Friday, September 17, 2010

September 17, 1981: Sweet as Sugar

LAS VEGAS - They were considered two of the best boxers of their time, if not of all time, so when Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns decided to meet to unify the welterweight championship, it was met with a lot of anticipation. Dubbed "The Showdown," the fight drew an estimated worldwide TV audience of 300 million.

Leonard, the WBC champion, entered the fight at 30-1, while Hearns was 32-0 and was the WBA champion. Leonard was seen as more of a tactical boxer, while Hearns had a reputation of more of a pure brawler.

Early in the fight, Leonard was having trouble with Hearns' reach advantage. By the end of the fifth round, there was considerable swelling under Leonard's eye, and he was well behind on all the scorecards. He started to come back a bit in rounds six and seven, switching roles and becoming the aggressive brawler to Hearns' tactical boxer.

The momentum switched back to Hearns' favor for rounds 9-12, as he increased his advantage. By the time the 12th round was over, everybody knew Leonard needed a knockout to win the title. Then, his trainer, Angelo Dundee, said the famous words caught on TV: "You're blowing it kid, you're blowing it."

Whether it was Dundee's words or just a realization of the situation, Leonard came out in the 13th round like a man possessed. He came right after Hearns, not giving his opponent a single opening. He knocked him down against the ropes once, then knocked him down again after Hearns recovered. The 14th round was more of the same, with Leonard pinning Hearns against the ropes and subjecting him to a barrage of punches until the referee stopped the fight, making Leonard the undisputed champion of the world. At the time the fight was stopped, Hearns was well ahead on all three scorecards. But he couldn't withstand Leonard's late-fight attack.

Leonard only fought seven more times after his win over Hearns, but those fights were spaced over a span of 10 years, as he eventually became the poster child for boxers that keep coming out of retirement. One of those fights was a rematch against Hearns, which was controversially ruled a draw despite the fact that most people thought Hearns had won. Hearns, however, kept fighting and fighting, eventually running his career record to 61-5-1 and becoming the only man to win world championships at five different weight classes.

September 17, 1953: CHICAGO - Sometimes, the best things happen by accident. That happened to the Chicago Cubs in 1953. That year, the Cubs were all set to integrate. They had signed Gene Baker to a contract, intending to make the shortstop the first black player in franchise history. Just before bringing him up to the big leagues, though, they decided it would be best to have another black player on the team so Baker could have a roommate on the road. Scouring the Negro Leagues, the Cubs saw a young infielder named Ernie Banks and signed him. After an injury to Baker, it was Banks who became the Cubs first black player, going 0-for-3 with an error on September 17, 1953. Baker played for eight Major League seasons with the Cubs and Pirates, putting up average stats. Banks, meanwhile, became Mr. Cub, probably the most famous player in franchise history.

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