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EXCERPT | September 28, 1981

Blow by Blow

Sugar Ray Leonard punched out Thomas Hearns

The fight between WBC welterweight champion Leonard and WBA champ Hearns was billed as a match between a boxer and a puncher. But Leonard had other ideas. Pat Putnam reported for SI.

The Leonard who came out for the sixth—the man many said couldn't punch with Hearns—was all over Hearns, blasting through his amateurish defense, driving him backward, digging hard countering hooks to the body, snapping rights off the jaw. With 26 seconds to go Hearns threw a wild right, and Leonard countered underneath with a hook that almost separated Hearns's ribs from his body. Later, Emanuel Steward, Hearns's manager, would say this was the punch from which Hearns never recovered.

Leonard roared in, firing from the hip. Just before the bell he draped Hearns's lanky frame against the ropes. Hearns weaved his way back to his corner like a man who had spent a long night in a bar.

Hearns came out for the seventh like a man going to the guillotine. He was confused by Leonard's blinding speed, and dazed by his unexpected power. Don't let Leonard's baby face and angelic smile fool you; within, there is that same mean beast that inhabits all great fighters.

The expected roles now were reversed. Leonard had backed Hearns up for the first time in Hearns's pro career. Hearns, the feared bomber, suddenly began to ride his bicycle. With his right elbow tucked against his aching side he became a relatively unskilled boxer. He circled, ran, jabbed. And Leonard, the master boxer, became the flat-footed puncher, stalking his fleeing victim with patient fury.

Leonard retired in 1982 due to a detached retina in his left eye. After making a successful comeback, he fought Hearns to a draw in a 1989 rematch.

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Photograph by MANNY MILLAN

SWEET SHOTS Leonard (near left) dispelled any doubts about his chin, shrugging off early punches from Hearns, then inflicted most of the heavy damage in the fight.