All the planning and plotting are over now, all the strategy has been settled, all the moves and countermoves rehearsed. Now it's strictly up to Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns to determine who will be the undisputed welterweight champion of the world.
"We've talked about everything that Hearns could possibly do," said Leonard's manager, Angelo Dundee. "We think we have an answer for anything, but once my man gets off the stool, anything can happen."
Emanuel Steward, Hearns' manager, has called his fighter a robot who reacts instinctively to whatever happens in the ring. He says that Hearns often comes back to the corner between rounds and tells his manager what has to be done.
The strategy for tonight's title fight has been decided and basically, it's quite simple. Leonard wants to get inside Hearns' darting left jab, work on his opponent's body and, above all, avoid his lethal right hand. Hearns wants to use his four-inch reach advantage by keeping Leonard away from him with his left jab. Then, sooner or later, he wants to plant his right fist against Leonard's jaw. Hard.
What will happen? Why will it happen? Which fighter will be the most successful in carrying out his plan? Post reporters have spent a week talking to trainers, former fighters and many experienced fight people who have attended both boxers' workouts. Here's their analysis of the bout:
POWER: Hearns is said to have the most devastating right hand in boxing below the heavyweight level. Only eight of his opponents have survived past the fourth round. It is a punch that can end a fight immediately. Hearns also has a powerful left hook, which he exhibited in his fourth-round knockout of Pablo Baez on June 25 in Houston. Leonard can't take out Hearns with one punch, but he can wear him down with both hands. His left hook can be punishing and he has finished off 20 of his 30 opponents, usually with a right cross. Advantage -- Hearns.
JABS: Hearns' left jab is very effective because of his unusually long reach (78 inches). He can keep it in his opponent's face, blurring his vision so he doesn't see the right coming. Although everyone talks about Hearns' right, most of the time it is his left jab that paves the way for the knockout punch. Leonard has superb skill with both hands, but may be forced to go inside more than usual to stay away from Hearns' right. He also has the velocity to knock people down with his jab, as he proved in his 15-round knockout of Wilfred Benitez. Advantage -- Leonard.
FIGHTING INSIDE: Hearns' fights usually don't last long enough for him to build up a concentrated body attack and his lack of experience in this area could be costly. Leonard's in-and-out speed of hands and feet should provide the ultimate challenge for his rival. Leonard has said all week that he's going inside against Hearns and if he does it successfully, it could be the key to the fight. Advantage -- Leonard.
PUNISHMENT: Neither fighter has been knocked down in his professional career. Hearns never has even been tested, never battled a real slugger, never had to take a haymaker on the chin. Leonard survived the Brawl in Montreal and if he can take everything Roberto Duran can throw for 15 rounds, he should be able to sustain anything Hearns has. Advantage -- Leonard.
ENDURANCE: Again, Hearns really has never been extended. He went 10 rounds before knocking out Clyde Gray and decisioning Alfonso Hayman early in 1979 and didn't knock out Randy Shields until the 13th round last April, but usually he doesn't have to worry about pacing himself. Leonard has gone at least 10 rounds on seven occasions and by surviving 15 against Benitez and Duran he has left no doubt who will be the strongest in the late rounds. Advantage -- Leonard.
EXPERIENCE: The only Hearns' victim with any real credentials was Pipino Cuevas, and that match lasted less than two rounds. One of the most popular questions here is how well Hearns will react to getting hit, missing his own punches frequently, and Leonard's quickness. Leonard, of course, has been up against Benitez, Duran twice and was thoroughly tested by the rugged, if underrated, previously undefeated Ayub Kalue three months ago. Advantage -- Leonard.
PHYSICAL CONDITION: Both trainers say their fighters are in perfect physical condition. Hearns has been sparring up to 10 rounds a day with heavier opponents while wearing heavy shoes and 16-ounce gloves. Leonard has concentrated mostly on shadow boxing, skipping rope and running. Both fighters are prepared for the heat, which will be increased 20 degrees by the television lights. Advantage -- None.
PSYCHOLOGICAL: The first question is, how important is this category? Hearns says it is meaningless; Leonard has put tremendous emphasis on it for the last week. Leonard constantly has said that Hearns has no intelligence in the ring, that when he has to think he's in trouble -- "He'll blow a fuse." Emanuel Steward, Hearns' trainer, says that his fighter has made many adjustments in the ring during his career and that he is a very intelligent boxer. Steward counters by saying that Leonard has lost some of his desire because of his financial independance, while his fighter still is hungry. While the war of words may be nothing more than a lot of hot air in a town that doesn't need any more, intelligence in the ring and the ability to react could determine the fight. Advantage -- Leonard.
OVERALL: Most observers here say Leonard has quicker hands. He is faster on his feet and has better lateral movement. There is no question that he has better balance and is more graceful. Judging on past performances, he has more stamina and better boxing instincts. He has more experience in the ring and certainly is better able to handle all the hype outside of it. Leonard is a better boxer and unless he gets careless or foolishly tries to trade punches with Hearns, he should be able to win by a decision.