30.06.05 – By Matthew Hurley: Earlier this week legendary boxer Thomas Hearns announced that he will mount yet another comeback and hopefully step back into the ring before the end of the summer. Hearns, 46, was last seen being helped out of the ring in April 2000 after being forced to retire against Uriah Grant after the second round because of a twisted ankle and a severe knee injury. This latest return by a former great fighter has many people shaking their heads in sadness, including Tommy’s former trainer Emanuel Steward who will not be a part of this latest attempt at resurrecting past fistic glories.
“Manny told me, ‘I don’t want you to fight,” Hearns said. “But I’m not going to let him dictate my career. I didn’t let him do that when I started and I’m not going to let him do that now.” Steward acknowledged that he wishes Hearns would hang up the gloves and take up residence in the Boxing Hall Of Fame but lamented that his most famous charge is as stubborn as he was when he was an up and coming welterweight over 25 years ago.
“Of all the fighters I have worked with, he’s still my favorite,” Steward commented. “Some of my biggest thrills in boxing have come with him. But in this case, I’ll just wish him good luck.”
It seemed, as the years passed, that Hearns had finally accepted that his boxing career was over and that he would turn his focus to his son Ronald, a middleweight fighter with a 6 & 0 record. But the “Hit Man” has always been one of those fighters who only seem comfortable either in the gym preparing for a fight or stalking back and forth in his corner before the opening bell. There has always been something fiercely primal about Thomas Hearns. It made him both a feared warrior when he was in his prime and a fan favorite.
His style, so multifaceted, could come apart if his warrior mentality got the better of him. That inability to keep his focus made him an utterly compelling figure and ultimately resulted in one of the most brutal slugfests of the modern boxing age, his epic bout with Marvin Hagler. That fight, twenty years on, still remains a measuring stick for every brutal bout that came after it. Recently, during the tremendous battle between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo, broadcaster Steve Albert was moved to compare the carnage in the ring to Hagler vs. Hearns. So obsessed with Marvin Hagler’s bout with Hearns is middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins that he brings it up before nearly every defense of his title, including his upcoming fight with Jermain Taylor.
The memories of Hearns dueling twice with Sugar Ray Leonard, destroying Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas, claiming his fourth title in a pitched war against Juan Roldan and annexing the light heavyweight title as an underdog against a surging Virgil Hill have made this news a source of weariness for many boxing fans. These endless comebacks by heroes of the ring have become a nauseating side-show. Though the ghosts of the past seem to haunt these fighters it’s the specter of tragedy that is almost visibly stalking these men when the try to reclaim their past that is truly chilling. As they enter the ring a sense of doom envelopes the room.
You just know this is not going to end well. Maybe not in the immediate aftermath of yet another turn at swapping punches with a younger foe, but in the years to follow when all those punches absorbed during training and in the ring begin to ravage the body and mind from the inside out. As fans who adore these fighters we sit back sadly and ask, “Why do they do this to themselves?” But the question should probably be, “Why did they ever start doing this in the first place?” Boxing is such a brutal profession and its practitioners are of a different breed and mind-set than any other athlete. That’s what makes them special and it’s also what, in the end, desperately cries out for someone or something to save these fighters from themselves. There’s no hyperbole in that sentiment. It comes from the heart because I want to see Thomas Hearns proudly accept his ring at the Hall of Fame with a smile on his face and light in his eyes. I want to be there to shake his hand. I want him to be healthy and happy. I’ve seen too many fighters unable to experience that fully because too many punches have deadened their senses and ruined their bodies. It’s a horrible thing to be witness to.
But Thomas Hearns is his own man and he will do what he wants to do with his life. It’s his right. “There’s a lot of fire built up inside of me,” he said recently. “It’s the same way it was when I started boxing. It’s inside of me because I feel this is what I want to do to make myself happy and better myself. I just want people to support me and let me show them how serious it is that I want to make this happen.”
I have no doubt in his intentions or how serious he is about this comeback because Thomas Hearns was always a very serious man when it came to his greatest love. But this time around he won’t have his father figure Emanuel Steward in his corner and he won’t have his biggest fan cheering him on because I won’t be watching. I just can’t.