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Thomas Hearns, also known as the “Motor City Cobra”, and more famously “The Hitman,” was born with the natural abilities to be a world boxing champion.
Standing at 6 ft 1 in (185 cm) with an arm span of 78 in (198 cm), while managing to weigh in at the welterweight limit of 147 pounds (roughly 67 Kg), Hearns had both a height advantage and reach advantage over nearly everyone he faced throughout his career. To put it into perspective, current welterweight king Errol Spence Jr. stands at 5 ft 9 1⁄2 in (177 cm) or a reach of 72 in (183 cm).
Known for his flicker jab and chopping right hand, Hearns was able to inflict devastating punishment on his opponents while maintaining a safe distance. He finished his boxing career on a 61-5 record, with 48 knockouts. Hearns was also the first boxer in history to win world titles in five weight divisions: welterweight, light middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight.
As part of the Four Kings, which also included Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Durán and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Hearns faced off against the other three legendary boxers during the ’80s, coming up short in his bouts against Leonard and Hagler, but became the first boxer to KO Durán when they fought in 1984.
Despite his losses, The Hitman respected his opponents greatly, reflecting on Leonard and Hagler in an interview years later. “Ray was a very technical fighter. He knew how to move and get in, he knew how to move and get out. Ray had good offense and defense,” Hearns recalled. On Hagler, he spoke about the middleweight champion’s incredible durability, “I hit him with everything but the kitchen sink. He continued and kept coming forward. I moved him but he just kept coming forward.”
I always had high hopes. I had top belief that I was gonna do well as a fighter because it was something that I really enjoyed doing and whenever I had the chance to go out and show my ability, I went out there and I did what I had to do at all times.THOMAS HEARNS: “GOING AGAINST SUGAR RAY LEONARD WAS LIKE TWO GREAT CHAMPIONS MEETING AND BATTLING IT ALL OFF!” | On the Ropes Boxing
Thomas Hearns’ training routine & diet
In a 1981 Washington Post article for the lead-up of Leonard vs. Hearns unification welterweight bout, reporter Steve Hershey noted the stark differences between the way both champions trained.
“Leonard arrived promptly for his 12 o’clock workout,” Hershey observed. ‘After a brief warmup, he went to the ring, where he shadow-boxed for several three-minute rounds, constantly dancing, moving, flicking jabs. This was followed by a rope-skipping session in front of a full-length mirror to the tune of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown.’ About 10 minutes of sit-ups ended the brisk 30-minute session.”
Hearns on the other hand, after briefly warming up, “climbed into the ring and sparred 10 one-minute rounds with three partners,” wrote Hershey. “Once that was over, he shadow-boxed a few minutes outside the ring and was finished.”
“Thomas doesn’t like to jump rope, he doesn’t like hitting the heavy bag,” said Hearns’ trainer, Emanuel Steward. “Thomas likes to fight, so he spars, 10, 11, 12 rounds a day. It’s his way of getting into shape.”
I feel better after a workout if I’ve done some fighting. You can do all the bag work and jumping rope you want, but you still got to get used to hitting and getting hit.Training Styles Differ For Leonard, Hearns | The Washington Post
As part of the training camp for Leonard, Steward hired a dozen sparring partners for Hearns to rotate through. “I think it’s important that Thomas sees a lot of different fighters, a lot of different styles,” Steward said. “Now he’s ready for anything. It keeps him fresh. If he fought the same two or three guys, he might get stale.”
Leading up to his now-classic 1985 bout against Hagler, Hearns’ training camp only lasted four weeks, much less than the usual eight weeks most boxers go through. The main reason was Hearns’ team believed having too long a training camp would lead to overtraining; something they attribute to his loss against Leonard. Walking around at 168-170 pounds, Hearns also didn’t need a long fight camp to make the 160 pound middleweight limit.
“At the start of training, Hearns only sparred three or four rounds a day, but as the fight drew near, he sometimes boxed a full 12 rounds in order to build up his endurance,” reported Dave Hartoon for Ring Magazine. “Unlike some fighters, Hearns runs for time instead of distance. A brisk 45 minutes at a quick pace keeps him swift on his feet.”
A Sports Illustrated article revealed what a typical training routine for Hearns looked like while preparing for Hagler:
Hearns’s usual routine is to be up at 6 a.m. for roadwork—actually beach work—followed by a shower and short nap. Then, at eight, his manager-trainer, Emanual Steward, will cook the biggest of Hearns’s two meals a day. A typical breakfast menu includes veal chops or chicken, salad, oatmeal, pancakes and eggs. At 2 p.m. Hearns goes down to the lobby for his workout, which concludes with six to eight rounds of sparring. Steward has the challenger working four-minute rounds with only 30-second rest periods against a stable of three, sometimes four, sparring partners a day.BETTER THAN A BARROOM BRAWL | Sports Illustrated
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