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Looking Back at the Two Leonard vs. Hearns Fights!

Image: Looking Back at the Two Leonard vs. Hearns Fights!

By Ken Hissner: Two of the most well-known welterweight champions in the history of boxing were hard-hitting Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns out of Detroit, Michigan, and excellent boxer “Sugar” Ray Leonard out of Palmer Park, Maryland.

In the amateurs, Hearns was 155-8, with his knockouts never determined. Leonard was 145-5 with 75 knockouts.

In the 1976 Golden Gloves, Hearns lost in finals to Aaron “Hawk” Pryor. In the AAU, he lost in finals to Howard Davis, Jr. Davis defeated Pryor in the 1976 Olympic Trials.

Leonard, in the 1973 AAU, lost to Randy Shields in the finals. In 1974 Leonard won the Golden Gloves and AAU titles. In 1975 he won the AAU title and the Pan Am Games Gold Medal, defeating Cuban Victor Corona. In the 1976 Olympic Trials, he defeated Shields. In the Olympics, he won Gold Medal, defeating Cuban Andres Aldama.

On November 25, 1977, Hearns turned professional. On August 2, 1980, he won the WBA Welterweight title stopping Mexican Pipino Cuevas, 27-6 in 2 rounds at the Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, Michigan, in his hometown.

On February 5, 1977, Leonard turned professional. On November 30, 1979, he won the WBC Welterweight title, stopping Wilfred Benitez, 38-0-1, at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, at 2:58 of the fifteenth round ahead on all cards.

Benitez was a common opponent of both Hearns and Leonard. Hearns, on December 3, 1982, won a majority decision over Benitez, 44-1-1, for the Super Welter title.

Leonard, on June 25, 1981, won the WBA Super Welter title, stopping Ayub Kalule in nine rounds.

With the exception of Hearns winning the Super Welter title in 1982, this leads us up to their first meeting on September 16, 1981.

Leonard’s only loss was to Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran, 71-1, on June 20, 1980, and then regaining the title, stopping Duran on November 25.

On September 16, 1981, at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, WBA Welterweight champion Hearns was 32-0, and WBC Welterweight champ Leonard was 30-1. After 13 rounds, Hearns was ahead on points on all scorecards by 124-122, 125-121, and 125-122.

Even if Leonard won the last 2 rounds he would have lost the fight by a majority decision. Leonard’s left eye was closing in the thirteenth. Leonard drove Hearns through the ropes, but referee Davey Pearl didn’t rule it a knockdown.

In the fourteenth round, Leonard came out and landed a vicious right to the body, and one to the head, putting Hearns in a world of trouble. He continued to land a flurry of punches forcing referee Pearl to call a halt at 1:45 of the fourteenth round. It won Ring Magazine’s Fight of the year!

In February of 1982, Leonard made his first and last title defense stopping Lightnin’ Bruce Finch, 28-3-1, in 3 rounds. In May, while training to fight Roger Stafford, he suffered a detached retina. He received surgery on May 9th. On November 9th, he announced his retirement.

After losing to Leonard Hearns moved up to super welter, winning the title from Benitez four fights later. This was the cause there was no rematch with Leonard.

In Hearns’s third defense, he stopped Duran, 77-5, in 2 rounds in June of 1984. In April of 1985, he challenged the middleweight champion “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, 60-2-2, being stopped in 3 rounds.

Hearns would go on to win the WBC Light Heavy title, stopping Dennis Andries 28-6-2. In his next fight, he won the vacant WBC Middle title knocking out Juan Domingo Roldan, 65-3-2, in 4 rounds. In his first defense, he lost in 3 rounds to Iran “The Blade” Barkley, 24-4. In his next fight, he won the vacant WBO Super Middle title by majority decision over James “The Heat” Kinchen, 44-4-2.

While this was happening to Hearns, Leonard came out of retirement after 27 months of coming off the canvas, stopping Kevin Howard, 20-4-1, on May 11, 1984. Again he would retire, not coming back until three years later, winning the WBC Middleweight title by split decision over Hagler, 62-2-2. This was the same Hagler that had stopped Hearns.

Leonard, in his next fight, instead of defending his middleweight title, moved up to win the vacant WBC Super Middle and WBC Light Heavy title, stopping Donny “Golden Boy” Lalonde, 31-2, in 9 rounds.

On June 12, 1989, the second Hearns vs. Leonard fight happened after some seven years and nine months. Each fighter got a 113-112 vote, with the third judge 112-112.

Leonard had been down in rounds 3 and 11. Going into the twelfth and final round, Hearns seemed ahead, and instead of boxing, he tried stopping Leonard and almost got stopped just before the final bell. One judge gave that round to Leonard 10-8, which had a lot to winning the decision. A majority of fans felt Hearns won, but I wasn’t one of them.

Leonard defeated Duran in their third meeting in his next fight, then lost his last two fights to “Terrible” Terry Norris, 26-3, and Hector “Macho” Camacho, 62-3-1, in 5 rounds.

Hearns would go 15-2 after losing to Leonard. After winning the IBO Cruiser title and defeating Nate Miller, 30-6, he lost to Uriah Grant, 27-14. He would go on to win his last two fights.

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