Thomas Hearns, looking more like the winner than the bruised and battered Sugar Ray Leonard sitting next to him on the interview platform, said tonight he is eager for a rematch with Leonard.
"Of course, I want a rematch," Hearns said about 15 minutes after his fight with Leonard was stopped at 1:45 of the 14th round at Caesars Palace.
"I think I deserve a rematch," he continued. "I think the people will pay to see us fight again. They saw a great fight tonight."
Hearns was ahead on all three judges' scorecards going into the 14th round.
Chuck Minter had Hearns in front, 125-121; Duane Ford scored it, 124-122, and Lou Tabat's card read, 125-122, in favor of the loser.
"I knew I was ahead, I knew I could win it, but I got hit with a good shot. I was stunned and I was trying to get myself together."
Hearns had been knocked through the ropes twice in the 13th round, although referee Davey Pearl did not count it as a knockdown the first time. Hearns was sitting on the lower strand of the ropes the second time and the count reached nine before the bell sounded.
In the opening minute of the round, Hearns was down for the first time, but it was obviously a slip.
Leonard charged off the stool at the beginning of the 14th round, and quickly had the still-dazed Hearns backpedaling and then against the ropes. He stunned his opponent with a left-right combination before Pearl stepped in and stopped the fight.
"I didn't think the fight should have been stopped," Hearns said. "I wasn't hurt. I was dizzy, but I was getting my head together. Things like that happen, though, and there's nothing you can do about it."
When asked if he ever were hurt by Leonard, Hearns was quick to admit that he was, as early as the sixth round. After a very slow start, Leonard began the aggressor in that round. He buckled Hearns' knees, then hit him with more punches as Leonard pursued him around the ring the rest of the round.
"Of course, Ray hurt me," Hearns said. "But I was able to recuperate. He hurt me in the sixth round, but I was able to come back and take charge again."
Leonard's left eye began to swell as early as the third round. He was banged by an elbow of a sparring partner during training, and once Hearns landed a few jabs the wound was clearly visable.
Hearns made an obvious attempt to work on the closing eye, stinging it often with rapid left jabs.
"I could see the eye was the weakest part of Ray," he said. "I tried to work on it. I felt if I closed his eye, they would have to stop the fight."
After losing for the first time in 33 professional fights, Hearns admitted he might fight differently if there is a return match.
"When I fight him again, I won't make the same mistakes," he promised. "I was carrying my right hand too low. I was throwing the left, then leaving my hands down and he took advantage of it. He got me some good shots to the body that took something out of me. He shot some great body shots."
Although Leonard was wearing dark glasses and obviously was bruised around his face, Hearns did not appear marked or hurt at all at the joint postfight press conference.
"My body is in perfect condition," he said. "I'm not hurt at all, but my head wasn't in the condition I thought it was."
When Pearl was asked if he checked Hearns' eyes before stopping the fight, he shook his head.
"I didn't check his eyes," the referee said. " I checked Leonard's fists. He kept popping him."
Hearns appeared stunned that Pearl stepped in, but didn't argue.
Although they had been very critical of each other in the past few days, both Leonard and Hearns had generous praise for the other.
"Ray is a very good fighter," he said. "There is nothing bad I can say about Ray. He's a hell of a person."