Thomas Hearns had two nicknames: Hitman, and Motor City Cobra. Capable of boxing with the best and of outboxing the best (see his fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, Wilfred Benitez and Virgil Hill), Hearns was also more than equipped with the ability and the weapons with which to ice many a formidable foe (see his KO wins over Roberto Duran, Pipino Cuevas and Juan Domingo Roldan).
But as many big world title fight wins Hearns enjoyed – and there surely were plenty of them – it’s possible “The Hitman’s” most chilling appearance came in a fight that didn’t contest a world title.
It was on this day in 1986 when Hearns, returning to the ring for the first time since his epic, savage and unforgettable but losing war with Marvin Hagler, met a gifted star of the future named James Shuler.
Known as “Black Gold,” Shuler was not given the chance to grow into the star fighter he may well have become; this because of two things.
Firstly, Hearns chilled Shuler with a vaporising right hand to the chin in the very first round of their NABF middleweight title fight. And secondly, and tragically, Shuler was killed in a motorcycle accident just days after losing his unbeaten record.
Hearns, with a point to prove to those critics who claimed the Hagler defeat showed the former welterweight and light-middleweight champ did not belong at 160 pounds, came out razor-fast against accomplished amateur boxer Shuler.
In a blur, Hearns whipped over a right cross to the chin and down crashed Shuler, his hands still up, his mitts having served no protective value at all.
If Hearns showed more devastating power in other fights, he surely never displayed a more astonishing blend of speed and accuracy than he unleashed in this fight.
Hagler, who had to dig deep to overcome the challenge of “Beast” John Mugabi in the main event that same night in Vegas, had been served notice: Hearns was back and he wanted a return shot.
This, as we know, never came. Hagler instead, and unsurprisingly, opted to take the irresistible fight with Sugar Ray Leonard; which he lost – with Marvelous then hanging up his gloves, never to return.
Hearns was left to wait for his own shot at redemption against Leonard; which finally came in June of 1989. Shuler left us all wondering how good, how great, he might have become.
Hearns showed again how, when he was sufficiently motivated, sufficiently sharp and with something to prove, was a master at placing an exquisite bomb of a punch on the sweet spot to take his man out.
Hearns’ Five Greatest KO’s:
1: Roberto Duran – Round 2.
2: Pipino Cuevas – Round 2.
3: Juan Domingo Roldan – Round 4.
4: James Shuler – Round 1.
5: Dennis Andries – Round 10.
I wonder, what would have happened had Hagler and Hearns fought a rematch in 1987? Who would have scored the KO?