“The winner of Thurman-Porter will immediately move into the welterweight penthouse.” – Leonard
“I know that Porter and Thurman both have the ability to get each other out of there. It’s going to be a matter of who gets to who first.” -Hearns
Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas “Hitman” Hearns might be uniquely qualified to talk about what WBA welterweight champion Keith “One Time” Thurman and “Showtime” Shawn Porter are thinking and feeling heading into their battle that pits two men against each other who are in their primes in a highly charged battle for supremacy in the talent-laden welterweight division.
Leonard had a record of 30-1 with 21 KOs and held the WBC welterweight title when he took on Hearns, who was 32-0 with 30 KOs and held the WBA title, in a 15-round title unification match in Las Vegas on September 16, 1981. The match was billed as “The Showdown” and had a worldwide television audience of 300 million.
The fight was a pitched back-and-forth battle, but Hearns appeared to be in control having won rounds nine through 12 on all three judges’ scorecards. It was between rounds 12 and 13 that Leonard’s trainer, the late Angelo Dundee, famously screamed at Leonard: “You’re blowing it now, son! You’re blowing it!”
Leonard, with his left eye badly swollen, turned the tide in the 14th round by staggering Hearns with an overhand right and then pinning Hearns on the ropes and unleashing a barrage of punches, which prompted referee Davey Pearl to stop the fight, giving Leonard the victory and making him the undisputed welterweight champion and king of the division. At the time of the stoppage Hearns was leading on all three scorecards – 124-122, 125-122 and 125-121.
“It was the toughest fight of my life. It took every ounce of will and strength to beat Tommy Hearns. I couldn’t have taken that many of those in my career,” Leonard said. “The Tommy Hearns fight was the one that propelled me to the penthouse.”
Leonard felt like the victory over Hearns launched him into superstardom. He believes the same thing awaits the winner of Thurman-Porter.
Hearns on the fight: “I wanted to show my world my boxing ability. They knew I could knock people out, but they didn’t know that I could box very well.”
Both Leonard and Hearns said they are anxiously awaiting the match between Thurman and Porter because they believe it will hold just as much drama as their match 35 years ago.
“Yeah, you can make the comparison,” Leonard said. “Both guys are at the top of the welterweight division. The only thing that’s different is that me and Tommy were so well known by sports fans. We were on TV a lot, and that’s what built our names and gave people the chance to see us so much. And that’s what they’re doing now with the PBC and the shows being on network TV. This could be a fight like ours. Who knows? But I do know that the fans are waiting on this fight.”
HOW DO YOU PREPARE TO FACE THE BEST MAN IN YOUR DIVISION?
HEARNS: “It’s always hard to get prepared for someone like that because you think about what the outcome is going to be and what are your chances of winning the fight. I never thought about losing, but I thought about what my chances were.
I knew if I went out and boxed the way I knew I could box, I would beat Ray. Just the thought of fighting Ray brought a lot of questions to my mind. Some I had answers to and some I didn’t have. Most other guys I knew I could go out there and knock them out.”
WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT THIS MATCHUP?
LEONARD: “Just the heart of Keith and Shawn. Both of these guys have heart and both have that will. That composure. You can’t teach composure. It’s something that you either have or you don’t. You can’t learn that. That deep, deep composure when your left eye is closed and your liver is busted and you got to get up on the canvas.”
HEARNS: “I know Thurman and Porter have the ability to get each other out of there. It’s going to be a matter of who gets to who first. I’m definitely watching. I hope to be there in person.”
HOW IMPORTANT IS THE MENTAL ASPECT OF THIS MATCH?
HEARNS: “I know what it’s like to go against somebody that people don’t think you can beat. You have to prepare for that. It’s a mental stage that you go through, how you prepare your mind. If you can control your mind and tell your body what you’re going to do, then you can do it. You can’t worry about how good the other guy can punch. Just stay out of the way. Keep on laying that stick on him and he won’t be able to punch you.”
WHAT WAS YOUR MENTALITY GOING INTO THE MATCH AGAINST LEONARD?
HEARNS: “I didn’t come to go 12 or 15 rounds. I came to whip your butt and go home. I had no desire to go 15 rounds. I trained for it, but I was never going 15 rounds.”
WHAT WAS YOUR MENTALITY GOING INTO THE MATCH AGAINST HEARNS?
LEONARD: “I felt that I could beat anyone. My brother Roger didn’t think I could beat Tommy. He didn’t tell me that until it was over. In training camp I used to box Roger and he would land a lot of right hands. He figured if Tommy’s right hand landed on me it would be over. My brother didn’t have much confidence in me.”