Commentary Classics: Sugar Ray Leonard Vs. Thomas Hearns

The Scene: Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S.A. — September 16, 1981.

Detroit’s unbeaten welterweight star Thomas Hearns and Maryland golden boy Sugar Ray Leonard had met head on to determine an undisputed world champion. After a tentative opening, Hearns had overcome the first crises of his career and pulled away into a lead on the scorecards. Closed-circuit analysts Don Dunphy and Dr. Ferdie Pacheco pick up the action from ringside at the beginning of round 12.

Dunphy: Round 12.

Pacheco: Hearns is having a good time all of a sudden. He got safely out of danger and he had a big round — now, is he gonna get careless again? He almost got knocked out in rounds 6 and 7.

Dunphy: That’s right.

Leonard’s still full of fight — as is Hearns. One of the few clinches and they break by themselves. There hasn’t been a real clinch in the fight.

Pacheco: There has not been one real clinch in the fight.

Dunphy: Even when Hearns was hurt in two rounds he did not clinch.

Pacheco: I would think Hearns is winning the fight by dancing and punching, he should keep that up, he’s built a commanding lead now.

Dunphy: If Hearns wins this fight, it will be the left jab that did it for him…

Pacheco: Certainly is.

Dunphy: It was just too long for Leonard.

Pacheco: It has closed Leonard’s eye and blackened it up, his left eye.

Dunphy: His left eye, he’s having trouble, which means he’ll have trouble seeing the right hand.

Pacheco: And he’s getting hit by almost every Hearns right hand, and that is the devastating punch (inaudible).

Dunphy: Leonard fighting in desperation now.

Pacheco: Leonard hoping for that one opening that will get him even. He knows he had him almost out and he’s trying to reproduce that.

Dunphy: But it’s a question how long a man can carry his punch Ferdie — can he carry it into the 13th round? 12th round? 14th round?

Pacheco: All of a sudden, Hearns has been gaining steam and looking better…and better…each round as it goes longer now.

Dunphy: And he’s throwing that jab harder.

Leonard rallies…

Pacheco: He’s been looking for that right hand. He landed it twice but it didn’t stop Tommy.

Dunphy: The tide has changed again with Hearns having the momentum now.

About a minute left in the round. Leonard is still strong and Hearns knows it.

Pacheco: Look at the way that jab bends back Leonard’s head. Who’s ever hit Leonard with a jab like that? I can’t remember anyone.

Dunphy: Leonard’s left eye… Leonard’s left eye is a torsion now… it’s almost completely closed.

Pacheco: I don’t remember anybody hitting Sugar Ray Leonard all of these jabs. I don’t remember anybody fighting him with a seven and a half inch reach advantage either.

Dunphy: Look at them… darting left hand. That’s why they call him the “Motor City Cobra.” I’m talking about Thomas Hearns. Half a minute to go in the round — a frustrating round for Ray Leonard.

Pacheco: He’s getting desperate. He’s throwing those big, big punches, hoping to hit…

Dunphy: I think it’s his only hope Ferdie.

Hearns… Hearns must be way ahead on points.

Pacheco: He certainly is on my card.

Dunphy: And mine.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board ( He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.