Thomas Hearns has spent seven years chasing Ray Leonard for a rematch, and it appears Leonard is ready to quit running.
Leonard admits a rematch with Hearns is likely next year, if they both win their fights three days and two miles apart at Las Vegas next weekend. Leonard meets Donny Lalonde Nov. 7 for Lalonde’s World Boxing Council light heavyweight title and the vacant WBC super middleweight crown. Three days earlier, Hearns fights North American Boxing Federation super middleweight champ James Kinchen.
“It’s almost a natural, but I’m not going to say anything until after I take care of my guy (Lalonde),” Leonard said. “And I won’t wait a year again to fight.”
Hearns said Leonard will have to fight him if he wants to stay in boxing.
“I hope he fights me again, I think he probably will,” said Hearns, who was stopped in 14 rounds by Leonard in a welterweight title unification bout Sept.16, 1981. “I think the public will demand he fight me again.
“More than anything, I want a rematch against Leonard.”
If you believe Leonard (Hearns says he doesn’t), Hearns would have had his rematch by now if he had not been knocked out by Iran Barkley to lose his WBC middleweight title in June. Leonard says he was almost as shaken as Hearns by Barkley’s victory.
“I called Tommy that night, I called him every name and said, ‘What happened?”’ Leonard said. “Tommy said, ‘It all comes back. Now I know what it feels like to get hit by me.”’
Hearns said that conversation never took place.
“That’s just basically talk from him,” Hearns said. “That’s all I see it as, just talk.
“I don ‘t talk to Leonard. I don’t have anything to say to him that’s nice. But we’ll see each other this week.”
Leonard and Hearns plan to attend each other’s fights. They will root for each other, since they both must win to set up the lucrative rematch.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime situation, where you have an undercard three days before the main event,” Leonard said of Hearns’ bout three days before his.
Hearns was originally scheduled to meet World Boxing Assn. super middlweight champion Fulgencio Obelmejias. Hearns, who already has world titles in four weight classes, could have become the first boxer to win world titles in five divisions. Now Leonard can beat him to it by taking two titles against Lalonde.
“I’m disappointed I won’t get a chance at the fifth title, but this will keep alive my chance at fighting Leonard,” Hearns said. “I’ve waited seven long years for him.”
Besides being seven years older, Leonard, 32, and Hearns, 30, are much heavier than when they met the first time at 147 pounds. Both must weigh the super middleweight limit of 168 or less next week. But Hearns has fought at 172, and would likely have a weight advantage in a rematch against Leonard.
Leonard, of Potomac, Md., last fought April 6, 1987, winning an upset 12-round decision over middleweight champion Marvin Hagler. That was his first fight in 35 months, and he retired again a month after the bout. He is 34-1 with 24 knockouts.
Hearns, of Detroit, fell to 45-3 with his loss to Barkley. His previous loss was a third-round knockout by Hagler April 15, 1985. He has 38 knockouts.
Although they will fight separate opponents, Leonard and Hearns are competitors this week. They headline boxing shows at rival hotels, which will be carried by different pay TV companies.
Leonard and Lalonde will fight at Caesars Palace, where Leonard defeated Hearns and Hagler. Hearns and Kinchen will fight at the Las Vegas Hilton, where Hearns won his fourth title by defeating Juan Roldan for the WBC middleweight title and also where he lost to Barkley.
On the Hearns-Kinchen undercard, Michael Nunn will defend his International Boxing Federation middleweight title against Roldan and Matthew Hilton will defend his IBF junior middleweight championship against Robert Hines.