By James Blears
Today is the 39th anniversary of the first incredible fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Tommy Hearns.
It was chillingly dubbed Showdown. Tommy was the WBA welterweight champion, while Ray was the champion of the WBC Green and Gold Belt. Formidable Tommy, towering over Ray, came to this extraordinary encounter with a record of 32-0, with 30 KO‘s. Ray was 30-1, with 21 KO‘s. Ray had lost to Roberto Duran, but avenged. While Tommy‘s record was unblemished.
In 1976, at the Montreal Olympics Ray had won Gold against formidably tall Cuban KO artist Carlos Aldama, stopping his lofty southpaw opponent three seconds before the final bell, after knocking him down in the second and savaging him in the final round. George Foreman who was commentating along with Howard Cosell, commented what a tremendous young fighter the crafty, subtle Ray was.
Ray had circled right away from Aldama‘s vaunted and potent left. But as a pro against a far more accomplished Tommy, who had a four inch reach advantage, it was a whole different kettle of fish.
Irritation at the end of the first round in Caesars Palace Las Vegas, when Ray threw a punch at the bell, Tommy retaliated and Ray cheekily kinked his legs in mock fear. Yet the first five rounds convincingly belonged to Tommy, because Ray wasn‘t yet able to move through that out of bounds football field reach, to impact some significant firepower.
From the fourth an angry swelling started to form in an angry lump under Ray‘s left eye. As things wore on another mouse formed under his right eye.
Everything changed in the sixth with a thudding left hook to the side of the face from Ray, which really hurt Tommy and more crunching lefts followed. At the end of the round in Tommy‘s corner, he was tartly chided by the normally taciturn Manny Steward, who curtly warned him that unless he kept his right higher, he‘d be clobbered by Ray‘s left.
A good round seven for Ray, but Tommy rallied in the eighth. Tommy who was boxing smartly, won rounds nine through twelve. He was pulling further and wider ahead and, Ray now had to go into overdrive to win this. A KO was absolutely necessary.
At the end of the twelfth, Ray and Tommy had finally earned each other‘s respect. They actually touched gloves, as the bell rang. Wonders will never cease!
Before the start of the thirteenth, the famous riposte from Angelo Dundee in Ray‘s corner: “You‘re blowing it now son. You‘re blowing it.” But also urging him: “You‘ve got nine more minutes!
As things stood at the beginning of that fateful thirteenth Tommy was well up on all three scorecards. But as Ray pushedhim against the ropes, tiring Tommy‘s pipestem legs failed him and he went down. Fatigue was tugging at him! He‘d come into the fight, at 145 pounds, which was one pound lighter than the considerably smaller Ray, and finally this was catching up with him.
Knowing time was ebbing away Ray launched a furious attack, landing with wicked left hooks and Tommy was pushed through the ropes, hence no count from Referee Davy Pearl. But he was exhausted.
In the fourteenth, Tommy was tagged with a massive overhead right, Ray lifted his arms in victory, following him to the ropes, tagging and jolting him repeatedly. No holding from Tommy, who went down to receive a count, got up was battered and the fight was stopped.
Like all superstar champions, Ray who was behind on the scorecards, had pulled it out of the fire, as the embers were glowing, flickering and on the point of extinguishing. The Detroit Hitman tasted defeat for the first time.
BTW the Sugar Ray Leonard Virtual Auction in support of Pediatric Type one and two diabetes research and care, starts onTuesday September 22nd at 8am and runs until Monday September 28th at 5pm.
To help us with this vital cause, please register at: www.srlfauction.org