Eight years after their epic World Welterweight showdown, “Sugar Ray” Leonard and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns did battle, again in Las Vegas, and this time controversy, not a Leonard rally, robbed Hearns of his revenge.
June 12th, 1989 was the night and the outdoor arena at Caesar’s Palace in the desert was the setting, as Leonard finally agreed to fight Hearns, again almost a decade after their first battle.
This came after an interim where Hearns had lost an epic three round battle for the World Middleweight title to Marvin Hagler in April of 1985. Then, Leonard triumphed over Hagler in a stunning 12-round decision win two years later that gave him yet another “one up” over Hearns.
Back to the rematch, as Hearns came in looking to avenge Leonard’s dramatic victory in their first fight in 1981. That’s when Leonard, the former Olympic Gold Medalist and worldwide star, kept his unbeaten record intact by dramatically rallying to beat Hearns on a 14th round TKO stoppage. That gave the lethal punching Hearns his first career defeat.
Adding “salt to the wounds,” at the time that the fight was stopped, Hearns was ahead on two of the three scorecards and was apparently on his way to what would have been a career-defining victory.
Now, the fighters agreed to face each other but both considerably heavier, as the fight was for the WBC Super Middleweight title that Leonard had and the WBO 168 lb. belt that Hearns had.
Both Fighters weighed well under the 168 lb. limit and then, got ready to resume their rivalry.
From the outset, Hearns look like the better man and actually, dropped Leonard with a hard right that glanced off the side of his head in the third round.
Hearns was controlling much of the early action with his left jab and long straight right but Leonard rallied and had a big fith round where he rocked Hearns with a left. And then, he brought back memories of his win in the first matchup with a big barrage of punches against a wobbly Hearns after.
Still, Hearns survived, and as the fight went on, he was consistently landing more frequent and significant punches. That eventually led to two more big Hearns right hands that dropped Leonard for the second time in the 11th round.
Unlike their first fight, which was 15 rounds, this one was at the newer limit of 12 rounds.
And, it seemed at that point that Hearns needed only to survive the 12th round upright and he would gain the deserved decision in this one. And Sugar Ray sensed that and “stomped on the gas,” just like he had done to dramatically to win in ’81.
Both fighters traded big punches in the final three minutes, but Leonard didn’t get the stoppage.
Importantly, Leonard’s final frame rally made all three judges give Leonard the final round of the fight on their cards.
Now, it was up to their overall cards to decide it.
And, they split with one going 113-112 for Hearns, and the other with the same margin for Leonard.
The outcome had even more controversy when the third judge, Dalby Shirley, had scored Leonard a 10-8 round in the 12th, without Leonard having scored a knockdown. Therefore, it made his scorecard dead even at 112 apiece. And, the fight ended as a disappointing draw with no winner and both retaining their version of the 168 lb title.
Hearns would go on to fight for another astounding 17 years, retiring finally in 2006 and finishing with a record of 61-5-1.
Both fighters are regarded as two of the all-time greats in the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions and are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Still, you feel for “the Hitman,” as he was winning fight one with Sugar Ray only to be stopped. Then, he looked like he had won the rematch only to have the judges not give it to him.
It remains forever a disappointment that Hearns didn’t get his hand raised in victory either time over Leonard.