He was about a half inch shorter than former undisputed light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks and possessed the same 78 inch reach, yet he was a welterweight who never had to kill himself to get down to 147. His left jab was straight, fast, accurate and not only set up his finishing punches, it also kept his opponents on their heels and made it suicide for them to try and take the fight to him. His left hook to the body was debilitating and his right hand only had to land once for him to turn out the lights for fighters who fought between 147/175. In fact, many of Hearns’ foes fell face forward after being hit by his right hand because they were out.
His name is Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns, and he won legitimate championships/titles from welterweight up to light heavyweight. In a career that spanned over a quarter century, Hearns fought the biggest names and best fighters around who either fought for or won a piece of the welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super-middleweight and light heavyweight titles. Hearns scored 48 knockouts in 61 career victories and lost five times in 67 fights. As a welterweight he was 32-1 with 30 KO's, a 91% knockout ratio.
Thomas Hearns turns 55 today. He's one of the most iconic fighters to emerge from the city of Detroit, which is known for producing great fighters. He's a certified all-time great and yet he may be underrated. Hearns had very fast hands, put his punches together in combination and threw them with hurtful intentions. He has to be regarded as one of the top five pound-for-pound punchers in boxing history. Hearns was taller, with a longer reach, with faster hands and a bigger punch than practically all the other great welterweight champs. There isn't a worthy knockout compilation on YouTube that doesn't feature some of Hearns’ most sensational knockouts.
Hearns fought during a time when there was intense competition at 147/160 and stars the likes of himself, Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Wilfred Benitez, to a slightly lesser degree, emerged. Hearns beat up Sugar Ray Leonard more than any other fighter ever did while Ray was in his prime during their first fight, in a close but losing effort. And their rematch eight years later was scored a draw, despite Leonard having gone on record admitting that Hearns deserved the decision. During his junior middleweight title bout versus Benitez, who'd only lost to Leonard at the time, Hearns out-boxed perhaps the slickest fighter in boxing at the time to capture the title. Hearns knocked out Duran with one right hand during the second round of their junior middleweight title bout, and despite Roberto fighting on, he's never been counted out in a fight before or after facing Hearns. In his fight for the undisputed middleweight title versus champ Marvin Hagler, Hearns shook Hagler more so than any other opponent ever did before he was stopped by Hagler in the third round.
Hearns went on to stop Juan Roldan in four rounds for a piece of the middleweight title and lost it to Iran Barkley via a TKO in the third round. He won a piece of the light heavyweight title twice with a stoppage in 10 rounds over Dennis Andries, and then four years later out-boxed the undefeated Virgil Hill to win the WBA version. From 1994 through 2000 Hearns won regional and fringe titles fighting as a cruiserweight. For historical purpose you could say that Hearns did his best work between 1977-91. And during those 14 years Hearns never ducked or backed down from any fighter who was in the running to fight him. He had the heart of a wounded lion and was fearless. He also was involved in some of the most exciting and thrilling fights in boxing history.
Sadly, he doesn't get his just due by some because he lost the two biggest signature fights of his career, versus Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler. What's often overlooked is how Leonard is regarded by most fight experts as the greatest welterweight in history after Sugar Ray Robinson. Leonard was at his peak when he faced the 22 year old Hearns in their first fight, being that he had already defeated Benitez and Duran heading into his showdown with Hearns. Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao would be significant underdogs to the vintage Sugar Ray Leonard of 1981. And remember, Hearns was leading in the fight and had marked up Leonard's face and distorted his vision badly before running out of gas in the 14th round. Leonard would've been the betting favorite over every other welterweight in history except Robinson the night he fought Hearns. So I can't write Hearns off for losing their first fight. And he did get Leonard back in their rematch and dropped him twice during the fight.
In regards to Hearns' middleweight title bout versus Hagler, he did fracture his right hand in the first round after rocking Hagler in what may be the most ferocious round in boxing history. At the worst Hagler is among the five greatest middleweights ever. How many middleweights are beating Hagler the night he fought Hearns? On that night Hagler would've stopped Gennady Golovkin and Sergio Martinez one after the other on the same night. Again, is it justified to hold Hearns back because he couldn't beat Hagler and never got a rematch? And he did move up to light heavyweight, something Hagler talked about but never did. Marvin's career wins were over fighters his weight or ones who moved up in weight to challenge him.
Thomas Hearns was a victim of his birth certificate, being that he was in his prime during an era when the second greatest welterweight and an all-time top five middleweight were also in their prime. Hearns was born at the right time in the sense that he had other greats to measure himself against during his career. And what we found out was his punch, heart and character were the real deal. On the other hand, he came up at the wrong time because Leonard and then Hagler were at the top when he was seen as the next guy on the food chain.
Imagine how big of a superstar, hands down, Hearns would be today? He was willing to go up and fighter bigger champions without haggling over catch-weights. He'd be willing to fight anybody between 147/175 and fans would always come away feeling they got their money’s worth, unlike today. He'd have a picnic fighting today's welterweights and junior middleweights. Hearns would've devastated Saul Alvarez with hooks to the body and right hands to the chin. Pacquiao could've never gotten close enough to land against Hearns without getting knocked out in the process. If Marquez put him away face first, he'd fly out of the ring as if he were wearing a cape against Hearns. As for Mayweather, well, Floyd turned a deaf ear when Paul Williams, a poor man’s version of Hearns, was willing to fight him under any conditions Mayweather wanted. Hearns would've pounded Mayweather's arms and shoulders and hurt him bad before going in to finish him. Assuming Mayweather agreed to the fight without forcing Hearns to weigh in at 143 or less.
There's not one active fighter around today who has a resume that is equal to that of Thomas Hearns. Ask yourself whether anyone genuinely believes that, were Hearns around today, Floyd Mayweather would be on boxings’ biggest stage by himself?
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com