Harold Weston Jr., now the assistant matchmaker at Madison Square Garden, agrees, but without applause. In May of 1979 Weston, already partly blind in his right eye because of a detached retina, fought Hearns in Las Vegas. In the sixth round, with Hearns fading badly, Weston was struck in his good eye. He claimed it was a thumb. Whether it was or not, Weston, who had won the fifth and sixth rounds and seemed en route to a rout, was left almost sightless and was forced to retire in his corner.
"Hearns is a programmed fighter, as Steward claims," Weston says. "But if the fight doesn't go the way they plan, he's totally lost. He cannot adjust. Like in my fight, he went back to his corner and said, 'He's not falling. He's not falling. What do I do now?' He was getting scared to death."
A few weeks ago Weston discussed strategy with Leonard in Las Vegas. Weston came away convinced that Leonard will win by a knockout. "I like his strategy," he says. "I like his attitude. His thinking is a lot like mine was. When I fought Hearns, my strategy was to stay low, get inside and dig body punches and keep the pressure on. I knew if I did that, his hand speed would slow down, his punching power wouldn't be as effective and I'd knock him out in the eighth or ninth round. We were headed in that direction when I got hit in the eye. I knew I had him because he started running, and he had never run from anybody. I was fast, but Leonard is about three times as fast as I was. I don't think Hearns has ever been hit as fast as he'll be hit on September 16th."
As an amateur, Hearns was strictly a singles hitter. He had 163 fights, won all but eight, but had only 11 knockouts. Not until after he became a professional did he master the leverage that converted him into such a devastating puncher. As a pro he has stopped 30 of 32 opponents. Most were intimidated by his 78½-inch reach and 73-inch height, which seems even greater in the ring because he wears elevator boxing shoes. The majority of his opponents came in handcuffed by fear, ready-made victims.
Hearns will enjoy no such advantage against Leonard.
Janks Morton, Leonard's prime trainer since his ring infancy, says, "The one thing I was afraid of the most when Ray turned pro in 1977 was that we might overmatch him. He wouldn't know he was overmatched. He'd just fight until he died. But I don't worry anymore. Hey, after two wars with Duran, to hell with Hearns. Hearns can knock the wall down coming out of the dressing room. Ray will still be standing in the center of the ring waiting for him."
Cus D'Amato, 73, manager of former champions Floyd Patterson and José Torres, sees the fight as a contest between an experienced and very competent amateur (Hearns) and a true and—by D'Amato's tough yardstick—rare professional (Leonard). After praising Hearns as a devastating puncher and a savage finisher, D'Amato, boxing's resident oracle, says, "I don't believe he's as good a fighter as everybody thinks. He doesn't throw punches with combination rhythm. Like ta-ta-ta, like an Ali or a Robinson, or a LaMotta when he was LaMotta. Hearns goes ta-ta-ta. There's a break in the rhythm. A man of experience, like Leonard, can avoid every one of them. Leonard throws combinations. You can probably avoid the first, but you'll get hit with the second, or the third, or the fourth. Some guys can hurt you with the first punch, or the last one, but they aren't like Leonard, who can knock you out with any punch he throws in a combination."
They take a different stand in the Hearns camp, of course, but Steward sounds like a man with his fingers crossed. "Sugar Ray Leonard never knocked out anybody with his ability," he says. "They all just got tired because they were in a brawl. Besides, Tommy has got the greatest chin I ever trained, and he isn't easy to hit. He just holds out those long arms of his and says stop."
If Hearns has a great chin, Leonard surely will discover it. Hearns can be hit; he's just never been hit by a real hitter. Last April he stopped a one-armed Randy Shields on cuts in 12 rounds. Shields, whose left arm was useless because of a training injury that was exacerbated during the fight, wasn't intimidated.
"They keep talking about his mean eyes," Shields says. "No professional is going to be bothered by that. He tried it on me before the fight and I felt like laughing in his face."