it was looking as though the revenge Hearns so craved just might be his. Emmanuel Steward was pumping him up all the way, telling Tommy that this fight was the one that was going to make him great. He also pleaded with him to throw more right hands. In the eleventh "The Hitman" obliged. He landed the sledgehammer that he'd first made famous a decade ago again and again and Leonard was in desperate trouble. For the second time that evening Ray found himself in the humbling position of being down on all fours. This fall bore no resemblance at all to being a slip, this was the nearest Leonard had ever been to being KO'd in his career! He beat the count but looked totally demoralised as he did so. He knew then, that were he to last out the remaining four minutes of action, that defeat would be a very likely possibility for him via the scorecards. He fought back valiantly through what was left of the eleventh and then spent every last ounce of his strength in the final round in an attempt at making the point totals redundant. Hearns was rocking and reeling as Leonard teed off on him. Would we see a repeat of the 1981fight, when a desperate Leonard had salvaged victory with a late stoppage? No!

Tommy knew now how to hold and his survival instincts and great courage saw him battle through the crisis. Ray tired in the last few seconds and Hearns was still standing, and smiling, at the bell. "The War" was over. Surely, even with the probability of a 10-8 round for Leonard in the twelfth it would not be enough to prevent Tommy's hand being raised? He had scored two knockdowns to his rival's nought and he'd out boxed Ray almost throughout. There was no way Tommy could lose!

But he didn't win. "This bout is a draw, ladies and gentlemen!", bellowed Michael Buffer. And the boos cascaded upon the ring. Once again a win over Ray Leonard had eluded Thomas Hearns. This time however, it was different. To Hell with the judges; EVERYONE knew who won this fight. KO magazine later summed things up succinctly with their front cover headline of "Hearns rips Leonard and then gets ripped off!" Even Ray himself was to eventually say how he now considered him and Tommy to be, "One and one."

There may have been worse decisions in fights throughout boxing history and we are almost certainly going to be subject to some more atrocities in the future, but this fight, and its depressing result-not just for Tommy, but for his millions of fans too-really does stick in the mind as a classic case of injustice. On paper Hearns was never able to win "the big one"; he lost to Leonard the first time, then to Hagler and was then cruelly denied victory in his last true super fight.On paper that is; but in the minds of fair and objective historians the world over, such results are not worth even the paper they are shoddily written on.

"The War" was no draw!

Article posted on 09.01.2006

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