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SUGAR SHOULD FROST HIM
Pat Putnam
September 14, 1981
Thomas Hearns is an imposing physical presence, but in the showdown fight for the welterweight title, he'll find Sugar Ray Leonard too quick and too good
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September 14, 1981

Sugar Should Frost Him

Thomas Hearns is an imposing physical presence, but in the showdown fight for the welterweight title, he'll find Sugar Ray Leonard too quick and too good

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Shortly after arriving at Sugar Loaf, just 26 days before the fight, Hearns and his crew drove 20 miles to Traverse City, a picturesque fishing village at the southern tip of West Bay. A softball game had been scheduled against a team of local media. A first baseman, Hearns played seven innings, the last two in the gathering dusk. As a hitter he went I for 5; as one of the stars in a $40 million-plus fight, he struck out against common sense.

"You don't want to do anything to upset his normal routine," explained Prentiss Byrd, outfielder, close friend and No. 2 man to Emanuel Steward, Hearns's manager and trainer, at Detroit's Kronk gym. Countered a listener, "If he breaks a leg playing softball, you're going to upset his normal delivery of $5 million to the bank."

Another game was scheduled for the following night, this one against the police and firemen in nearby Cedar. Steward, who had pitched the night before, elected to pass. After taking heat from the media in residence, he also ordered that Hearns could play only in the safety of rightfield.

It was left to Byrd to relay to Hearns his banishment to the outfield. The fighter proved stubborn: "I want to play first base."

"No, the boss says..."

"Then I'll play second."

"No, the boss says..."

"I don't give a damn what the boss says," Hearns snapped. Angered, he turned his car homeward, refusing to test the Steward theory that rightfielders don't suffer grievous injury.

As part of his training regime, Hearns engages in simulated fights with Steward, who, after donning gloves that resemble catcher's mitts, directs the combat in pantomime. It's like painting by the numbers. The strokes are crisp and clean; the painting resembles a masterpiece. It fails, however, to make of the painter an artist.

Steward: "Tommy does everything exactly as I tell him. He listens intently to what I say and then goes out and executes exactly what I tell him. Tommy is like a robot."

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