Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward, who passed away on October 25 at the age of 68, was honored at a memorial service held at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit yesterday. One can not reflect upon this legendary boxing figure without associating him with Thomas Hearns, one of the several world champions trained by Steward who was among the thousands in attendance to pay their respects to this beloved man. Hearns faced the best fighters of his generation in a number of spectacular performances during his glorious career, with his second-round destruction of Roberto Duran on June 15, 1984 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas being his pinnacle achievement.
Hearns began his professional boxing career in Detroit, Michigan, under the tutelage of Steward in 1977. Steward had changed Hearns from a light hitting amateur boxer to one of the most devastating punchers in boxing history.
After losing his WBA welterweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard in September 1981, Hearns moved up in weight and won the WBC Super Welterweight title from boxing legend and three-time world champion Wilfred Benítez in December 1982. He would make his second title defense against another legendary champion in Duran (77-5, 58 KO's), who had been stripped of his WBA light middleweight title for failing to fight mandatory challenger Mike McCallum instead.
This would only be Hearns' (38-1, 32 KO's) third fight in two years due to a persistent right hand injury. Meanwhile, three-division champion Duran was coming off a unanimous decision loss to middleweight king Marvin Hagler the previous November, becoming the only man to ever go 15-rounds against the undisputed champion in a title defense.
During the fighter introductions, announcer Chuck Hull said that Hearns was no longer called the "Motor City Cobra", returning instead as the "Hitman". It would quickly prove to be a suitable moniker.
Hearns established his jab early, countering Duran's attempt to work the body. Questions surrounding the health of Hearns' right hand were promptly answered when he landed a clean right hand behind a jab that drove Duran to the ropes. While there, Hearns threw a beautiful four-punch combination led by a left hook to the body. Duran weathered the storm and fought back to land his own right as he was coming forward, but he was getting hit with relative ease as he was not getting underneath the long arms of Hearns to slip punches.
Duran awkwardly stumbled during an exchange later in the first round and came up with a cut to his left eye which may have been caused by a short right uppercut thrown by Hearns as the Panamanian was slipping. Duran immediately began pawing at the blood, while Hearns backed him up with a left hook to the body. A grinning Duran was willing to engage, but got caught with a solid right hand to the chin that knocked him down at :30 of the opening round.
A staggering Duran made it to his feet but soon found himself against the ropes with a rain of combinations pouring on him from Hearns. While attempting to fight off Hearns from the ropes, Duran absorbed two body shots during the exchange that dropped him for the second time in the fight. He was saved by the bell but was in serious trouble, unaware that he had gone to a neutral corner which required one of his handlers to retrieve him.
At the start of Round 2, Duran landed a right to the body that moved Hearns backwards. However, that was the extent of his offense. The composed champion resumed the position of staying on his opponent, easily finding his mark and teeing off with another flurry of combinations that pinned Duran in a corner. The non-stop barrage of punches made it difficult for Duran to tie his man up, instead fighting back on instinct and trying to trade with Hearns.
Duran paid for it dearly with a devastating right hand to the cheek from Hearns that put him out before he hit the canvas, falling face first in slow motion. His corner men rushed in to the ring to aid their fighter as the bout was called to a halt.
Hearns became the first boxer to knockout the great Duran, a victory that earned him his second Ring Magazine "Fighter of the Year" award in 1984. The "Hitman" would later go on to capture the middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight championships, becoming the first fighter in history to win five world titles in five different divisions. His subsequent performances will be featured in future installments of VHS Classic Rewind.
Duran's performance against Hearns was in stark contrast to his closely contested 15-round decision loss to Hagler and signaled the downturn of his career. However, he did contend for another title in 1989 when he he won the WBC middleweight crown from Iran Barkley in February at the age of 37. Despite this humiliating loss to Hearns, "Los Manos de Piedra" goes down as one of the greatest fighters of all time and perhaps the best lightweight to ever lace up the gloves, finishing his career at 103-16, 70 KO's.
"I loved Emanuel like a daddy," said an emotional Hearns of his former trainer at yesterday's memorial service. "I miss you, Emanuel."
Steward is undoubtedly quite proud of this 'son'.
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