On this day in 1991, Thomas Hearns handed Virgil Hill his first professional loss to claim the WBA light heavyweight title. Hearns would fight at least once a year for the rest of the 1990s and fought his last pro fight in 2006. But the win over Hill remains the last great victory of his career. It was a win that solidified The Hitman’s standing high up on the all-time, pound-for-pound charts.
Following a strong amateur career, Hearns had turned professional as a welterweight at age 19. He was an extremely tall 147-pound fighter and generated tremendous power with his overhand right. He was among the first class of notable professionals to emerge from what would become Emanuel Steward’s legendary Kronk Gym program in Detroit.
Less than three years after turning professional, Hearns stopped Jose Cuevas in two rounds to capture the WBA welterweight title. He won his first 32 fights, with only two going the distance.
In September 1981, Hearns faced fellow superstar Sugar Ray Leonard. It was one of the great showdowns in the history of boxing. The conventional wisdom going in had been that Leonard would have the edge in boxing skill, with Hearns’ power providing a potential equalizer. Instead, Hearns thoroughly outboxed Leonard for most of the fight, until Leonard managed to rally furiously and win by TKO in Round 14.
A year later, Hearns captured the WBC light middleweight title from Wilfred Benitez. A strong argument can be made that Hearns is the greatest 154-pound fighter of all time. The most memorable defense he made of the belt at that weight was his stunning Round 2 KO of Roberto Duran. Nobody else ever dispatched Hands of Stone with such violence.
Hearns’ 1985 challenge to middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler is probably the most exciting nine minutes of boxing history. Both highly skilled boxers, Hearns and Hagler tossed all science aside and went to war, with badly cut Hagler winning by Round 3 KO.
Hearns won the WBC version of the light heavyweight title by Dennis Andries in 1987. But he was not a notable fighter and Hearns never defended that belt. By beating Hill four years later, he bested a fellow Hall of Famer, giving him legitimate world titles from 147 to 175 pounds, one of the great stretches of success in the sport’s history