Immortal ring legend Thomas Hearns, the first man in boxing history to win world titles at four different weights – 147, 154, 160 and 175, though not in that order – today celebrates his 61st birthday. Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Hearns made a name for himself as one of the most exciting, fearless, driven and fan-friendly boxers in all of boxing.
Starting off as a skinny young kid who was able to stop just 11 of his amateur opponents, Tommy soon became known as one of the world’s most lethal-hitting welterweights. Trainer Emanuel Steward, at the famous Kronk gym in Detroit, taught his hardest ever working fighter how to sit down on his punches and the rest is history. A stoppage loss to future great Aaron Pryor was followed by a superb pro career that began in November of 1977.
Most fight fans the world over are already fully aware of “The Motor City Cobra,” or “The Hitman’s” incredible achievements; how he knocked 26 of his initial 147-pound opponents flat on his way to his first world title fight. How Hearns seized this title with a truly stunning 2nd-round KO of Mexico’s Pipino Cuevas, and how he and archival Sugar Ray Leonard met in 1981 in a hugely anticipated welterweight unification showdown. Hearns lost that one, after a most fabulous battle, but he won himself even more fans.
Indeed, these fans, practically all of whom were incredibly loyal to Tommy, win lose or draw, would have a hard time telling you today just which of their hero’s myriad of fistic achievements is their favorite. And these same fans might well tell you, correctly, how the peak Hearns – from 1980 at welterweight, to 1987 at middleweight – would not have lost to a single fighter operating today. Hearns in his prime lost to just two fighters, each of them truly great: Leonard and, up at middleweight, Marvin Hagler.
Hearns today, at 147, beats them all: Mayweather? For sure. Pacquiao? Please! Tommy would have done a similar job on Pacquiao as the one he did on fellow legend Roberto Duran. Up at 160, Canelo? Hearns would have out-boxed and outpointed the Mexican. Golovkin? This one would have been very interesting, but Tommy would have won a close decision over 12-rounds. You can agree or disagree, but Hearns brought so much passion, so much skill, so much ferocity to the sport he added so much to that he makes a fan feel this way; believe this way. Hearns is a true great, better than any fighter at his weight class (or classes) today. Sure, Hearns lost, but he never, ever had things easy: no catch-weights, no ducking or dodging the best, no referees who favored him.
And Hearns had some incredible career.
Indeed, there are too many classic Hearns moments to choose from when trying to list just one, and again, not all these highlights of a great career came in wining fights from the 6’1″ star. But that’s the beauty of Hearns, even if he lost he still gave his all and, on many occasions, a genuinely special performance – call it brilliance in defeat if you like. For after all the ups and downs (mostly ups), after all the world title fights, after all the different weight divisions he boxed in and after all the various comebacks, Thomas Hearns is known primarily as a real fighter; a fight fans’ fighter.
Ask yourself this: as good, or as great as today’s best welterweights, light-middleweights and middleweights are, do any of them really, honestly, truthfully rank above Hearns?