Friday, March 24, 2023  |



Leonard, Hearns ‘set the standard’


LAS VEGAS — The charming warmth with which they treat each other now belies their epic meeting in 1981 at Caesars Palace.

Hall of Famers Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns will always be linked by their first of two fights, which Leonard won by a dramatic 14th-round knockout to claim supremacy in a deep welterweight division during a golden era in boxing.

Leonard had avenged his loss to Roberto Duran by stopping the great Panamanian in their famous “no mas” fight in 1980 and was a huge star. Hearns was 32-0 with 30 knockouts, having decapitated a string of big-name opponents.

It might’ve been the biggest welterweight fight ever.

“I can relive that moment, that time so vividly in my mind,” said Leonard, who with Hearns was at the MGM Grand to help promote the Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Shane Mosley welterweight fight. “It was a fight for the undisputed welterweight crown, a highly anticipated fight.

“ÔǪ Tommy’s dominance in the division was amazing, the way he annihilated Pipino Cuevas. He didn’t just knock guys out, he annihilated guys.”

Said Hearns: “Our fight is still talked about decades later.”

One can’t sense the intensity of their matchup now. The manner in which they interact today reveals obvious affection for one another, a common end product for two fighters who once (or twice) exchanged blows in the ring.

“You beat me,” Hearns said to Leonard, who stood next to him on a dais in the media center at the MGM Grand. “In 1989 I whooped his ÔǪ there was no doubt. He tried to lie say it was a draw.”

Leonard, who in fact pulled out a controversial draw in their rematch, then interrupted to make the record clear: “Tommy beat me in the second fight.”

“That’s what I like about you, Ray, sometimes you’re honest,” Hearns responded, drawing a laugh from the crowd and Leonard.

And the respect they have for one another also is obvious, although Leonard couldn’t help teasing his old friend.

“Tommy was a freak of nature,” he said, “a big, strong powerful guy with a big heart. I don’t think anyone could’ve beaten Tommy Hearns ÔǪ except me.”

That drew more laughs from the members of the media and a playful sneer from Hearns.

The fight itself was anything but playful. Hearns, also a master boxer, was leading Leonard through 13 rounds. He had advantages on all three cards, one by four points, one by three and the third by two. However, Leonard, sensing he needed to do something special to win, managed to do so.

Leonard hurt Hearns with a right and thrust his hands in the air, knowing he had his man. Less than a minute later the fight was stopped with Hearns taking a beating on the ropes.

“I can’t say I wasn’t concerned about his punch,” Leonard said. “At one point of the fight he hit me with a good shot, a right hand, and I realized I can take his shot. That’s why I became a little more aggressive. The first three rounds I moved around. Around the fourth, fifth round I started becoming more aggressive.”

Leonard and Hearns were asked to assess the Mayweather-Mosley fight.

Leonard said he gives Mayweather the edge, as almost all experts do, but expects Mosley to find ways to penetrate Mayweather’s remarkable defense. Hearns believes that Mosley will test Mayweather’s chin at some point, which could determine the outcome.

Neither of them believes the fight compares to their historic matchup, though.

First of all, when asked how Mayweather might’ve fared against either of them, Hearns said the current fighter would’ve been too small to compete against two big welterweights. And, second, Leonard and Hearns agreed that boxing was different during their time.

Leonard and Hearns were mainstream superstars, at the peak of their skills, when they engaged in an unforgettable battle that gripped all sports fans.

“I don’t see it as the same as me and Ray,” Hearns said. “We set the standard. It’s kind of hard for them. I’m proud to know Ray Leonard. Ray brought the best out of me and I think I brought the best out of him. I don’t see the same thing happening on Saturday night. It was a totally different era.”

A wonderful era.