SEPTEMBER 14, 1981
Should don king fear this man? He talks slowly, and you have to listen carefully to understand him. But what he is saying sounds eminently reasonable—if far-fetched for boxing: As a promoter he will try to be honest above all else, and he wants his fighters to fulfill their potential as athletes and as people. His plan is to offer a pension to every boxer he promotes. Oh, yeah, he doesn't want anybody mad at him either. "I'm not naming names, but there aren't many promoters doing the right things," says Thomas (Hit Man) Hearns, who launched Hearns Entertainment Inc. two years ago. "I see a real need there."
Is this the same man who in the course of a 24-year ring career won six world titles, from welterweight to light heavyweight, attacking opponents like an uncoiling cobra? It is, and he appears just as determined to succeed in his new job. A product of Detroit's sulfurous Kronk Gym, Hearns turned pro in 1977 at age 19. With a right hand that seemed to explode in the faces of foes, he knocked out 30 of his first 32 opponents en route to the WBA 147-pound tide, setting up a 1981 showdown with WBC champ Sugar Ray Leonard. Hearns lost that bout on a 14th-round TKO, after an epic seesaw fight. It was just one highlight in a golden era for boxing's middle divisions. From '80 to '89 the charismatic foursome of Hearns, Leonard, Roberto Duran and Marvin Hagler waged nine classic battles among themselves. Hearns flattened Duran in two rounds in '84 and fought to a draw with Leonard in '89, but his most memorable moment came in his 1985 collision with middleweight champ Hagler. Though Hearns lost that night, on a third-round KO, he and Hagler produced what are widely considered the most ferocious eight minutes in boxing history. Hearns fought for more than a decade after the second Leonard bout, finally calling it quits following a loss to journeyman Uriah Grant in April 2000. "When I hear people talk about the great fights, I hear my name a lot," says Hearns, who finished with a 59-5-1 record. "Win or lose, I guess I earned people's respect."
Having known too many fighters who retired broke, Hearns, the father of four, who lives with wife Renee in Southfield, Mich., is committed to his idea of a pension plan. He knows that he can't make clients invest, but at least he can give them the option. After promoting the Mike Tyson- Andrew Golota bout at The Palace of Auburn Hills in October 2000, Hearns made headlines three months ago with his attempt to bring the Lennox Lewis-Tyson fight to Detroit. (It went to Memphis.) Still, his real interest is in developing young talent. "I'd be lying if I said I didn't want to make money," says Hearns, who expects to announce his next card in June, "but I also want to help fighters grow. If I can do that, the money will come."