Detroit has always been known as a tough city, and a tough city produces tough people. But it also produces great people.
Tommy Hearns may be one of the toughest, as well as one of the greatest, that Detroit has ever produced. And last week, in Las Vegas, Hearns was awarded an honor that nearly matches the love and pride that his hometown takes in his accomplishments; Hearns was inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame. A brief review of what Hearns managed to achieve during his time in the ring makes it quickly obvious why the Hall of Fame would be incomplete without him.
From his website:
“Thomas “Hitman” Hearns was born October 18, 1958 and is a retired American boxer. Nicknamed the “Motor City Cobra” and more famously “Hitman”, Hearns became the first boxer in history to win world titles in four divisions. He would also become the first fighter in history to win five world titles in five different divisions. Hearns was named Ring Magazine fighter of the year in 1980 and 1984 and is best known for his fights with Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.
“Hearns began his professional boxing career in Detroit, Michigan, under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward in 1977. He won six world titles in five weight classes during his pro career, defeating future boxing Hall of Famers such as Pipino Cuevas, Wilfred Benítez, Virgil Hill and Roberto Durán. Hearns started his career by knocking out his first 17 opponents. In 1980, Hearns carried his 28-0 record into a world title match against Mexico’s Pipino Cuevas. Hearns ended Cuevas’s 4-year reign by beating him by TKO in the second round. Hearns was voted “Fighter of the Year” by Ring Magazine in 1980.”
Sugar Ray Leonard, who together with Hearns in the ring created some of the best and most memorable bouts in boxing history, introduced Hearns at the induction ceremony. The two have become close friends, and Leonard said that Hearns was “one of the toughest guys ever …a guy who brought out the best in Sugar Ray Leonard.” Leonard got some laughs from the crowd when he recounted how skinny Hearns was, and how he mistakenly thought that defeating him wouldn’t be much of a problem.
“Here’s a guy who could barely make the weight,” he said.
But then, once in the ring, Leonard recalled thinking, as he took another look at Hearns’ tightly coiled body over in his corner, that this was not the same guy who he had so easily dismissed before. This guy looked a bit more threatening. And the rest, as they say, is history. From writer David Avila, writing about the induction in the online boxing publication The Sweet Science:
“Detroit’s “Hitman” Hearns was a fearsome sight with his long lean body and explosive speed and power. His welterweight battle between undefeated world champions in 1981 with Ray Leonard is considered a classic. He also battled against the best of his time including Roberto Duran, Wilfredo Benitez and Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He won world titles as a welterweight, super welterweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight. He possessed shocking power in that lean body frame.”
When asked on Monday in an interview with the Michigan Chronicle his feelings about the honor, his expression made it clear what it meant to him as he relaxed in an easy chair at the home of longtime friend Odis Buffington, a local boxing aficionado and close friend of the late Emmanuel Steward who still cherishes a framed photograph of him standing in the ring next to Hearns when he won his first Golden Gloves championship in Hawaii.
“It was awesome. I had the chance to reminisce about some of the events that happened in my life,” he said.
But as pleased as he was by the recognition, he was also a bit surprised.
“All I ever wanted to be was good at what I did. And in boxing, I made it. And not just good, but a Hall of Famer at what I did. I was very excited about that.”
At the induction ceremony, Hearns talked about how he first had to sneak out the window of his east side home to catch the bus to the west side to train because he didn’t want this mother to find out he was boxing. But when she did, he paid the price just about any young kid would pay when his mother finds out he left home out the window.
“It was a hot night that night,” he said, to appreciative chuckles from the crowd.
“I think that my mother was tougher than some of my opponents. She put fear in my heart,” he said on Monday, when asked to talk more about occurrence. “I would rather run through a fire with gasoline drawers on” than to cross my mother.
But ultimately his mother relented when she saw how badly her son wanted to be a boxer. And Hearns realized that most of the reason for her anger was her fear of what could happen to her son inside a boxing ring. Simply put, mothers don’t like to see their children getting beat up, not even for money.
“My Mom, she believed in me. She was scared, afraid. Today when I go in the ring, she’s still the same way. But she believed in me and she let me do my own thing, and I’m very proud and happy about that.”
Hearns said that, like many youngsters, his love of boxing began with Muhammad Ali. Until then he was trying his best on the basketball court, but watching Ali set the course for the rest of his life.
“Muhammad Ali inspired me to be a boxer. I knew I didn’t have the gift of gab. I was too quiet. Too umm…I guess shy. I was shy was what it was. I knew I wasn’t gonna be a talker,” he said.
His fists said pretty much all that needed to be said inside the ring, but it wasn’t just inside the ring that appealed to Hearns. He liked everything about the sport, from the training to how it made him a better man and taught him life skills that he carries with him to this day.
“It was just that physical part of it, getting my body tuned up, my mind tuned up. And then learning how to fight at the same time?
“A lot of us are afraid to step outside of our comfort zone, but sometimes you need to a step out there to see what’s really out there for us. And once you find it, hold onto it.”
“Martin Luther King had a dream, and that’s where it all comes from. It comes from the dream, and then you wonder, hey, I wonder can that dream be reality? It can be reality if you go for it. You gotta go for it, you gotta seek it. You gotta show God that you want it.”
Nobody will ever doubt that Tommy Hearns went for it with everything he had. Which might explain why he seems to feel satisfied at this time in his life, a little more than a month shy of 60.
“This is a great time of my life. Not many people get the chance to have a street named after them, to go the places that I’ve been in my life, a lot of places, a lot of countries. I made it. I think I really made it.”