In the old days, when they called him Hit Man and the Motor City Cobra, Tommy Hearns used to hit people with his right hand the way Jose Canseco hits baseballs.
But that was long ago, particularly in the life of a boxer--the late 1970s, the early 1980s. When the Hit Man landed the right, the show was over.
Friday night, at the Las Vegas Hilton, Hearns was not only a shadow of the great welterweight and middleweight of the old days, he was barely a memory.
He stumbled his way to a split-decision victory over James Kinchen, a rugged battler who took Hearns’ best right hands--on his chin, nose and ears--for 12 rounds and laughed at Hit Man.
But Hearns came away with Kinchen’s North American Boxing Federation super-middleweight title and was awarded the new World Boxing Organization’s 168-pound title. With the WBO title, Hearns has won championships in a record five divisions during his career.
Earlier in the evening, underdog Robert Hines, in an upset, took away the International Boxing Federation junior-middleweight championship from previously unbeaten Matthew Hilton of Canada with a unanimous-decision victory.
Hilton seemed to be in some sort of physical difficulty after the first 2 rounds, when an all-out effort to knock out Hines failed. Afterward, the Hilton camp said the 22-year-old Hilton went into the bout with a rib injury.
When Hearns got a questionable decision, there were boos from the 7,573 in attendance. Judge Larry Rozadilla called it for Kinchen, 114-113. Bill Graham had it 115-112 and Cindy Bartin 114-112, both for Hearns. The Times card had Kinchen, 114-112.
Many were left wondering if the 30-year-old Hearns (46-3) is going to continue diluting his reputation as a warrior who fought such memorable battles against Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler.
Sadly, he is. He said afterward that he still wants rematches with his conquerors, Leonard and Hagler.
Hearns showed great courage Friday night, but only slivers of the skills he once had.
He was knocked out in his last appearance, by Iran Barkley. Friday night, in the fourth round, it looked like a repeat. Kinchen, who backed up Hearns all night with jabs and counters, dumped him in a neutral corner with a big right hand.
Hearns, dazed, got up and held onto Kinchen for the rest of the round, and referee Mills Lane deducted a point from Hearns.
Hearns joked afterward about the minute-long clinch.
“I held on to him like he was my woman,” he said.
Of his courage: “I had to reach way down for this one . . . way down to the garage.”
Kinchen, 31, of San Diego, fell to 45-5-2.
In Hines’ upset victory, it was Hilton clan pride and courage, which goes back generations to boxing’s bare-knuckle days in Scotland, that kept Hilton on his feet to the end.
And it was the courage of a vintage Philadelphia fighter, Hines, whose heart was the difference.
Hines survived a fearsome yet desperate early assault by Hilton, then cooly took away the young Canadian’s title.
For the last half of the fight, Hilton’s legs were gone. Throughout the fight, according to his father, he couldn’t throw hooks without sharp pain in his left rib cage.
“Matthew injured the rib in the gym here 2 1/2 weeks ago,” his father said afterward.
Davey Hilton stood outside his son’s trailer/dressing room. The son wouldn’t come out. According to Nevada Athletic Commission chief inspector Marc Ratner, the fighter was emotionally and physically crushed.
“His head is between his legs, and he’s sobbing,” Ratner said. “He doesn’t want to talk to the press now, maybe later.”
Hilton wasn’t the only injured boxer Friday night.
“This was the toughest promotion I’ve had in 22 years of promoting fights,” Bob Arum said. “Five boxers on the card were injured at one time or another, and we lost (Fulgencio) Obelmejias as Hearns’ opponent early in the promotion to a rib injury. That’s when we substituted Kinchen.
“Hearns had a cut eye in training 6 weeks ago that required stitches; Kinchen hurt his hand a week ago; Hilton had the bad rib, and (Michael) Nunn had a bad rib, too.”
The Hiltons fought before Matthew fought.
“I wanted to call the fight off, but Matthew wouldn’t let me,” Davey Hilton said. “We could have--I think Bob Arum would have wanted us to. But Matthew told me: ‘I’m a champion, I’m going to fight, and that’s it.’ ”
For two rounds, Hilton fired a Mike Tyson-like barrage of hooks and roundhouse rights at Hines. Some of them landed, most missed.
After two rounds, Hines looked as if he was about to be Hilton’s 24th knockout victim. Instead, Hilton quickly ran out of gas and became 29-1. Hines went to 24-1-1 and a championship.
But by the end of the third round, Hilton became inactive, throwing combinations only in spots, and many at ringside believed he had simply punched himself out. There were rumors all week that Hilton had problems reaching the 154-pound limit.
Hines began to take control, backing up Hilton with a left jab all the way to the finish. In the last two rounds, Hilton could barely stand.
In the end, Hines, who was a 3 1/2-to-1 underdog, had only to survive the first 2 rounds. Hilton half-pushed him down in the second, and referee Carlos Padilla--who missed nearly a dozen Hilton low blows during the bout--scored it a knockdown. Hilton knocked Hines down with a wild right hand in the third but was ready to go down himself, from what looked like fatigue, at the end of the round.
After the fifth, Hines’ face was a mask of blood, most of it from a bloody nose.
Hilton had raked him on the ropes with a combination, and when the two came off that exchange, blood was everywhere, even on Hilton’s arms.
Judge Bernie Cormier had it 116-110 for Hines, Tom Kaczmarek had it 114-111 and Patricia Jarman scored it 112-111. The Times card had Hines by 116-108.
The first bout on Friday’s card was as explosive as anything that occurred in any of the main events. Michael Moorer, hotshot light-heavyweight out of Emanuel Steward’s Kronk Gym in Detroit, improved his record to 10-0--all by knockout--when he knocked out Glenn Kennedy of Los Angeles in 36 seconds. . . . There were only a couple of hundred people in Hilton Center and some of the concessions stands weren’t even open when Moorer socked Kennedy square on the jaw with a short, straight left hand. Kennedy went down with a thud and didn’t get up for several minutes.