Which prevails when a pulverizing puncher clashes with a granite-chinned warrior? Indeed, which would you rather be if you were a fighter: a murderous puncher or a seriously durable tough guy? One fight that saw a genuine punching great go up against a genuinely, authentically tough man took place in Detroit on this day in 1986. The legendary Thomas Hearns (a legend even then; more so today) met the never-stopped (at that time) Doug DeWitt in a middleweight showdown that proved to be a far more competitive fight than most had anticipated going in.
Hearns, ever so slightly past his best days yet still a man with more world titles in his future, defended his NABF 160 pound title in his third fight back after losing the epic War with Marvin Hagler in 1985. DeWitt, three years younger than “The Hitman,” was 27-3-3 and he had displayed his teak-tough chin in fights with the likes of “Dangerous” Don Lee, Robbie Sims (Hagler’s half-brother) and Milton McCrory. DeWitt, hailing from Yonkers, had lost, or drawn, his big fights and he was a big underdog against Hearns.
But the expected Hearns KO never came. Instead, cut badly over both eyes (an accidental butt inflicting the worst of the damage), Hearns had to work hard, listen to plenty of booing and even put up with DeWitt taunting him during the 12-rounds of action. Hearns wound up winning a wide decision, yet DeWitt, courtesy of his fine effort, won the fans.
Hearns had flattened so many good men, and would lay out quite a few more before his career came to an end, yet he couldn’t put a dent in “The Cobra.” Astonishingly, considering what Doug could take from Hearns, DeWitt would be stopped in his very next fight, by the somewhat unknown Jose Quinones, and Doug was then knocked silly by relative non-puncher Sumbu Kalambay in a failed WBA middleweight title challenge in 1987.
Throughout his long and hard career, DeWitt was stopped just four times; two of these stoppages coming at the end of his career (to Nigel Benn and to James Toney). Hearns has to rank DeWitt as one of the toughest, most durable men he ever met.
All these years later, and DeWitt, now aged 58 and still trying to make it as an actor, believes he actually beat Hearns that day in 1986. As he said when speaking with this writer a few years back:
“Hearns is an all-time great but I never really felt like I was in a tough fight that night,” DeWitt said. “Honestly, I never gave it my all. I should have gone for the ghusto and tried to KO him. People that didn’t know me said I was gonna get killed in that fight. But to this day people who don’t know me tell me I won that fight. A win would have changed my life. I wish I’d really gonme for it.”
One of the sport’s great guys as well as one of its toughest, Doug finally managed to win a world title, in 1989, when he beat Matthew Hilton to become the very first holder of the newly minted WBO middleweight belt.