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Boxing's Fab Four Part Nine: Leonard Vs Hearns II

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

12th June 1989, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

WBC Super-Middleweight Titles

Ray Leonard  Vs Thomas Hearns 

Thomas Hearns, eleven months after being involved in an eight minute war with Marvin Hagler, stepped through the ropes to take on NABF middleweight champion James Shuler. The champion was also ranked number one by the WBC, but Hearns needed just one-minute and 13 seconds to claim the title. Unfortunately Shuler was killed in a motorcycle accident ten days after his knockout defeat.

On 23rd June 1986 Hearns boiled down to the light-middleweight division for the final time to defend his WBC championship against Mark Medal, winning by an eighth round TKO. In the October he put his NABF middleweight crown on the line against Doug DeWitt, successfully holding on to the belt with a twelve round unanimous points decision.

In March 1987 Hearns made an audacious challenge to WBC light-heavyweight champion Dennis Andries. The champion was making his second defence of the title and both men scaled in at 173½ (78.70 KG). The challenger brought his power up to the division with him, flattening Andries four times in round six, once in the ninth and finally in the tenth to become a three-weight world champion.

With Sugar Ray Leonard retiring in May 1987, the WBC middleweight championship was left vacant. In October that year Hearns faced Argentinian Juan Domingo Roldan for the homeless strap. Hearns' power resurfaced again, knocking his man down twice in the opening round and once in the second.

Roldan did expose Hearns' frailties as he rocked the 'HitMan' early in round four, but towards the end of the round a right cross put the belt firmly around his waist. The victory meant Hearns was the first boxer to win world titles in four different weight divisions.

At the start of June 1988 Hearns made the first defence of his middleweight belt in Las Vegas against Iran 'The Blade' Barkley. The champion was landing at will for the first two rounds, cutting the challenger's lip and above both eyes. The champion worked the body in the third, but with a minute remaining 'The Blade' caught the champion with a big right. Another right put Hearns down as he was falling.

The 'Hit Man' barely beat Richard Steele's count, but he was allowed to continue as another attack from the challenger put Hearns through the ropes, ending his reign and inflicting defeat number three on Hearns' resume.

Hearns' left was a potent weapon

On 04th November that same year Hearns picked up his fifth weight world title by outpointing James Kinchen for the vacant WBO super-middleweight championship. The World Boxing Organisation was hardly recognised and Hearns' inaugural victory was deemed as nothing more than a paper title. Still the new champion had to hold on for dear life as he suffered another knockdown in round four as he clung on to win by scores of 115-112, 114-112 and 114 apiece.

Nineteen months after his controversial points victory over Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Ray Leonard stepped back into the ring once again. His opponent was WBC light-heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde. Leonard also persuaded the WBC to put their newly formed super-middleweight title on the line.

Lalonde had to face Leonard as a super-middleweight, forcing the naturally bigger Canadian to boil down so Leonard had the chance to become the first man to win recognised world titles in five different weight divisions. (Hearns had beaten him to it with his victory over James Kinchen three days before Leonard-Lalonde on 07th November 1988.)

Leonard was caught off balance by a Lalonde right, which put the challenger down. His title hopes looked as if they had been dealt as serious blow as the light-heavyweight champion staged a ferocious attack in round nine, throwing thirty-one straight punches. Fortunately for Leonard they lacked power and the Canadian paused and Leonard sprang into to action.

The challenger administered a savage beating before dropping him heavily with a left hook. The champion got up, but he was a spent force. Leonard fired in and eventually ended the contest with another of his hooks in the ninth. The victory set up a June showdown with the 'Hit Man'. 

On the day of the fight Thomas Hearns' younger brother, Henry, was arrested for the shooting of his girlfriend at the weekend. The body of Nancy Barile was found with a single gunshot wound to the head in a bedroom of a house owned by Thomas Hearns. Police arrested Henry two-and-a-half-hours after witnesses reported the shooting.

Hearns was so consumed with gaining revenge over his adversary that he had little time to process what had happened. Jackie Kallen, Hearns' publicist said the boxer was in seclusion, which was normal for the day before the fight. Another publicist, John Totaro, suggested it was doubtful Hearns would comment on the incident before the contest.

And so was Leonard's

Hearns entered the ring in a white robe and the famous gold and red trunks of the Kronk Gym. The champion wore red and white striped trunks with the Zulu word AMANDLA on his waistband, which meant power. The word was often used in anti-apartheid demonstrations. The date of the contest also marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the sentencing Nelson Mandela to life in prison for conspiring to overthrow the apartheid South African government.

Even though Hearns had the WBO belt, he was still ranked the number one WBC super-middleweight contender, as the World Boxing Organisation wasn't regarded as a legitimate title at the time. It was also the first rematch of the 'Hit Man's' career, who weighed in at 162½ pounds (73.71 KG). Leonard tipped the scales at 160 pounds (72.57 KG), well inside the middleweight limit, which was a division below the weight the title was for.

The champion was a three-to-one favourite, but it was Hearns who took the centre of the ring and came forward, working behind a flicking jab. Leonard threw a wild left hook and the challenger simply ducked underneath it. Leonard did manage to catch his man with a right as Hearns just raised his gloves in acknowledgement of a good shot. Apart from that it was a cagey maiden round.

The caginess continued in the second. Leonard was on his bicycle for most of the round, with Hearns coming forward behind his jab and trying to land his right cross. As the time ticked away the 'Motor City Cobra' was getting closer with his danger weapon. Leonard turned southpaw at the bell and got tagged by a good straight right.

Hearns' jab was a factor in the third as Leonard continued to back away. The champion got caught with a right, but his head movement took the sting out of it. They traded and Leonard shipped a hard right hand; he was hurt and Hearns came forward and threw another right, which seemed to cuff the champion on the back of the head. the force of the shot put Leonard down on his knees by the ropes as referee Richard Steele administrated the eight count.

Hearns advanced once again, looking to find a fight ending punch as Leonard was on the ropes. they traded as the bell sounded to end a 10-8 round to the 'Hit Man'.

Finally in round four the champion came out throwing some leather with intent. Hearns was still effective with his left lead and landed a few rights, whilst Leonard looked to gamble and traded in hope that the challenger's fragile chin would be Hearns' downfall.

Round five looked like following the same pattern, then Leonard threw a right and followed it up with a left hook, which exploded on the Detroit man's jaw. Hearns' legs betrayed him and he wobbled to the ropes. Leonard sprang to life and looked to unload, with his man on the ropes covering up, tying Leonard up to get  a respite. The champion threw big punches.

Once Hearns' head had cleared he looked to fire back. the champion had expended a lot of energy as he missed with a lot of punches. The challenger survived the round and they both touched gloves before going back to their respected corners.

Hearns had the power to floor Leonard twice

The challenger appeared to have recovered from the pounding he took in the previous round as he once again commandeered the ring's centre. Leonard seemed tired as if his exertion of his attacks had taken something out of them. Hearns was the busier fighter as Leonard looked to take his man out with one shot.

Round seven swang one way and then the other. Hearns got through with a peach of a left hook that backed Leonard to the ropes. Another left pierced his guard, then a right. the champion's defence was leaky, his reflexes not what they were, but in the centre of the ring it was his turn to stun the challenger. The action shifted again in Hearns' favour, before Leonard had the final word on the round.

Emanuel Steward told his man to fight this guy in round eight but it was Leonard who was scoring well with his jab. Hearns seemed reluctant to force the action, but when he did he had Leonard where he wanted him, he just didn't or couldn't muster the energy for a fight ending assualt. Leonard hit Hearns on the bell, with Hearns retaliating and Richard Steele had to be quick to step in.

The challenger looked arm weary in the ninth round as Leonard stayed out of range, looking to land bombs. The power was definitely still with Hearns as right caught his man's attention. As the round was coming to a close a left hook took the challenger's legs. Leonard was all over him, but unlike like their previous contest Hearns was able to tie his man up and survive to hear the bell.

Believing that the challenger was ready to be taken, Leonard jumped on Hearns at the start of the tenth. It looked like the 'Hit Man' would be overwhelmed, but he got his boxing together. Leonard scored well for the first 90 seconds of the round and Hearns' jab was a dominant factor in the final half of the three minutes. The challenger also had a small cut on his left cheek.

Leonard charged over to Hearns at the start of round eleven, but Steele cut him off before allowing the action to commence. Leonard was trying to take him out with some wild hay-makers. A big right exploded on Leonard's head. The challenger retaliated with a left jab and another crashing right detonated on its target. Hearns followed it up with  a left hook and a right put Leonard on his knees for the second time in the contest.

Although the champion was hurt his eyes were clear, getting to his feet as the referee completed the mandatory eight count. Hearns swarmed in and was met by a left hook. Leonard back pedalled and fired in a short right. The challenger took it and landed a short right of his own. It was punch for punch until the bell.

They touched gloves to start the final round and the majority of people believed Leonard needed a knockout to retain his title. The first minute it was Hearns who was fighting as if he needed a kayo. In the second minute Leonard came on and backed his man up with a relentless barrage. Hearns was hurt and fatigued. He fired back and tied the champion up. Leonard came on strong again in the last 45 seconds, as Hearns was reeling at the bell.

The 15,300 crowd waited patiently for the judges to tally up their card totals. Ring announcer Michael Buffer read out the scores. Judge Jerry Roth scored for Hearns 113-112. The exact same score came from Tom Kaczmarek in Leonard's favour. Dalby Shirley had the deciding vote and when it was announced as 112-112, the fight was declared a draw, which brought boos from the crowd.

A drawn decision usually leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the boxers, but both men seemed happy with the verdict. "I'm proud of having a draw," said Hearns in the ring. "It could've gone the other way, so I'm grateful I got a draw."

"We both displayed what champions are made of," added Leonard. "Like Tommy said, we'll leave it to the judges. I accept it."

Leonard had the final say

Though most of the crowd didn't accept the draw and believed Hearns should've been given the nod after knocking Leonard down twice in the bout. Many thought that if Hearns was down twice then Leonard would most definitely got the decision. "I knew the two knockdowns would be a deciding factor," stated Leonard. "Being knocked down not once, but twice, had a psychological effect not only on the crowd  but on the judges."

"Ray came back, he showed he had a heart," commented Hearns on the two knockdowns, the first time Leonard had been off his feet twice in one contest. "I didn't think he had such a big heart... This man hurt me, but I wasn't going to go. I answered questions about this chin - about these old legs. They are still in working condition."

"I'm going to have to watch the film to really evaluate my performance. It was a hell of a fight. Thomas Hearns put up a courageous fight," concluded Leonard.

Thomas Hearns was on the slide, but he still had some great performances left in him. He made his final defence of the WBO super-middleweight title with a unanimous decision over Michael Olajide. Two fights later he outpointed long serving WBA light-heavyweight king Virgil Hill on 03rd June 1991.

His revenge match with Iran Barkley didn't go to plan as he dropped a split decision to 'The Blade' in March 1992. He flirted with the cruiserweight division, winning the lightly regarded WBU (March 1995) and IBO (April 1999) titles, before picking up his final defeat against Uriah Grant, where Hearns had to retire with a sprained right ankle in April 2000.

That looked to be his final contest but in July 2005, aged forty-six he returned with a ninth round TKO over John Long. His final contest took place on 04th February 2006, stopping Shannon Landberg in the tenth and final round to take his career record to 61-5-1 with forty-eight kayos.

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