By Matthew Hurlery: In his book Four Kings author George Kimball concludes his tale of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran with a where are they now summary. Leonard and Hagler were both money conscious fighters from the very beginning and invested wisely – surrounding themselves with proper business managers and lawyers. Hagler was also notoriously frugal, no hangers on ever carried Marvin’s gym bag. Hearns and Duran were different stories.
Duran fought into his fifties mainly because he spent nearly every dime he ever accumulated. His constant partying kept accelerating, particularly after his first fight with Leonard in 1980. After that the Panamanian government would hail him a hero after every win and a pariah after every loss, and when he lost, great chunks of his purse were often confiscated. But as long as he could get back in the ring the paychecks would keep coming. Only an auto accident in 2001 finally precluded him from ever swapping leather again. With the entourages long gone and his hall of fame status now set in stone Duran appears to be living a more modest but satisfying lifestyle.
Thomas Hearns seemed to have managed his money properly. Always decked out in designer suits with the requisite bling the ‘Hitman’ cut a sharp image at ringside for big fights. He dabbled in boxing promotion in Detroit, culminating in Mike Tyson’s abbreviated fight with Andrew Golota, who literally ran out of the ring in terror. Tyson’s win by disqualification would be ruled a no-contest after Mike tested positive for marijuana. After that Hearns tired of all the headaches associated with promotion. It was so much easier and fulfilling to be just a fighter.
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Things looked to be all right for one of this era’s most beloved pugilists. But all of that came crashing down this month in sadly familiar circumstances.
In Kimball’s book Tommy’s former trainer and father figure Emanuel Steward said, “I never got involved in Tommy Hearns’ money; he had other people helping him invest it. But you can see that he’s very comfortably fixed. He has a big beautiful house on about ten acres, and he buys a new Bentley every year.”
But Hearns, like many fighters who come from impoverished backgrounds, began spending money on extravagant baubles once the money started coming in. To have things he once felt deprived of made him happy and, accordingly, he spread the wealth around.
Hearns always surrounded himself with an enormous group of lackeys he assumed were friends. Steward once said that his fighter had the biggest entourage of any fighter in the history of boxing. With big paychecks coming in once superfights with Leonard, Duran and Hagler graced the boxing landscape Tommy spent and spent and spent.
Now, at the age of 51 the fighter who made approximately $45 million dollars in his career is broke. He owes nearly half a million dollars on house payments (he has residences in Detroit, Nevada and Phoenix), and he owes another near half million dollars in back taxes.
Almost twenty-five years to the day of his legendary battle for the middleweight championship against Hagler, Hearns sat, rather sadly, at an auction to help with his financial woes, signing autographs at fifty dollars apiece. Always gracious, even at the most down of times, the former fighter watched as his possessions, ranging from his boats, off-road vehicles and, most depressing of all, the robes he wore into the ring for his most famous battles were distributed to collectors after the hammer of the auctioneer’s gavel.
Perhaps even more worrisome than this sad turn of events is Hearns’ proposed intention to fight again. Tommy has never been comfortable in retirement. A certain first ballot hall-of-famer, he will be eligible for induction in 2011 if he doesn’t enter the ring again. He sits ringside for his son Ronald’s fights and still trains diligently. It’s all he knows and, like many fighters, the gym and the ring seem to be the only places he truly feels comfortable and at ease with himself.
But fighting again, for money, would turn this sorry story into a tragic one. For a fighter who gave everything of himself, to be reduced to a sideshow is a long standing heartbreak in the boxing world. It happens endlessly, from the very upper echelon of talent such as Thomas Hearns to the broken down pug on the club circuit. It’s a vicious, cruel cycle that can ensnare any boxer.
In a revealing anecdote in Kimball’s book Hearns and Steward ran into Hagler in London nearly 20 years after they had waged war on one another.
“I still want to fight,” Tommy said.
“Man, are you crazy?” Hagler replied. “You ought to think about doing something else. You need to get on with your life.”
For Thomas Hearns, apparently there just isn’t anything else and that might be the saddest thing of all.
April 20,2010
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