EMANUEL STEWARD: THE FIGHT AFTER THE FIGHT
By Emanuel Steward as told to Doveed Linder
On September 9th, 1981, “Sugar” Ray Leonard and Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns squared off in what was one of the biggest fights in the history of boxing. Hearns lost the fight via fourteenth-round TKO, but bounced back three months later to face middleweight Ernie Singletary on the Trevor Berbick-Muhammad Ali undercard, which took place in The Bahamas. Hearns won a ten-round unanimous decision, but it wasn’t easy. Emanuel Steward, the trainer of Thomas Hearns (and many other champions), discusses the close call Hearns experienced in the Singletary fight, as well as a moment after the fight that epitomizes the toughness of Hearns, and the kind heart of the late great Angelo Dundee, the trainer of Muhammad Ali and “Sugar” Ray Leonard. --Doveed Linder
After Tommy lost to Ray, we fought down in The Bahamas on the Ali-Berbick card. Tommy fought Ernie Singletary, a full-blown middleweight from Philadelphia who [Hall of Famer] Eddie Futch was training. In the first round, Tommy got an unbelievable cut. This was the worst cut I ever saw. He was gushing blood. Vitali Klitschko’s cut when he fought Lennox Lewis was not as bad as this. It was a terrible cut. I thought this was going to be two in a row that we lost. I thought we were finished, but I got the cut under control, and Tommy went on to win the fight. He wound up cutting Singletary in the last round.
Afterwards, we were trying to find a hospital or some place where we could get this cut cleaned up. We were all over the island. [Remember], this is a Third World country. We couldn’t find anything. We got back to the hotel and who’s sitting in the lobby? Angelo Dundee. He had been waiting for us for about an hour. He said, “I heard you’re trying to get someone for Tommy.” Then he said, “I’ve got a plastic surgeon friend of mine who traveled with me from Florida to take care of Ali in case Ali got cut. If you want, you can come up to my room and we’ll see what we can do.” I took Tommy up to Angelo’s room and his doctor friend took a pillow case, cut a hole in it, and put it over Tommy’s face. We had no anesthesia or anesthetics. Angelo and his wife and I just sat there and tried not to look at what he was doing. This man took about three hours. When he got through, he put 121 stitches in Tommy. Tommy’s face was all tore up and he didn’t flinch one time. He never, ever said anything. Afterwards, the doctor said, I have never seen anybody as tough as this kid.”
Angelo always liked Tommy. When Tommy was sixteen, he lost in the Golden Gloves finals to Aaron Pryor. Aaron Pryor was probably about twenty. This was after the ’76 Olympics. The day after the Golden Gloves, all the super talent from the ’76 Olympic Team was there. The Spinks boys [Leon and Michael], Ray Leonard… They asked Angelo what fighter impressed him the most in the Golden Gloves. Angelo said, “The skinny kid from Detroit who lost to Pryor.” When Tommy fought his last amateur fight, Angelo helped me put a show together for him in Miami. We trained at Angelo’s gym for that fight. Even though it was jam packed in the gym, Angelo was helping me with Tommy. Angelo said he wanted Tommy to be Ray’s last fight. He wanted Ray to stay away from Tommy till the last minute. He liked Tommy. He never let boxing get personal. We had that big fight together earlier in the year with Tommy and Ray, and when Tommy was cut, he let us use his hotel room as a surgery room. That’s the kind of person Angelo was.