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Original Issue

Punching and praying

Thomas Hearns stalks a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard

As Sugar Ray Leonard rides his magic carousel, grabbing every brass ring and transmuting it to gold, Thomas Hearns rides a teeter-totter. Right now he's up, suspended momentarily as a middleweight, but he wants to come down to the welterweights so he can ride with Leonard once again. Boxing for the second time as a middleweight, Hearns knocked out Mexico's Marcos Geraldo in 1:48 of the first round Saturday afternoon at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas. Geraldo has now been the victim of first-round knockouts seven times in 65 bouts over 12 years, and he has the distinction of performing a sort of hat trick of losses to Hearns, Leonard and middleweight champ Marvin Hagler.

Hearns tested Geraldo with tentative left jabs early and then went after him in earnest with two right hands, followed by a short left, which sent Geraldo to the canvas. Geraldo had extended both Leonard (May 20, 1979) and Hagler (May 17, 1980) before losing 10-round decisions, and now he tried to get up, but he sank back to his knees, ending Hearns's and Manager-Trainer Emanuel Steward's hopes for a fruitful middleweight test.

It was a Hearns show all the way within the ring, yet beyond the ropes was Leonard, as a commentator for CBS. How appropriate.

Leonard and his people have said they're not eager for a rematch with Hearns. Leonard could earn a million dollars for shadowboxing with Beverly Sills, so why should he risk another war like the one that ended with his unifying the welterweight championship with a 14th-round TKO of Hearns at Caesars Palace last September?

Sugar Ray says his agreeing to a rematch depends on Hearns's retraction of his statement that he could've continued past the 14th round in their first fight. Leonard seems genuinely angry about Hearns's assertion, and he reminded Hearns after the Geraldo fight that even Steward conceded that Hearns was through in the 14th. "Tommy won't retract the statement because he honestly believes he could've gone on," Steward said. "It's not unusual. Here was a boxer who had never been stopped before. He doesn't know what it means to say he can't go on."

Leonard said repeatedly on Saturday that Leonard-Hearns II is just a concession speech away, but at least for now Hearns's fierce pride seems to preclude any kind of backing down. Which leaves Hearns on his teeter-totter. His first fight after the loss to Leonard was a 10-round decision over Ernie Singletary, a middleweight, last Dec. 11. The Geraldo fight was the second act in a scenario in which Hearns would beat enough middleweights to earn a title shot against Hagler, beat Hagler, then use that crown as leverage to force a rematch with Leonard. Steward says Hearns and Hagler could meet as early as May or June following one more tune-up fight.

Hearns argues that his journey into the 160-pound class isn't only a means of getting back to Leonard. "Besides Ray, who else is there for me to fight down there?" says Hearns. "We'd probably be doing the same thing regardless of Ray," says Steward. "Look, Leonard and Hearns destroyed everything down there [in the 147-pound-limit welterweight division]."

While Leonard is content fighting anyone who can make that weight limit (e.g., Bruce Finch, Roger Stafford), Hearns isn't. He was when he was the most punishing welterweight in the world with 32 straight wins, including 30 by knockout, but he certainly isn't six months after Leonard stopped him in Las Vegas.

In the meantime Hearns has been concerned about how fast the loser of a bout can be forgotten. "It did seem a little quick for people to be asking, 'Where's Thomas Hearns?' " he said the day before the Geraldo fight. "But it really didn't surprise me. People don't want to look at losers. People look at winners."

Hearns's new path isn't without precedent: Sugar Ray Robinson, Carmen Basilio and Emile Griffith, all natural welterweights, won middleweight titles, to cite the most recent examples. Hearns has the speed to confuse most middle-weights, and, though he couldn't take out Leonard, he's as powerful a puncher as any 147-pounder who has risked moving up to the 160-pound class. Hearns's inverted pyramid physique is most impressive at the shoulders, which belong on a linebacker, and the biceps, which, at 15 inches, belong on a light heavyweight. He has the body-fat content of a hummingbird.

But the road isn't without peril, either. First, Hearns has real trouble putting on weight. Leonard was visibly surprised when the 6'1" Hearns weighed in at just 145 for their bout, one pound lighter than the much shorter Leonard. Steward has been criticized in the past for steaming too much weight off fighters in his hotbox Detroit gym, but he swears that's not the case with Hearns. But even as Hearns feasted on steaks and two or three milk shakes a day before the Geraldo fight—"Training has been real nice this time," he said—he only made it to 153¼, which he admits may be his limit. Would that be enough against a puncher like Hagler, who might enter the ring as heavy as 165?

Another danger seems to be Hearns's serving two masters, as objectionable as that terminology would be to Hearns. Could he really concentrate on a Hagler fight and put thoughts of Leonard to one side? "Leonard avoided him for a long time," says Steward, "so Tommy knows how to wait. He can put Leonard out of his mind." Perhaps so. But Leonard is the primary reason Hearns has gotten on his teeter-totter, and there's no guarantee that he'll be waiting with open arms for Hearns even if Tommy comes back down as a champion.


Hearns needed just 1:48 to knock out the hapless Geraldo.