For a career that has lasted just short of thirty years, over twenty major title fights and one that has amassed sixty wins, forty seven early, a lot of boxing fans will wonder, what motivation has Tommy Hearns got to keep on boxing at the grand age of 47. Perhaps its money, Or the love of the sport, or even the need to prove himself to be as great as Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Hearns is scheduled for action again this weekend, facing 40 year old Shannon Landberg at the Palace in Auburn Hills on Saturday.
Hearns first won the WBA Welterweight title aged just 22 with a stunning second round knockout over the gritty Mexican, Pipino Cuevas. Nicknamed the "Motor City Cobra" he defended his title three times with three knockouts before crashing head on into Wilfred Benitez's conquer Sugar Ray Leonard in 1981. The fight itself was a unification bout with each fighter putting their undefeated records and belts on the line. What followed was to be named fight of year by Ring Magazine and set up a grudge between the two fighters that was to be settled almost nine years later.
Hearns started off well and the fight nearly continued past the first round when Hearns lashed out after the bell. However in the thirteenth, with "The Hitman" up on all three judges' scorecards, Leonard staggered Hearns after being ordered by his trainer Angelo Dundee that he was going to lose if he didn't knock Hearns out. The "Cobra" survived the round, however was again hanging on from the second half of the fourteenth round in which a knockdown was scored and Hearns was stopped. Devastating as this was, Hearns continued to fight for another year before he earned a shot at Wilfred Benitez's WBC Light Middleweight crown, which Tommy won by a majority decision and gave Benitez only his second loss in forty seven fights.
He briefly moved up to middleweight before moving back down to light middleweight and reclaiming his crown. It was now his turn to face the legend himself, Roberto Duran, who had beaten Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal a few years earlier and had just lost an extremely close decision to world middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. Hearns destroyed Duran, knocking him down in the first and second with lightning speed punches that not even the defense of "Hands of Stone" was able to withstand. This was perhaps Hearns' greatest ever win, probably even surpassing the victory over Cuevas.
In 1985, Hearns stepped up to challenge for the middleweight crown which had belonged to Hagler for the past five years, both fighters promising that it was going to be a war. The first round was possibly the greatest round boxing fans will ever see, almost a street fight, in which Hagler was stunned and cut and then stunned Hearns late on in the round. Round two was more like what round one was expected to be like, but Hearn's legs seemed almost rubbery and in the third he was knocked out.
He won his next five contest, including the light middleweight title fight, before losing by a shock third round knockout to the almost unrated Iran Barkley. Many critics believed Hearns was now past his sell by date and should consider retiring, however he still had a score to settle with Leonard, and in 1989 when Sugar came out of retirement, Hearns saw his chance. This time it was for the super middleweight title.
The fight started out much as the first Hearns jabbing and crossing while Leonard seemed rather perplexed. Tommy knocked down Leonard once in the third and once in the eleventh, however was nearly stopped himself in the final frame. The fight was called a draw, and it was a disputed draw, some saying Leonard won but the majority saying that Hearns was robbed.
"The Hitman" continued to fight and next won the light heavyweight title before again losing to Iran Barkley in their rematch. Since then he has moved into the shadows a bit more and just fought once a year on average although he did win the IBO Cruiserweight title in 1999 before losing it in his first defense.
Hearns began a comeback last year and like many champions before him, most critics predict that it can only be an unhappy ending for this great fighter. At 47 years of age, there is more risk of permanent damage and his quality of opponents so far have not been up to standard. However, we cannot criticize this decision either, with boxing in its current state, there is little reason as to why he cannot perhaps fight for one more title in hope of adding to his collection of twelve different belts that he's already earned over the course of his career. Good luck Tommy.