Hawk: Tommy Hearns! I'll be ready for you by the year 2000.
Hearns: Try 3000, Hawk.
—FROM "A MAN CALLED HAWK"
The hit man and the actor are reading their lines in a second-story warehouse-turned-sound-stage above Riverside Cleaners in Northwest Washington, D.C. Thomas Hearns's attention is riveted on Avery Brooks, the tenured Rutgers professor who portrays the inscrutable hired gun, Hawk, an imposing man of few words and direct action, in the television series A Man Called Hawk. Hearns, for better or worse, has been playing a similar role for years. He never needed makeup before. Hearns is 30 now, and the super middleweight champion of the World Boxing Organization, whatever that is. He has won five titles in five weight classes over the past decade, and on June 12 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, he will face Sugar Ray Leonard once again. At stake is Leonard's WBC super middleweight title, but this fight is mostly for the bankroll—a guaranteed $13 million for Leonard, $11 million for Hearns—and for old times' sake. The fight is why Hearns is on prime time. Leonard has allowed it.
"The Hit Man is here!" Brooks boomed when Hearns arrived on the set. Hearns is about to play himself for a few minutes in a gym scene, snapping off a couple of crisp lines while doing some mock sparring with Milton McCrory, his former stablemate at Detroit's Kronk Gym. The show's director, Harry Falk, experiments with different camera angles as a grip sprays Hearns's face with water for proper effect. Hearns and McCrory begin to spar effortlessly and harmlessly. Now everyone's attention is riveted on them. Falk steps forward to talk to one of the background performers and instinctively recoils from Hearns's right hand, even though he is safely outside the ring.
This bit of TV fantasy is happening on Leonard's home turf—Washington. The evening before, Hearns and his small entourage had gone to see the Detroit Pistons punish the Washington Bullets at the Capital Centre in suburban Landover, Md. Before they could reach their seats, the catcalls rang out: "Ray's gonna whip you, Tommy!" "Ray's gonna knock you out, Tommy!"
"It got a little scary there for a minute," says one of Hearns's roadies. Hearns corrects him: "No it didn't."
It won't get scary until that Monday night in June when Hearns meets Leonard in a rematch of their great fight of Sept. 16, 1981. Leonard rallied and scored a TKO in the 14th round. For now, Hearns gambols in Leonard's territory without a care in the world. After taping Hawk, he will even risk his lucrative payday with Leonard by playing basketball in a U.S. Youth Games benefit, along with the likes of Julius Erving and Earl Monroe. Meanwhile, Leonard, 33, whose super middleweight title is also his fifth crown, is setting up camp in Palm Beach, Fla., to train for a fight he is widely expected to win.
"Ray knows," Hearns says. Knows what? That Hearns is shot? Washed up? That time has clocked him out even though he's 2� years younger than Leonard? That he is a puncher with a porcelain chin who sometimes gets off a good right before it breaks? That he is a has-been on bad legs who was knocked flat by a glorified club fighter named Iran Barkley last June 6? "Ray knows better," says Hearns.
It's not what anyone else thinks: not Hawk, not manager Emanuel Steward, not Hearns's mother, Lois, not even his 106-year-old grandfather, Henry Tallie. It's what Leonard thinks that matters.
"He's tough and has resiliency and heart," Leonard said before he left for Palm Beach. "There won't be any feeling out. I know what he can do." Leonard brushed off Hearns's loss to Barkley and a lackluster decision over James Kinchen in November. "Look, that means nothing," he said testily. "This man is going to train for me. This man wants me. Bad."
Leonard knows that Hearns, though he has been stopped three times—by Sugar Ray in '81, Marvelous Marvin Hagler in '85 and Barkley, his only defeats against 46 wins—is as dangerous for the first three rounds as just about any fighter ever. The boxing intelligentsia says that Leonard is this, Michael Nunn is that, Roberto Duran can do this, Julio Cesar Ch�vez might do that. But this fact remains: Along with Mike Tyson, Hearns is one of the best action fighters around and has been for the better part of the past 10 years. When Hearns fights, somebody gets knocked out, and it's usually the other guy (38 times in Hearns's career). He isn't as complete a boxer as Leonard, but then, who is? Leonard is a master. "Well," Hearns says with a cold smile, "my plans are to show just how washed up I am."