Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mark's Top 40 At 40: #1 Thomas Hearns

Mark Lyons is back with the final entry of his top 40 at 40 list.

If you've been following along since the start, you've been waiting a little while for Mark's final installment, and of course you know that Mark has been counting down his 40 favorite fighters to celebrate his 40th birthday.

Links to the previous 39 entries can be found at the bottom.

Photo courtesy of TheCyberBoxingZone.

My apologies for turning this list into an endless endeavor. I've really had a difficult time finding the words to describe the last few guys. While I have a lot to say, this list has been emotional and I've had a difficult time following up the one before it. This final entry has been next to impossible.

Boxing has occupied a great deal of my life and these attachments bring back many memories. But anyway, thanks to any who have read this project, and again I am sorry for the massive delays at the end.

1. Thomas Hearns 61-5-1 (48)

Three Favorite fights: Hagler KOby3, Duran KO2, Leonard "D" 12

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me. Years after dirt has been poured on my corpse I will still think Tommy was a better fighter than Ray Leonard. The way the breaks went and the way that one guy carefully chose his fights makes Leonard "greater", but not by the margin that most inexplicably rate him.

Six minutes is all that separated a green Hearns from glory there. People act like he got destroyed and seem to want to ignore the fact that Tommy won about 2 out of every 3 rounds he faced the man in. He asked for no sympathy and he took no shortcuts. While his chin wasn't granite, it damn sure wasn't china. Talk about going out on your shield? That phrase was made for the Hit Man.

I remember when Emmanuel Steward first popped on CBS Sports Spectacular with his tall and gangly welterweight prospect. Watching this freak of nature with unrivaled speed and power begin to decimate his competition meant I was hooked for life.

Lets take a look at the devastating arsenal...

Easily one of history's greatest jabs, with that famous pulverizing right hand behind it. He had a very underrated hook to the head and the body as well. Blinding hand speed and accuracy out of his ass. Just a complete killing machine with the balls and will to face anybody, at any weight, any time.

Tommy gave everything he had whenever he graced the squared circle. Be it as the Motor City Cobra or The Hit Man, effort and excitement were guaranteed. His presence in a ring generated an electricity that you could feel through your set.

One great thing about today's technology is you are hard pressed to miss a big fight. On August 2nd, 1980 I was in North Carolina, at my grandmothers house, and Hearns/Cuevas was not televised. In the BoxRec era, people look at Pipino Cuevas' record and shrug their shoulders. At the time he was a scary monster. Angel Espada, Harold Weston and Harold Volbrecht all suffered broken jaws trying to take the strap from the vicious Mexican puncher. While his skills were fairly archaic, he had what was thought of as an unbreakable chin, and had become known as one of the most fearsome punchers in the game.

During the afternoon I watched Aaron Pryor beat an aging Antonio Cervantes to claim his first title. That night I just sat there, 11 years old, chewing on my fingernails, waiting for the news. I was just hoping and praying they would mention the result. They didn't, so I opened the Sunday paper and saw Thomas Hearns Stops Pipino Cuevas in the Second. The elation was so much that I didn't even care about Earnie Shavers losing to Tex Cobb.

Seeing the fight for the first time the following week, it still was astonishing. I had never seen such an explosive combination of speed and power. Lets just say Zab Judah should count his lucky stars he never chicken danced against Thomas Hearns, because another right hand was coming before you went down. The explosive result was far from the foregone conclusion people act like it was now. Sometimes I think making fights like this look so easy makes boxing people take away from some of Hearns' immense accomplishments.

Then came Leonard.

Yes, Ray won that fight fair and square. He dug down as deep as a fighter can and gutted out a win over a guy who had his number. As much disdain as I have for him, that accomplishment can never be taken away. The fact that it took 8 years for him to nut up and fight Tommy in a rematch is where the Ray Leonard love fest ends. It amazes how people don't give a fuck about all the good work Hearns did when rating the two guys. What if Joe Frazier didn't rematch Ali? Two great fighters with a distinct style advantage for Tommy and people just assume that Leonard is going to eat thunder and with a massacred face, hunt him down late? GTFOH is all I say to that. Much more on the Leonard rivalry later.

Less than 3 months after losing his first fight, Tommy was fighting a middleweight. Yeah, weight classes never meant shit to him. "Just get someone tough and a date, I'll weigh-in there".

He then destroyed Marcos Geraldo in 1 round. The same Geraldo that gave Leonard and Hagler tough distance fights. He also boxed the ears off of Wilfred Benitez. Yet another masterpiece that people want to throw away for some infuriating reason.

I went to the Baltimore Arena with my father to watch Hearns/Duran on Closed Circuit. It was my two favorite fighters going at it, and though I wanted Hearns to win, I couldn't wrap my head around how it would play out. Tommy had predicted a second round knock out and some guys sitting around us were talking about it. I laughed and proclaimed if anybody was getting knocked out, it would be Tommy.

Then the Motor City Cobra turned into the Hit Man and delivered the most devastating performance I have ever seen. Leonard, Robinson, whoever you want, would be in trouble if they were in the ring on that night. I never thought I would see the great Roberto Duran reduced to cannon fodder, and yet again the critics of Hearns don't seem to give a damn.

Then onto war with Hagler. The most electrifying crowd, stare down, build up and nine minutes the boxing world will ever see. The Hit Man showed more manhood in that ring than Leonard ever could. Losing like a man, on your shield and giving the world something they will never forget? Evidently that is a drawback on his career for the second time.

Hagler was a piece of iron, which is why Tommy broke his right hand in the first round. I honestly don't think it changes the outcome, but it sure as hell is possible. When you watch that fight, just remember that Hearns is teeing off on Marvin's dome with a busted mitt. Then you start to get an idea of what kind of man you're looking at.

After Tommy devastated James Shuler and Hagler outlasted Mugabi, the stage was set for the rematch. But no, guess who is coming back? That SOB, Ray Leonard. *Puke* on that fight. I wont go into long and drawn out details of everything after, but it involves, not bitching and going about the business of defending your 54 belt and winning a new strap at 175 & 160 in 16 months. How often do you hear that mentioned as one of his great accomplishments? Less than that is huge for Manny Pacquiao these days. Think about it...

After the upset loss to Barkley (who was nearly dead from body shots when once again Tommy's balls and desire to entertain got in the way of reason) and a less than dazzling win over Kinchen, Ray Leonard finally decided it was time to fight Thomas Hearns again. Was it fair play or warrior spirit? Neither. It was because Tommy was supposed to be shot. Ray found out that was not the case.

When Tommy entered the ring and turned around with the long right arm pointing at Leonard, I nearly punched the guy in front of me at the Towson Center. I can't discuss this too much, but it was another blood and guts performance from Hearns and more proof that he was a better boxer than Leonard. I took the hideous decision with far less dignity than Tommy did, smashing open my knuckles as I destroyed the chair next to me. The most painful robbery and all time sports moment in my 40 years. Just unbelievable. After waiting so long to get screwed like that and not say one word in complaint...

That's a man.

Yet another fight that doesn't seem to matter. If Leonard rates higher, it's only slightly and no way is it clear that he was better. Match them up at their best 10 times and Leonard wins maybe 4, if he could survive that many.

I’m not saying Leonard wasn’t a great fighter, he most certainly was. But if you asked all the greats from all eras who they would rather fight, it would be a landslide wanting to face Ray. Was it because he was the greater challenge? I think not. It’s easy to pick so and so to beat Thomas Hearns. Just keep in mind the kind of hell that a man is required to endure to get that done. Beating the Hit Man was a near death experience. Nobody ever did it without getting their ass kicked first and making an obligatory trip to the ER.

He still wasn't done. Completely out boxing long-reigning Virgil Hill to win another legitimate belt at 175 is yet another brilliant performance that nobody talks about. Losing a close war to Barkley and even beating Nate Miller at cruiser in his 40's are also notable achievements.

Yes, he came up short in his two biggest fights, but where were his chances after that? Neither fight was one that didn't scream for a rematch, and he would have lit Leonard up had it happened. I don't care what anyone says, Ray gets messed up if they immediately rematch, just like he did when it finally happened. Except worse. I'm talking about a welterweight that won legit fights all the way up to cruiserweight, knocked out Roberto Duran, out-boxed Benitez, Hill & Leonard...

You want to know what that is? That is a handful for anyone in history and one of the 20 or so greatest fighters the sport has ever seen.

The next time you see fighters making predictions. think about somebody telling Roberto Duran they are knocking him out in the second round... and doing it. In a sport filled with "what's in it for me" think about a star climbing up 3 divisions to face a cinder block of a champion just for the challenge.

Instead of nitpicking everything in this legend's resume, fans and experts should sit back, look at it all objectively, STFU and just say thank you Mr. Hearns, because there will never be another one. So many accomplishments and while he has a lot of fanfare, many respected figures in the sport don't give him his just due. I'll be in Canastota for that induction, and with what I expect to be tears in my eyes I will say Thank You Mr. Hearns.

Thank you for putting your fans above the easiest way to win.

Thank you for being as classy in defeat as you were in victory.

Thank you for fighting anybody you could at anytime and never complaining about politics.

Thank you for being the most explosive and entertaining fighter I will ever have the privilege to watch.

Thank you for bringing me out of whatever seat I was in for over 15 years of my life.

Thank you for smashing your fist into Ray Leonard's face over and over.

Thank you for never giving up and always going out like a man.

Thank you for taking the tough fight.

Thank you for my DVD collection that will allow me to relive the great memories for the rest of my life.

Thank you for the titles, the highs, the lows, the destructions and the wars.

Thank you for always coming back no matter how many times they wrote you off.

Thank you for giving a kid a hero in the greatest sport in the world.

Thank you for everything Mr. Hearns, your legacy will live long after you're gone and your spot on this list could never change in a million more years.

Mark's previous entries: Intro, 40-36, 35-31, 30-26, 25-21, 20-16, 15-13, 12-10, 9-8, 7-6, 5, 4, 3 & 2.

e-mail Mark Lyons


mpar1 said...

Great writeup, Mark. I loved the top 40 series.

Mark Lyons said...

Thanks bro, Tommy makes me weak in the knees.

Anonymous said...

He epitomizes the acronym BAMF. Great #1 pick.

Johanne said...

If it makes you feel better, SRL did admit that he was expecting to lose the decision after the 12th round ended of his rematch with the Hit-Man. And yes, SRL also admitted that his toughest challenge was Tommy Hearns because of the distinct height and reach advantage, insane one-punch KO power, and superb boxing skills to boot.

If ever there is a reason why SRL got more coverage, it was because he is a more natural celebrity than Tommy Hearns. Ergo, SRL was the most famous among the "fantastic four" of the 80's (Duran, Hearns, Hagler and Leonard).

At the end of the day, boxing media is still bound by the laws of entertainment media. Whoever gets the most readership is usually given more attention. During the 80's, SRL was the definitive boxing celebrity in terms of mainstream attraction.

It's sad but that's reality. So much so that many writers today mention that SRL was the first man to win 5 titles in five different weight classes when in fact, Tommy Hearns achieved the feat two weeks earlier than SRL did.