Lee Groves

10: Greatest super middleweight title fights

4. November 4, 1988 – Thomas Hearns W 12 James Kinchen, Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas

Three days before Leonard attempted his titular “two-fer” against Lalonde two miles away, Hearns beat his friendly rival to the punch by chasing his fifth belt against Kinchen. Kinchen was a late sub for Fulgencio Obelmejias, who bowed out 17 days earlier because of a rib injury suffered in training. Team Hearns also got in an extra dig at Leonard when ring announcer Michael Buffer declared that Hearns was “the only man in boxing history ever to win four world championships, in four weight divisions (and) in four different battles.”

“The Hit Man” gunned for a quick finish by pumping piston-like jabs, powerful crosses and flashing combinations but Kinchen took them all in stride and landed enough overhand rights to keep Hearns from steamrolling him. By the third Hearns’ adrenaline had waned while “The Heat” began to warm up with consistent body work and clubbing punches over the top.

Kinchen continued to work his way into the fight in the fourth, and the process was completed with startling suddenness. With 1:23 remaining an overhand right to the temple dropped Hearns for a six-count and visions of the Iran Barkley KO loss five months earlier began racing through thousands of heads. This time Hearns managed to escape disaster the old-fashioned way – hold, hold and hold some more. In the round’s final 66 seconds Hearns’ vice-like arms achieved clinches lasting 15 seconds, 11 seconds and six seconds because undersized referee Mills Lane lacked the strength to loosen Hearns’ death grip. Though Hearns lost a point for excessive holding his aim – survival – was achieved.

For Hearns, the remainder of the fight was as much a race between two competing traits than a fight against James Kinchen. Would Hearns’ legendary right hand deliver him an unprecedented fifth divisional title or will his notoriously shaky chin let him down for the second consecutive fight and fourth time overall? Kinchen tried his best to cash in on every opportunity, for he shook Hearns with rights in the sixth and eighth rounds while seemingly impervious to Hearns’ destructive crosses.

The truly great fighters find a way to win close fights and that’s what Hearns did over the final four rounds. Hearns took the ninth with a late right that momentarily stunned Kinchen and a hearty rally in the final 15 seconds allowed him to steal the 11th. The final round saw both men pushing hard toward the finish line with hurtful, soul-shaking shots that severely tested their mettle. The rock ’em-sock ’em action thrilled the crowd and challenged the judges, who declared Hearns a majority decision winner and Kinchen a hard-luck “loser.”

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