Hearns, Thomas 1958–
Thomas Hearns 1958–
Boxer, boxing promoter
Thomas Hearns is known as a warrior for his aggressive style and determination to win. He’s been called the “Motor City Cobra,” but is best known for his fight nickname “The Hitman.” By the time he was 21 he was a world champion, and he was the first man, by 1987, to win four world titles—welterweight, junior middle, middleweight, and light-heavy. For many boxers, that would be enough to retire on. But Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns was not ready to retire and had not accomplished all that he wanted. Having begun in the flyweight and bantamweight divisions, he worked his way up through the divisions to top out as a 190-pound cruiserweight. By the time he finished he had earned seven world titles and also earned his place in boxing history.
Thomas Hearns was born in Grand Junction, Tennessee on October 18, 1958. He was the oldest of three children in his mother’s first marriage. With her second marriage, six children joined the first three. On her own, Mrs. Hearns raised Tommy and his siblings in Grand Junction until Tommy was five years old, and then the family moved to Detroit, Michigan. Once described as a shy boy by his mother, Hearns was eight years old when he, like many other boxers, watched the sport on television and became interested. Although his mother tried to discourage him, his passion for boxing was too great and eventually she gave in. He began on the streets but when he was ten he fought in King Solomon’s Gymnasium, which was near his home. He later joined the Kronk Recreation Center, which became known as The Kronk Gym, or simply The Kronk. Many boxers put time in at The Kronk and it became known for its amateur boxing program developed by Emanuel Steward. Steward himself had been a 1963 Golden Gloves winner and had coached at The Kronk since 1970. He would later train heavyweight champions Michael Moorer (WBA, IBF) and Lennox Lewis (WBC), and IBF and WBO featherweight champion Prince Naseem Hamed. In Hearns, Steward found a thin boy who was determined to succeed. The extreme discipline of the training regimen at The Kronk brought Hearns’ skills up, and while he had a rough start in his amateur career that determination began to pay off. He joined the Kronk amateur team, dropping out of the twelfth grade to do so. He competed in the Golden Gloves and National Amateur
At a Glance…
Born on October 18, 1958, in Grand Junction, TN; son of Lois Hearns; married Rena; children: four.
Career: Boxer, 1977-00; boxing promoter, 2000-.
Awards: National AAU title 1977; National Golden Gloves title 1977; professional boxer 1977; WBA welterweight title 1980; Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year award 1980, 1984; WBC junior middleweight title 1982; Boxing Writer’s Association of America Edward J. Neil Trophy 1984; WBC light heavyweight title 1987; WBC middleweight title 1987; WBO super middleweight title 1988; WBA light heavyweight title 1991; IBO cruiserweight title 1991.
Addresses: c/o Kronk Boxing, 19244 Bretton Drive, Detroit, Ml 48223.
Athletic Union (AAU) competitions in 1976 and had hoped to try out for the Olympics that year as well, but he wasn’t up to par due to a broken nose. He lost in the finals of the AAU competition.
In 1977 Hearns won the National AAU and National Golden Gloves welterweight titles and then turned pro later that same year. He racked up seventeen consecutive victories by knockout. Hearns had had difficulty with his punches early in his amateur career, but as a professional he had no problems. His victories often came in the early rounds by knockout. In a bout with Harold Weston, Weston suffered a detached retina and the fight was stopped in the sixth round. When he fought Angel Espada, Hearns knocked him down twice and then gave him a beating in the fourth. Espada called it quits and left the ring permanently. Hearns broke the jaw of Mike Colbert in the tenth round of their match.
Hearns became World Boxing Association (WBA) champion on August 2, 1980 when he floored Jose “Pipino” Cuevas in the second round. Cuevas had defended his welterweight title eleven times, with ten of them by knockout. Hearns defended his title three times during 1980 and 1981. In September of that same year, he faced Sugar Ray Leonard, the World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight champion, former Olympic champion, and charming, well-liked representative of the sport. Hearns fought tough, connecting his punches well and winning the early rounds. His punches did their damage, including injuring Leonard’s eye. A year later, Leonard would retire because of a detached retina. Although his vision was almost gone in one eye, Leonard continued to fight aggressively. He sagged in the eighth through the eleventh rounds but in the thirteenth round he managed to come back enough to put Hearns on the ropes. The referee stopped the fight. It was Hearns’ only loss so far in his career. Emanuel Steward later interviewed for In The Corner, a book of boxing trainer stories, said that Hearns had begun to rebel at the discipline imposed by the training regimen and wanted more say in “the camp.” In the days before the fight, Hearns played baseball, changed his eating and exercise routine, and lost a few needed pounds. Steward said, “He didn’t have enough energy. When he got hit in the sixth round, he was hurt. Tommy Hearns, who’s got a good chin and never been hurt. But when he got hit this time, he didn’t have nothing in his body to have resistance to the punch.” After that loss Hearns returned control to Steward. The Hearns-Leonard bout was at that time a record for gross revenue at over thirty-six million dollars. Hearns’ share was over five million dollars.
After that fight Hearns knew he had to further develop his ring skills and his body. Always slender and tall, his long arms gave him an advantageous reach, but now he worked to build his upper body. He moved up to the super-welterweight division and then fought World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez on December 3, 1982. Hearns’ new training techniques paid off and he won by a majority decision, even after having sprained his hand in the eighth round.
On June 15, 1984, Hearns defended his WBC junior middleweight title against “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran. A slugger, Duran had been tough enough to back up his reputation as the greatest 135-pounder of all time. Up to 154 pounds now, he was still tough, but Hearns was in his prime and knocked the former champion out with a right to the chin in the second round. Hearns made history where Duran was concerned since no one, even after over 115 fights later, had been able to put him away so quickly.
Hearns next set his sights on the light heavyweight title. But first he had to get through the middleweight class. On April 15, 1985 he fought “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler for the middleweight title, but Hearns’ final training for the fight proved to be too undisciplined. Again, Steward blamed a lack of control of the training camp. Three hours before the fight, a friend who wanted to help out rubbed Hearns’ legs down after the fighter complained that they felt tight. Steward had been called away for a phone call; when he returned and discovered the situation Steward cleared the room. Hearns then discovered his legs were too relaxed.
“We knew it was over,” Steward said in In The Corner. “All the months of training and some guy is rubbing down Tommy’s legs about three hours before the fight. Because a rubdown is what you get when you’re through with a workout so your muscles will be stretched. By the time he came in the ring, his legs were all messed up,” he explained further. Legs aside, the first round of his bout with “Marvelous Marvin” Hagler in 1985 is now considered in boxing circles to be the best first round of all time. Hearns broke his hand in that round against Hagler’s head. He had opened a gash in Hagler’s forehead that looked like it would stop the fight in the third round when the ringside doctor was called in to look at it. But the fight went on and then Hagler dropped Hearns. Although he got to his feet before the count was over, the fight was stopped and Hagler got the TKO.
Hearns continued to rack up wins and won the WBC Light Heavyweight title from Dennis Andries in March of 1987. He won the WBC middleweight title from Juan Roldan in October of the same year. Hearns became the first man to win four different titles: welterweight, junior middle, middle, and light-heavyweight.
Less than a year later Hearns lost his WBC middleweight title to Iran Barkley in three rounds. In November of 1988 he fought James Kinchen for the Super Middleweight title, winning the WBO belt and adding another title to his list of accomplishments. In June of 1989, Hearns faced Sugar Ray Leonard again for a unification bout, hoping to win the WBC super middleweight title as well. They went twelve rounds and Hearns, and others, thought he had won it but the fight was called a draw. Leonard later admitted that he thought Hearns should have gotten the win, and years later Nigel Collins, editor-in-chief of Ring Magazine, told BBC News Online that most boxing experts believed Hearns had won the fight.
It was thought that Hearns would retire but he was not ready. He moved up in weight to 175 pounds, fighting in the light heavyweight class and winning the WBA light heavyweight title in June of 1991 from Virgil Hill in a twelve-round decision. The following spring he lost the title to the same man he had lost his WBC middleweight title to: Iran Barkley. Hearns fought almost every year during the nineties.
On April 10, 1999, at 40 years old, Tommy Hearns returned to the ring in England to fight Nate Miller in an undercard bout before the Prince Hamed-Paul Ingle featherweight title fight. Hearns won the lightly-regarded International Boxing Organization (IBO) cruiserweight title from Miller in a 12-round decision. By now he had won seven titles. But he still was not ready to retire and told the BBC News online, “When I stop it will be after a sign from God.”
The last bout for Tommy Hearns was to be a 12-round defense of his IBO title against Crawford Ashley, a two-time European light heavyweight champion. But it seems the boxing world has become cynical about fighters announcing their retirement—boxers don’t seem to stay retired. Hearns left his future open when he said in the news conference announcing his plans to promote, “We all have the right to change our mind, but as of right now, my mind is made up.” The bout with Ashley never came off, and the exact reasons were not clear. A rotator-cuff injury to Ashley was reported by fight organizers a week before the bout, but Ashley denied being injured. There were also reports that lack of a television deal for the fight was responsible. In a Kronk Gym press release Emanuel Steward said the reason was that Hearns could not make it to training camp to prepare for the fight. “I have postponed this fight because I haven’t been working with Tommy and I want to make sure he is ready. We are in the final stage of what has been one of the greatest careers in history. These final few fights are crucial. Tommy needed to be here to be with me. We won’t take a chance on being unprepared, that wouldn’t be fair to the millions of fans that have followed Hearns’ career.”
After the Ashley fight was cancelled, Hearns’ final fight was scheduled against Uriah Grant for April of 2000, with the IBO cruiserweight title that Hearns had won from Nate Miller on the line. Grant, with a record of 27-14-25 KO, had only fought twice in the past two years. “This is one of my biggest opportunities, one of my biggest chances,” Grant told the Detroit Free Press. While a fighter likes to retire with a title, Hearns sprained his ankle in the second round of the fight. He and Grant had been all around the ring when Grant pressed him toward the ropes. As Hearns backed up, his right ankle rolled over. He could not answer the bell at the start of the third round and Grant got the win. Hearns was upset and announced he would be back, but afterward he relented. “I can’t make those decisions on my own anymore,” he was reported as saying by ESPN.com. Hearns has a wife and four children.
Hearns ended his 23-year career as a boxer with the intention of becoming a promoter. He said at a news conference reported by The Detroit News, “I want to promote. I’ve been performing for people for so long, it’s about time they start performing for me,” he continued. He would realize this goal by promoting the Tyson-Golota fight in 2000.
Thomas “Hitman” Hearns earned a place in history with his fights against some of the best, and defeating them when they were at their peak, including Roberto Duran, Pipino Cuevas, Wilfred Benitez, and Dennis Andries. Hearns has done well for himself and unlike boxers in the past with squandered fortunes and ill health from years in the ring, he has taken care of his future. Hearns lives in an expensive Las Vegas home, has two Rolls-Royces, money in the bank, and several business interests.
Anderson, Dave, In The Corner, William Morrow and Company, Inc., 1991.
Current Biography, H. W. Wilson Co., 1983.
Detroit Free Press, February 25, 2000; April 7, 2000; October 20, 2000.
BBC News Online, http://news.bbc.co.uk
CNN/Sports Illustrated, http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com
The Detroit News, http://www.detnews.com
ESPN Network, http://espn.go.com
International Boxing Hall of Fame/Ring Magazine Awards, http://www.ibhof.com
Kronk Gym, http://www.kronkgym.com
—Sandy J. Stiefer
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