CANASTOTA, N.Y. – Tommy Hearns said one of his main objectives every time he stepped into the ring was to thrill the crowd. Mission accomplished.
Hearns was both an accomplished boxer and one of the biggest punchers in the history of sport, one capable of putting his opponent to sleep at any moment of any fight. Ask Roberto Duran and Pipino Cuevas about that.
And he won six major titles in five weight classes, one of the most-impressive runs ever.
Thus, it was no surprise that Hearns was the most-celebrated inductee at the 2012 International Boxing Hall of Fame induction ceremonies on Sunday in this small town in upstate New York.
“My goal every time I went out there was to influence the fans, to get them excited,” Hearns said shortly after he received his Hall of Fame ring on the Hall of Fame grounds. “I always thought that if I did that, they would come back and see me again.
“I wanted to make sure they were happy.”
Hearns is best remembered for his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard and his three-round war with Marvin Hagler, both of which he lost. However, victories over the likes of Cuevas, Duran, Wilfredo Benitez and Virgil Hill left no doubt about his ability to win big fights.
And, win or lose, every fight Hearns was involved in seemed to be riveting.
“I think of a quote from Emanuel Steward [Hearns’ trainer],” said broadcaster Al Bernstein, another 2012 inductee. “Emanuel said Tommy Hearns is like Elvis Presley: You know when he hits the ring, something exciting will happen. You’re not sure exactly what it will be but you know it will be exciting.
“Hearns had the skill set and great courage and but for a few bad breaks here or there he might’ve never lost a fight. He was remarkable.”
Hearns was overwhelmed after he joined 1980s rivals Leonard, Hagler and Duran in the Hall of Fame on Sunday.
“Every fighter in the world dreams of being in the Hall of Fame. I made it. I’m so excited,” he said.
Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, another inductee, also was thrilled. The slick, quick-handed southpaw with the ability to knock you out could barely get words out toward the end of his acceptance speech and then raised arms, looked skyward and yelled:
“I made it! I made it!”
Johnson was the first African-American to win a major flyweight title. Many believe he was avoided by many of the other top little fighters of his time.
“I think making history – becoming the first African-American to win a flyweight title – made me a shoe-in,” he said. “I think I’m one of the youngest (40) to get in. This is such a joyful moment to go in with all these fighters who paved the way for me.
“This is a dream. I’m very thankful.”
Induction obviously meant a lot to trainer Freddie Roach, who worked Manny Pacquiao’s corner against Tim Bradley on Saturday night in Las Vegas and then traveled by private jet with fellow inductee Michael Buffer to nearby Syracuse.
Roach was a good fighter but, learning under “my mentor and idol” Eddie Futch, evolved into one of the top trainers in the world.
“It really hasn’t sunk in yet,” Roach said. “I’m still in fight mode. I had the fight last night and I have to leave right now to go to (Julio Cesar) Chavez’s camp tomorrow to train Julio and Amir Khan is coming up.
“But this is really the best day of my life. To be in the Hall of Fame is something special. To be beside guys like Eddie Futch and Ray Arcel … I’m in heaven.”
Bernstein, who has worked hundreds of fights for ESPN and now Showtime, also followed his mentor and idol – the late Don Dunphy – into the Hall.
“This whole thing is pretty extraodinary,” he said. “The whole week is surreal. … It really hit me today, when I saw my plaque up there. The permanency is fairly remarkable.”
Also among the living inductees was Michael Katz, one of the most-talented boxing writers in history. He worked for the New York Times, New York Daily News and Herald-Tribune in Paris.
Photo / Mike Greenhill