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THE RING archive: Leonard-Hearns – Who picked who in “The Showdown”

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LAS VEGAS - SEPTEMBER 16,1981: Thomas Hearns (L) throws a left hook to Sugar Ray Leonard during the fight at Caesars Palace on September 16,1981 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Sugar Ray Leonard won the WBC welterweight title and the WBA World welterweight title by a TKO 14. It was 1981 Fight of the Year - Ring Magazine. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***Thomas Hearns;Sugar Ray Leonard

Leonard (right) came from behind to stop Hearns in the 14th round. It was THE RING Fight of the Year 1981. Photo/ THE RING

THE RING Fight Picks go way back. Esteemed colleague, RING ratings panelist and fight pick collector, Anson Wainwright, was probably learning to walk when a host of boxing luminaries made their predictions for the RING, WBA and WBC welterweight title clash between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns on Sept. 16, 1981.

Leonard, THE RING and WBC champion, was a slight favorite because in the opinion of many, he was already a great fighter. In November 1979, the American golden boy from Palmer Park, Maryland, had wrenched the title from the previously unbeaten Wilfredo Benitez, in the 15th and final round, and kicked open the door to superstardom.

The legendary Panamanian, Roberto Duran, scored a unanimous decision over Leonard in June 1980 but that defeat was avenged five months later in New Orleans, when Duran infamously surrendered out of frustration. Leonard followed up by winning the WBA junior middleweight title, from Ayub Kalule, before setting his sights on a huge 147-pound unification clash with his domestic counterpart.

Hearns, from Detroit, Michigan, was unbeaten and had crunched Pipino Cuevas in two rounds to capture the WBA welterweight title in August 1980. His 6ft 1 frame, 78in reach and thumping punch power had haunted the welterweight ranks since he turned professional in November 1977. “The Hitman” was favored by many to gun down Leonard at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

Boxing fans will celebrate the 35th anniversary of “The Showdown” next month – a legendary welterweight fight which surpassed all expectations.

Note: The following fight picks appeared in the September 1981 issue of THE RING magazine and all contributors are listed alongside their status/ occupation at that particular time. The feature is represented by Tom Gray.

Joe Frazier, former heavyweight champion

Official pick: Leonard

“Hearns is off balance a lot. He doesn’t throw punches from the shoulder more than a few times a fight. He wings most of his shots. He had a lot of trouble with (Randy) Shields. Sugar Ray will beat him up. ‘Nuff said.”

Sandy Saddler, former featherweight champion

Official pick: Hearns

“I pick Hearns by a knockout. His terrific power is the edge.”

Willie Pep, former featherweight champion

Official pick: Undecided

“Hearns has been knockin’ people dead, but Shields, a smart boxer, gave him lots of trouble. I think he’ll have trouble with Leonard. It’ll be a close fight. I won’t pick a winner but I lean towards Leonard.”

Emanuel Steward, Hearns’ manager-trainer

Official pick: Hearns

“After what I saw in Houston (Leonard TKO9 Ayub Kalule and Hearns TKO4 Pablo Baez on the same card), Hearns in five.”

Leonard 146 pounds

Leonard 146 pounds. Photo/ THE RING

Harold Weston Jr., former welterweight contender

Official pick: Hearns

“I’ll give Hearns a slight edge because of his punching power.”

Dick Young, Executive Sports Editor, New York Daily News

Official Pick: Hearns


Bob Surkein, former president, AAU

Official Pick: Undecided

“If Hearns is sharp, Leonard will have his hands full. For the first time, Leonard will be giving away height and punching power. The fight can go either way, depending on whose night it is. The outcome is very unpredictable.”

Emile Griffith, former five-time world champion

Official pick: Hearns

“I like Hearns. He’s tall, has the reach over Leonard, the power over Leonard and he can take a good punch. Hearns didn’t look good against Randy Shields but Leonard didn’t look good against Larry Bonds. Hearns will do the things he has to do against Leonard to win.”

Juan La Porte, featherweight contender

Official Pick: Leonard

“Sugar Ray will win. He’s the better fighter.”

Nino Gonzalez, junior middleweight contender

Official Pick: Leonard

“I’ll take Sugar Ray to stop him.”

Curtis Harris, hard-hitting lightweight contender

Official Pick: Leonard

“I have to go with Leonard. He has the speed to make Tommy miss and to counter him. If anyone has the tools to beat Hearns it’s Leonard.”

Phil Pepe, New York Daily News Sports Writer

Official Pick: Leonard

“Leonard in 12 or 13.”

Johnny Bos, International Matchmaker

Official Pick: Leonard

“Leonard by TKO in 12.”

Sal Marchiano, Sportscaster ESPN

Official Pick: Undecided

“There will definitely be a ‘Goodnight Sweet Prince’ in this one.”

Tony Tucker, undefeated heavyweight

Official Pick: Leonard

“Leonard’s greater speed will cause Hearns problems. Hearns’ greater height and reach will cause Leonard problems. I think Leonard will take a decision, but it should be a very close fight.”

Rocky Lockridge, top-rated featherweight contender

Official Pick: Leonard

“Leonard will win either by a decisive decision or by late-round TKO.”

Lou Duva, Fight Manager

Official Pick: Undecided

“I think this fight is a case of styles. What it comes down to is a question of whether Leonard will be able to adapt to Hearns’ speed and height. If Janks Morton and Angelo Dundee can put together a battle plan that Leonard can execute properly, then this will be quite an interesting fight. The man who adapts to the other’s style the best wins.”

Bobby Czyz, undefeated middleweight sensation

Official Pick: Undecided

“I wouldn’t bet on this fight if you gave me money. I somehow think Leonard will win, but both of these guys have the tools to emerge victorious.”

Aaron Pryor, junior welterweight world champion

Official Pick: Undecided

“I’ve already beaten Hearns – in the amateurs – and I’d love to fight Leonard. I don’t know who will win and I don’t care. I just want the winner.”

Leonard/ Hearns weigh in. Sept 16, 1981. (Photo by: The Ring Magazine/Getty Images)

Hearns 145 pounds. Photo/ THE RING

Milton McCrory, unbeaten Kronk (Gym) welterweight contender

Official Pick: Hearns

“Hearns by a knockout inside of five.”

Saoul Mamby, WBC junior welterweight champion

Official Pick: Hearns

“Hearns doesn’t hit as hard as most people think he does. I think Duran hits harder, and Duran couldn’t stop Leonard in two fights. This one will go all the way, with the later rounds being the difference. I’ll go with Hearns on a decision.”

Tony Ayala Jr., junior middleweight contender

Official Pick: Undecided

“It should be a sensational fight, but I don’t have any idea who will win. I think it’s too close to call.”

Jim Jacobs, Fight film historian/ Manager of Wilfredo Benitez

Official Pick: Undecided

“I think that both fighters will get knocked down in this bout and the fight will go to a split decision, just like the first Leonard-Duran fight (sic: The first Leonard-Duran fight was changed from a majority decision to a unanimous decision in favor of Duran)

George Benton, Veteran trainer

Official Pick: Leonard

“I have to lean towards Leonard. Hearns seems to have trouble with very evasive guys like Alfonso Hayman and Randy Shields. Harold Western Jr., a good fighter but shorter than Leonard, also gave Hearns plenty of trouble. Leonard is a smart, polished fighter.”

Davey Armstrong, once-beaten Kronk lightweight

Official Pick: Undecided

“This one is too tough to call.”

Steve Farhood, Editor, KO Magazine

Official Pick: Leonard

“Leonard will win a unanimous decision. His side-to-side movement will confuse Hearns. By the later rounds, Hearns will slow down and Leonard will be able to get inside and score heavily.”

Joe DiMaggio, Baseball Hall of Famer

Official Pick: Undecided

“This is too much off a fight for me to pick. I think it will be one of the greatest fights of all time. All I know is I want to see it. I really want to see it.”

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, WBA light heavyweight champion

Official Pick: Hearns

“Hearns is too big and too hard a hitter for Leonard. Hearns is also quite fast and a great boxer. Hearns will win, no question about it.”

Lou Falcigno, President, Momentum Enterprises, Inc.

Official Pick: Leonard

“Sugar Ray will win the fight.”

Rollie Schwartz, Chief of Officials, United States Amateur Boxing Federation

Official Pick: Leonard

“I look for Leonard to win a decision, coming on very strong in the last five rounds. I have the utmost respect for Hearns and think he’s extremely talented, but Leonard will be too much for him, especially in the final five rounds.”

Ring Magazine Cover - Ray Leonard and Thomas HearnsDan Duva, Promoter

Official Pick: Undecided

“I’ve heard it said that no athlete is worth the money that Hearns and Leonard are being paid. I don’t believe that to be true in this case. I’m sure that every fan will get more than his money’s worth by the time the evening is through.”

Ray Arcel, Veteran trainer

Official Pick: Undecided

“I have this feeling that Hearns can win, but it’s very difficult to pick a winner. I think Hearns will be able to keep Leonard from executing the things he has to do.”

Sam Solomon, Veteran trainer

Official Pick: Hearns

“Hearns by K.O.”

Bert Randolph Sugar, Editor and Publisher

Official Pick: Leonard

“The fight will be determined less by Leonard’s right than by Hearns’ left. The result will be an inverse proportion to how low Hearns keeps his left, not in the first round, when he’ll hold it high, but in the second, third and fourth. I am in awe of Hearns’ power, yet it’s hard to pick against Leonard. I see Leonard winning by a decision.”

Nat Loubet, Associate Publisher

Official Pick: Hearns

“Leonard’s job will be to slide in under Hearns’ superior reach and work the body, something nobody has ever done against Hearns with any success. Hearns’ job will be to hold Leonard off with his left jab, setting him up for the finishing right. Hearns in six.”

Randy Gordon, Associate Editor

Official Pick: Undecided

“Both fighters deserve to be champion. Both deserve to win. Neither deserve to lose. I’m hoping for a 15-round draw.”

Herbert G. Goldman, Managing Editor

Official Pick: Hearns

“This will be a battle of left jabs until Ray runs into a right while trying to deliver a fast combo. The end should come in round nine, with the “Hitman” winner by a kayo.”

Final tally: 13-11 (13 undecided) in favor of Sugar Ray Leonard to emerge victorious in his “Showdown” with Thomas Hearns.