Thomas Hearns versus Evander Holyfield: who wins? Or who would have won? This particular Dream Fight actually came pretty close to happening, believe it or not. Back in the early summer of 1991, Thomas Hearns had just scored a superb, reaffirming victory over an unbeaten Virgil Hill, winning a big portion of the world light-heavyweight title in the process. Hearns, then aged 32 and proving that he was in no way done yet – as some experts felt was the case after Tommy’s closer than necessary and quite dull points win over Michael Olajide in April of 1990 – had rolled back the years in style.
“Tommy Hearns climbs another hill,” bellowed the headline of one especially popular boxing magazine of the time, and fans, experts and fellow fighters wondered how much more “The Hitman/Motor City Cobra” could achieve before walking into retirement and onto a red carpet invite to The Hall of Fame. And Hearns wondered about this himself – almost to the point that he was ready to take the ultimate gamble: a challenge for the world heavyweight crown!
Evander Holyfield was, in 1991, a largely unproven heavyweight; far from the all-time great and proven warrior he is today known as. Holyfield was also a “small” heavyweight at around 208 pounds. Maybe, just maybe, Holyfield, also not known at the time as a particularly destructive puncher up at heavyweight, was small enough for the 6’1” Hearns to be able to handle. Not too much taller than Tommy at a fraction above 6’2,” Holyfield was equal to Hearns in terms of reach, with both men being even at 78.”
Hearns figured he could bulk up to around 190 to 195 and not lose his speed of hand and foot, hand especially, and maybe he could do it. Hearns had already made boxing history as the first man to have won legit world titles in four separate weight classes (welterweight/light-middleweight/middleweight and light-heavyweight) and though he made it clear he was not willing to mix it with the big heavyweights – big in terms of size and structure along with punching power (Hearns, no fool, was not going to mess with Mike Tyson!) – Tommy was seriously thinking about taking on Evander.
What would have happened had these two true greats met in the latter part of 1991? Holyfield had struggled with an ancient George Foreman in his most recent fight, his showing getting generally negative reviews, whereas Hearns had shone against big betting favourite, possible future great Hill. Would Hearns, with his educated left jab, his excellent boxing skills and his enormous heart, have been able to win a decision over Holyfield, a man who the critics said was too easy to hit? Maybe.
But probably not. We know now that although Holyfield laboured to beat “Big George,” he could indeed punch with serious authority as a heavyweight (see his later stoppage win over Tyson and his decking of the huge Riddick Bowe). Foreman was special, far more so than anyone knew at the time, and only a herculean effort on his part allowed him to go all 12-rounds with Holyfield, not the weakness of Evander’s shots.
Hearns may well have bagged a few rounds against a Holyfield who was still growing into the heavyweight division somewhat himself (the Foreman fight was just his eighth as a heavyweight) but at some stage Holyfield would have tagged his chin. Tommy’s chin was actually better at a higher weight than it was down at welterweight and middleweight; with him never being stopped as a 175 pounder, but Holyfield was always a relentless take no for an answer fighter.
If Hearns had managed to box a perfect fight, one that saw him make no mistakes whatsoever, he might just have been able to hear the final bell; maybe even win a very close decision. But the thinking is Holyfield would have been too strong, too aggressive, too rock-chinned and too determined to lose.
Hearns did go up to cruiserweight in the latter stages of his career, but he struggled with far lesser fighters than Holyfield. Hearns would not have been disgraced in any way in losing to Holyfield, but lose he would have done. Hearns was a man who dared to be great on a number of occasions, but he would have bitten off more than he could have possibly chewed if he’d gone a step too far into a heavyweight clash with Holyfield. Still, it almost did happen.