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I FELT as though all my career was a challenge.
I didn’t get the big breaks, didn’t get the exposure that the others did. I always had the highest respect for both Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns and I’m sure they had the same for me. Leonard said to me the fight between me and him would happen, and I knew we’d make it happen one day.
As for Hearns, I always knew Tommy was a good fighter with a good right hand. He was tall, lanky and very crafty. He always had good management behind him too. He was Manny Steward’s No. 1 boy. And Manny took very good care of him in preparation for his fights. But I was always hoping for the day me and him would meet.
[The fight should have happened two years before but Hearns pulled out with an injured finger]. I said, ‘What? I know guys that would take this payday and cut that little pinky right off.’ I thought, honestly, he wasn’t sure about the fight because he saw me as a real threat. I thought it was an excuse.
I needed a big, big fight and someone that was a potential threat to me. I had basically cleaned up my division and I needed some fresh meat. I needed a new and different kind of challenge. Someone who people thought could beat me. That sold tickets. But I was getting better and reaching my prime at the right time. He said he was going to knock
my bald head off. I thought, ‘Great, that means you’re going to show up and I’m going to get paid.’ But I was trying not to scare him in case he didn’t get in the ring with me. I was polite and quiet because I didn’t want him running away.
Going into the fight I was a nasty guy. I wanted a war. And there was no way in hell he was going to take my title. I was reaching my prime and was hungrier than ever. It was exciting and electrifying for me and I knew there was going to be drama.
I tried to maintain the pressure for the whole fight. And I had a solution for everything he had. I had to put pressure on if he boxed. The first round was too exciting and too much of a blur. It surprised me that he could take as many punches as he did. He was trying to outbox me. I went after him non-stop.
I’d not been fortunate in boxing with things not going my way due to politics. And I can see all this flashing in front of my eyes when I got cut. I thought, ‘They’re trying to steal it and take it away from me.’
I went to the doctor and he asked, ‘How do you feel? Can you see?’ So I said, ‘Well I ain’t missing him am I?’ So he said, ‘Go on’ and I thought, ‘Oh he’s [Hearns] going to get it now.’ I got even more aggressive and the monster came out.
I never wanted to kill another man in the ring. But anything could have happened had he survived. I thought I would have hurt him real bad, the adrenaline was flowing that much. You have to picture that it would have taken a tragedy. All the talk comes out in the ring. I wasn’t finished and I was ready for more. I was in such tremendous shape. But thank God he was okay and the fight ended when it did.
[In the end] it made all the struggles and sacrifices worthwhile. For all the fights I’ve been through not being that shining star, being the bad guy, having this killer image. They never looked at my artistic side. I was a switch-hitter. I was a complete fighter. I believe that at that time it was the highlight of my career. People now knew I was a great fighter. I wanted to be the best and I was. And now people look at me as a legend.