Clock ticking in Hearns' comeback 'Hit Man,' 40, battles Snyder, time's ravages


PHILADELPHIA -- After nearly two years in storage, the boxing career of Thomas Hearns is back on the launching pad. But will the 40-year-old "Hit Man" blast off again? Or is the legend's final countdown doomed never to get off the ground?

"Tommy's like John Glenn," Hearns's longtime manager-trainer, Emanuel Steward, said in comparing the six-time, five-weight-class former world champion with America's favorite septugenarian astronaut. "They're both exceptions to the rules."

Hearns (57-4, 45 KOs), who hasn't fought since scoring a fifth-round knockout of Ed Dalton on Jan. 31, 1997, begins his umpteenth comeback Friday night in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena when he takes on journeyman Jay Snyder (17-5, 16 KOs) in a scheduled 10-round cruiserweight bout.

It figures to be a winning return for Hearns; despite Snyder's relatively impressive record, the Spartanburg, S.C., native has been knocked out in five of his last six fights, including three first-round stoppages.

The plan is for Hearns to fight four times, the level of competition gradually improving until he demonstrates to Steward he is capable of challenging for another world title, or is more suited for a rocking chair.

"If Tommy looks good, we'll see where this will lead," said Steward, who began working with Hearns at Motown's Kronk Gym when Hearns was a scrawny fifth-grader. "And if he doesn't look good, it's over. Tommy's left it all up to me. Whether he continues to fight or not will be my decision.

"I know I'm open to criticism for giving Tommy the go-ahead on this. I'm more on the hot seat than he is. But that's all right. All I can say is that Tommy is looking very, very good in the gym. He's looking like he did in 1986 and '87."

Hearns might temporarily be able to defy nature's laws of diminishing returns, but two of his storied contemporaries, Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, are prime examples of what can happen when a great fighter sticks around too long.

Leonard -- who, incidentally, will be at ringside Friday -- was 40 on March 1, 1997, when he became a fifth-round technical knockout victim of Hector "Macho" Camacho. Duran, 47, was taken apart in three rounds in his hopeless bid to unseat World Boxing Association middleweight champion William Joppy on Aug. 28.

Pub Date: 11/04/98

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