Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Chosen One Chooses His Father's Path

Thomas "The Hit Man" Hearns and his son Ronald pictured near the pool at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

On September 22, 1999 a determined 20 year-old young man named Ronald Dodson walked into a courthouse in Detroit, Michigan. When he walked out, his last name was legally changed to Hearns. It was one of the first steps of the journey in this life he has chosen for himself.

He was born in 1978 in Detroit, only a couple weeks before his father would knockout Clyde Gray, a tough as nails Canadian welterweight contender. His father was not yet known as the “The Hitman” or “The Motor City Cobra.

Despite the fact that Ronald was mostly raised by his mother, who had the last name Dodson, he would later always want it known that he was the son of a legend.

“I just wanted to have the same last name as my father,” says the now 30 year old Hearns, who is known as "The Chosen One."

“I used to always get asked, 'Why don't you guys have the same last name?' when I was a kid, and that would get to me sometimes. So I decided to change my name, to bear the same name as my Dad.”

His father never wanted him to fight. Never wanted to see his son in the gym lacing up the big gloves. He never wanted to see the pain, the cuts, the bruises or the blood stream down his son’s face as it had his own. A generation ago, the father faced the Leonards, the Durans and the Haglers so that his son would never have to climb the steps and slink his own way through the ropes.

But try as he might, Thomas Hearns couldn’t keep his son Ronald from being drawn into this morass of a sport they call the “hurt business.”

Hearns has racked up 21 straight wins since turning pro back in 2004.

His father had to scold his adolescent son away from the basement of the famed Kronk Gym in Detroit. Had to threaten him not to box and he would tell him that he shed his own blood so that he would never have to. Like any father, he always wanted more for his son and he figured the way to get more was through education and maybe basketball which was certainly a kinder and gentler way to compete. He would go so far as to have his son locked out of the Kronk. But when Dad was away, there he would be.

The father eventually shipped his son off to Washington, D.C. to get an education and to get him away from the Kronk and away from the tall, dark shadow that the father cast over his son’s every day life. His father was and still is a legend in Detroit.

Ronald would attend American University in Washington, would graduate with a degree in criminal justice and he would successfully play shooting guard for the Eagles. But the minute his four years in D.C. came to an end and he made his way back to Detroit he was nagging his famous father, pulling on his coattails and asking again if it would be O.K. if he took up boxing.

He’s tall like his Dad, has the same baleful eyes and the thin, rangy, muscular body. If you didn’t know better, when you see him in the dressing room after one of his fights adorned in his robe and trunks you’d think you were in the Joe Louis Arena in 1980 or at Caesars Palace in 1981. His soft-spoken nature and polite manner make you forget that in less than five years as a prizefighter he has run his pro record to 21-0 with 17 knockouts.

Hearns stopped Paul Clavette in six rounds when the pair met in Montreal, Quebec back in October.

He likes to tell the story of when he decided he wanted to become a fighter, like his Dad.

“I can remember seeing boxing on television for the very first time,” he told me after he had just knocked out Alexander Quiroz in Manchester, New Hampshire in less time than it takes to boil an egg. “Something just came alive inside of me, like a feeling that I can’t describe.”

He put his hand to his chest and rubbed it in a circular motion as he told the story. His long, spindly fingers and small wrists hid the fact that he just knocked out Quiroz with an electric right hand shot that looked exactly like the one his Dad landed against Pipino Cuevas 28 years earlier. Quiroz, a clubfighter from Colombia, crumpled to the canvas as though he were shocked.

“I know who my father is and so does everybody else,” explains Ronald. “But I do want my own identity and I’ve been waiting for this to happen all of my life. I truly feel that fighting is my destiny and I’m going to fulfill that destiny. Boxing is something that is obviously in my blood.”

With his famous father always helping to guide him and trained by his Uncle Billy Hearns (Tommy’s brother) and long time family friend Henry Hill, there have been very few mis-steps since Ronald turned pro in 2004. The father-son dynamic is interesting to watch and the nerves that his father displays when his son fights are worse than when he himself was facing off against a murderer’s row of some of the best fighters that have ever lived.

Can you see the resemblance? Father and son or brothers? Hearns and Hearns are extremely close and Tommy never misses one of Ronald's fights.

“When he’s up there in the ring, I can barely stand it,” said Tommy just before the fight against Quiroz began. I asked Hearns to talk to me about his son’s progression, but he claimed he couldn’t talk then because his nerves were getting the best of him.

During the two minutes and ten seconds it took for Ronald to dispatch Quiroz, Tommy never sat down and he rigidly stood next to his son’s corner. He had the appearance of a father watching through the fence at his child on a playground. It wasn’t until after the fight was over and Ronald was out of harms’ way could Hearns relax and a wide smile would break across his 50 year-old face.

“He’s my son and I’m proud of him and I love him,” said the elder Hearns. “Do I wish he never started to box? Yeah. But now that he’s here and he’s doing it then I’m going to do everything that I can to help him because that’s what a father is supposed to do.”

Fighting at 154 pounds, Hearns is knocking on the door of a top-10 ranking. On Saturday night in Miami, Oklahoma he’ll face an undefeated fighter by the name of Harry Joe Yorgey. Should he get by Yorgey the competition will be stepped up and a title shot could be in the offing by the end of this year.

Although he had only ten amateur fights, Hearns did win the 2004 AAU middleweight title and he feels what he lacks in experience will be made up for with hard work and by implementing the many tips that his father is able to share with him. He has fought less than 70 rounds as a pro but his father often gets into the ring and spars with him. With Billy, also a former fighter, supervising the training the younger Hearns feels he has all of the necessary components in place to soon win a world title.

“What I need is a little more time, Henry says maybe one or two more fights” says Hearns. “Then I truly feel I’ll be ready for any one of these guys that hold a belt. I want the opportunity to prove to the people that think I’m only here because of my Dad that I really have what it takes.”

March 2009

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