Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns (1st meeting)

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1981-09-16 : Sugar Ray Leonard 146 lbs beat Thomas Hearns 145 lbs by TKO at 1:45 in round 14 of 15


  • Leonard and Hearns fought for the Undisputed World Welterweight Championship. Leonard was the WBC champion, and Hearns was the WBA champion.
  • The fight was promoted by Main Events. This was their first major promotion.
  • In his 2011 autobiography, The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring, Leonard wrote: "Everything was proceeding according to plan until, about two weeks before the bout, one of my sparring partners, Odell Hadley, accidentally struck me on my left eye with his elbow. . . . By the next morning, my eye started to swell, and there was talk of possibly postponing the fight. . . . There would be no postponement. I was determined to fight on September 16 as long as I could breathe."
  • On September 3, 1981, a right hand by Hearns broke the jaw of sparring partner Marlon Starling, who had been scheduled to headline the live card accompanying the closed-circuit telecast at the Hartford Civic Center in Connecticut.
  • Leonard was guaranteed $8 million, and Hearns was assured a minimum of $5 million. Each boxer also received a percentage of the revenue. Leonard ended up with more than $11 million, and Hearns got about $8 million.
  • The fight was shown live on closed circuit television in 298 locations, with 1.5 million seats in the United States and Canada.
  • Pay-per-view was available to one million homes in 24 cities in the United States.
  • The fight was televised live or delayed in about 50 countries. Some 300 million people worldwide saw the unification match.
  • HBO secured the rebroadcast rights for $750,000 and aired the fight on September 26, 1981.
  • Tickets were priced from $50 up to $500 for ringside seats.
  • A sellout crowd of 23,618 attended the fight in a temporary outdoor arena erected on the Caesars Palace tennis courts.
  • The fight grossed over $35 million. The live gate was $5.9 million, and the revenue from pay-per-view was $7.5 million.
  • Leonard, who opened as an 8 to 5 favorite, was a 7 to 5 underdog by fight time.
  • In a UPI poll, 34 of 48 writers picked Leonard to win.
  • Hearns won the first five rounds on judge Lou Tabat's scorecard and four of the first five rounds on the scorecards of judges Duane Ford and Chuck Minker.
  • Leonard turned the fight around when he hurt Hearns with a left hook at 1:59 of the sixth round. Leonard battered Hearns for the remainder of the round and throughout the seventh round. All three judges scored both rounds 10-9 for Leonard, which was controversial. Many felt that those rounds should have been scored 10-8.
  • After Leonard hurt Hearns, there was a reversal of roles: Hearns became the boxer, and Leonard became the aggressor. Hearns won rounds nine through twelve on all three scorecards. After the twelfth round, Leonard's trainer, Angelo Dundee, told him, "You're blowing it, son. You're blowing it."
  • In the thirteenth round, with his left eye almost swollen shut, Leonard hurt Hearns with a right hand and followed up with a barrage of punches. Hearns went through the ropes, but the referee ruled it a slip. In the final seconds of the round, Leonard put Hearns down for an official knockdown.
  • In the fourteenth round, Leonard staggered Hearns with an overhand right and pinned him on the ropes. After Leonard hit Hearns with a combination to the body and head, the referee stopped the fight.
  • Leonard vs. Hearns I was named the 1981 Fight of the Year by The Ring.
  • Leonard vs. Hearns I was named the ninth greatest title fight of all-time by The Ring in 1996.