Thomas Hearns elected to Hall of Fame
Former five-division champion Thomas Hearns, one of the most powerful punchers and popular fighters of his era, was one of 13 men elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in balloting results announced Tuesday.
Joining Hearns in the modern fighter category -- meaning they had their last bout no earlier than 1943 -- are Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson, a former flyweight and junior bantamweight champion, and the late Cocoa Kid.
Also elected in the non-participant category were five-time trainer of the year Freddie Roach; ring announcer Michael Buffer, famous for his "Let's get ready to rumble" call; and late promoters Hugh D. McIntosh and Rip Valenti.
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Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns won titles in five weight classes and -- along with Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran -- defined an era in boxing, writes Dan Rafael. Blog
Elected in the observer category were Showtime broadcaster and former longtime ESPN analyst Al Bernstein and journalist Michael Katz, who covered boxing for decades for The New York Times and New York Daily News, and was an Internet boxing pioneer.
Posthumous honorees include former flyweight contender Newsboy Brown; Leo Houck, who competed from flyweight to heavyweight; heavyweight contender Jake Kilrain in the old-timer category; and James Wharton in the pioneer category.
The class of 2012 will be inducted during ceremonies at the Canastota, N.Y., shrine on June 10. Inductees were voted on by members of the Boxing Writers Association, a panel of international boxing historians and members of the Hall's board of directors.
Detroit's Hearns (61-5-1, 48 KOs) -- known as the "Hit Man" and "Motor City Cobra" -- and Johnson (44-5, 28 KOs), of Washington, D.C., were elected in their first year of eligibility after being retired for five years.
Hearns fought from 1977 to 2006 and was part of the legendary foursome that included Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, whose round-robin of mega fights from welterweight to super middleweight carried boxing in the 1980s. Hearns won titles at welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight (twice) and electrified fans with numerous action fights.
"To me this is an amazing accomplishment," said Hearns, who will join his longtime manager and trainer Emanuel Steward in the Hall. "It makes me so happy to know that I made it after all these years and so many fights. I'm thrilled. Muhammad Ali is my idol. He's the man that got me into the boxing business. It's great that I will be on the Hall of Fame wall with him."
Hearns is most famous for a pair of thrilling fights that he lost -- his 1981 welterweight unification fight with Leonard, who stopped him in the 14th round in one of the biggest fights in boxing history, and his third-round knockout loss to Hagler challenging for the middleweight championship in 1985. Hagler-Hearns is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history, with the first round regarded as one of the most exciting ever.
But Hearns also won major fights, too. He destroyed Pipino Cuevas with a booming right hand in the second round to win a welterweight title in 1980. In 1982, he out-pointed Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitez to win a junior middleweight title. In perhaps his most spectacular victory, Hearns defended the title against Duran, knocking him out with one punch in the second round.
Johnson, a fast and skillful southpaw, won titles at 112 and 115 pounds and was regularly ranked in the top 10 on the pound-for-pound list during the prime of his career from 1990 to 2006.
"This is wonderful," Johnson said. "This is an awesome moment for me. The Hall of Fame is the biggest award that an athlete can achieve. I strived my whole career to be in the Hall. I can't say enough. This is a dream come true, just wonderful."
He won a flyweight title with a first-round knockout of Francisco Tejedor in 1996 and made seven defenses, although he could never lure the other big names of his time -- Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero, Michael Carbajal or Ricardo Lopez -- into the ring.
In 1999, Johnson won a junior bantamweight title with a lopsided decision against Ratanachai Singwancha in Washington and made two defenses. In 2003, Johnson authored a major upset to win another junior bantamweight title when he decisioned Fernando Montiel.
Kid, born Herbert Lewis Hardwick in Puerto Rico before eventually settling in New Haven, Conn., fought from 1929 to 1948 and boxed from featherweight to middleweight. He was a top contender in several divisions during his career but never got the opportunity to fight for a title. He compiled a career record of 176-56-10 with 48 knockouts.
Roach, Buffer and Bernstein are all still high-profile figures in boxing today.
Roach, a former journeyman fighter, has trained more than 20 world champions, although he is best known for his work with pound-for-pound star and eight-division titleholder Manny Pacquiao. He also worked with champions such as James Toney, Virgil Hill, Bernard Hopkins, Oscar De La Hoya, Michael Moorer, Tapia and reigning titleholders Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Roach will join his mentor, the late Eddie Futch, in the Hall.
"I'd like to thank everyone, from the bottom of my heart, who voted for me and congratulate those inducted with me," Roach said. "I started my career in professional boxing with Eddie Futch and now we will be together, forever, enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the greatest legends of the sport. I am truly honored and humbled."
Buffer's famous "Let's get ready to rumble" phrase before major fights is known worldwide and he has introduced thousands of fighters and dispensed as many results. He got his start on USA in 1982 and then became a regular on ESPN.
"When I think of all the great inductees, from legends 100 years ago to so many great fighters and non-participants that are now being inducted, to be thought of in such great company is the greatest compliment I can receive in my boxing career," Buffer said.
Bernstein has called thousands of fights, although he is best known for his long stint on ESPN's "Top Rank Boxing" series and for his current role as the analyst on Showtime's "Showtime Championship Boxing."
"I appreciate this very much. I'm actually kind of dumbstruck," Bernstein said. "(Hall of Fame broadcaster) Don Dunphy was a great mentor to me and a great idol. Just the thought of being in the same place as him is special."
Dan Rafael is ESPN.com's boxing writer.