Five times now I've watched Ray Leonard stop Thomas Hearns, always in the 14th round. The first time, of course, was when they fought live. Then the following afternoon I watched it again, on tape. The other three repeats of the fight were delayed telecasts provided by Home Box Office (twice) and ABC.
One of the pleasures—or displeasures—of being a fight writer is viewing tapes, which at times can be insidious. It is at these moments that you match the impressions made under the gun of a deadline against the slow-motion replays of what really happened. It is comforting when replay matches impression. Other times aren't so comforting.
No matter. This isn't an essay on punches seen, or thought seen. The great value of taped fights is that they provide new insights, add elements hidden or overlooked. One such revelation, at least for me, was the tremendous courage of Hearns.
Watching the replay of the battering he took in the sixth and seventh rounds, the beatings in the 13th and 14th, you wonder what kept this proud thin fighter on his feet. If points were awarded for valor, certainly he earned no less than a draw.
Among my notes from the sixth round I have "L dom...26 seconds hook t body H winced...H drilled into ropes at b, weaved to corner." It was in this round, after 15 minutes of playing cat-and-mouse, that Leonard took command. With 26 seconds remaining he almost cut Hearns in half with a hook to the body. And at the end of the round a furious volley drove Hearns into the ropes. He had trouble getting to his corner.
Round seven has a huge L with "stiff JS...L dig hooks to body vicious...18 sec good rt...H in corner, 4 shots at b. H went to cor like drunk." It was at the end of this round that Emanuel Steward, Hearns' manager, said, "If you don't start fighting back, I'm going to stop it."
Few people thought the fight would go more than another round. Hearns wasn't among them. With amazing grit, after almost four straight minutes (with 60 seconds off between rounds six and seven) of a fierce beating, Hearns came out on his toes, dancing.
The next big L in my notes is for the 13th round: "2:25 H slip...1:29 st. rt drops H P (Referee Davey Pearl) slip?...25 punches H through ropes I-r-I get up, finally counts 9 bell."
Near the halfway mark of the round Leonard, his left eye almost swollen shut, had unloaded a volley of punches that sent Hearns sailing into the ropes. As Hearns sat on the lower strand Pearl waved him up; the referee had ruled it a push. Hearns was hardly up before Leonard was on him. Another volley returned Hearns to his seat on the rope. Although badly hurt, he never stopped trying to fight back.
Notes on the 14th: "L out fast...killer...H rt rt H to bod 2...walking st. In...16 straight...H won't quit...hanging on ropes after big rt at 1:50...L hands in air, then in...banging to bod...P had enough...no protest."
No, Hearns never protested when Pearl took him into protective custody. According to the judges' scorecards, if Hearns had rallied and won the last round, he would have gained the decision. But he was staying erect on courage alone; the strength wasn't in him. There would be no rally. It was a measure of the size of his heart that when the fight was stopped he was still on his feet.
I'll always remember how Leonard won. I can only hope that I never forget how Hearns lost.