Billy Hearns, brother of the great Thomas Hearns, wants it known he is back. Back training fighters and ready, willing and more than capable of taking a young fighter and turning him into a world champion, Hearns wants nothing more than to get back to passing on his considerable boxing knowledge.
Fans will be familiar with Billy; he was there at all those epic “Hitman” nights – Billy’s famed whistle serving to pump up Tommy as well as the crowd. Having learned from Emanuel Steward (who Billy does an absolutely perfect vocal impression of!), Billy took the reins ahead of one of Tommy’s best wins, this his 30-year-old boxing masterclass of a points win over Virgil Hill. Billy, with the late Alex Shearer, got Tommy ready for that one, and Hearns picked up yet another word title, this time the WBA light-heavyweight crown.
Here, the fast-talking Hearns kindly talks all about his own career along with his brother’s career:
Q: You had an unbeaten record of 8-0. Why did you stop boxing?
Billy Hearns: “I suffered a neck injury from a fall and I went into the training side of the sport, helping Emanuel Steward. I did get to 8-0, yes, with five first-round knockouts. I was a carbon copy of Tommy. I had watched the guys, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, Tommy, and I could throw the right hand myself. I was a good puncher at 126 pounds. Whenever you take five guys out in a round, consecutively, you know you can punch pretty good. If it wasn’t for that neck injury, well, I was groomed by the best and I fought the best [in the gym, in sparring].
“Matter of fact, I can’t say the name, but a top amateur, who Emanuel had just signed and who was ready to go pro, I knocked him out. Emanuel never said his name, so why should I! I boxed guys like Stanley Longstreet (Detroit 135 pounder, 22-3-2 at the end), and Marlon Thomas (also of Detroit, 37-9-1).”
Q: Fans know you of course, due to you being there in the ring for all Tommy’s great fights…..
B.H: “(whistling loudly)….
Q: That’s it! That’s the whistle you did as the fight was being announced! That sure pumped everyone up.
B.H: “I was in the dressing room with Tommy for all those fights. I told him, before the Ray Leonard rematch, to double up on the jab, to triple the jab. I told him to hook off the jab, that there was no way Leonard would be able to see it. The thing was, Emanuel told Tommy after that fight that he wanted him to retire – he told Tommy that his legs had gone and his chin had gone. Tommy came to me and told me. I was like, ‘Huh! You just got a draw with Sugar Ray Leonard! No way should you retire.’ Tommy came with me and Alex Shearer and, man, he was knocking guys out at light-heavyweight. This one guy, [Ken] Atkins, he was a white dude and he was talking so much ahead of the fight in Hawaii. Tommy put a beating on that guy! Tommy went to the body and then brought it up to the head. After the fight, Atkins told me he was begging Tommy not to hit him to the body anymore, that he wanted him to hit him in the head (laughs). Me, I was so motivated to be training Tommy, who I had never trained before.
“That fight, which is coming up 30 years ago, was a boxing lesson! Tommy really did give Virgil Hill a boxing lesson. The thing is, a boxer can never beat a great left jab. We told Tommy to keep Hill on the end of it, that way he [Hill] would have to work that much harder. Me and Freddie Roach (Hill’s trainer), we almost got into it before that fight. We were coming out of the tunnel and I told Roach to get ready for an ass whupping! He said, ‘What!’ We nearly went right at it ourselves. But Tommy, he’s the only man to have gone from 147 pounds to 175 and beat an undefeated guy to win it [the 175 pound title.] Hill’s problem was he never gave Tommy the respect he should have given him. And he paid for it.”
Q: Tommy was a true great, no doubt……
B.H: “In his early days, Tommy was trained by Henry Hill. He taught Tommy from the age of 11 to almost 16 years old. He had Tommy boxing, using combinations. By the time Tommy went with Emanuel, Emanuel had a pure boxer – his shots were coming out like popcorn, ‘pop, pop, pop! Emanuel got him down on his power and improved his boxing a little too (Billy goes into another awesome impression of Emanuel). If it wasn’t for Emanuel, I’d have been a bum. But right now, Billy Hearns is back. I’m back training guys and any young fighters from over there [in the UK] who need training, get them in touch with me. I’m back and I’m ready to knock down everything and anything, everyone and anyone!”
Q: Just finally, did you see Tommy on Mike Tyson’s Hot Boxin’ podcast, where he was with Sugar Ray and Sugar Shane Mosley?
B.H: “Oh, of course. That was beautiful. And they paid tribute to Hagler. Hagler never got his credit on the way up and even when he was champ. But he earned his props. We all must look up to Hagler. One of the best ever.”