What Tommy Sees


“Tommy Hearns is coming?” 

I guess maybe I shouldn’t have let myself sound all that excited. Matter of fact, when Odis told me this was what was going on and that Tommy was going to be joining us for dinner at Sweet Georgia Brown’s, I probably should have just shrugged my shoulders and kept eating my bread. No big deal. It’s like my mother used to always say, “They all get in their pants one leg at a time.”

That’s true, you know. It is. Except, of course, for those folks with only one leg, or maybe no leg at all, but, well, the overall point still holds, right? Point being that nobody on this earth is better than anybody else. We’re all flesh and blood, and that’s the end of it.

Then again, there’s flesh and blood, and then there’s flesh and blood…

I still remember watching some of those fights with Tommy long before I ever moved to Detroit nearly 15 years ago. That was back when boxing was a sport worth watching. My opinion, anyway. Back in the days of Roberto Duran. And Sugar Ray Leonard. And Marvin Hagler. There were definitely others, but those are the ones that jump into my mind right off. Tommy was always one of my favorites just because of the way the man moved. So damned precise, like a combination surgeon/artist. You could tell his mad devotion to the sport just by watching the way he fought. But it wasn’t just devotion, it was respect of craft. You couldn’t watch Tommy Hearns fight, I mean really watch him fight, and then walk away saying with a straight face that boxing is a sport for beasts, or that it doesn’t take any real skill. Just get in there and knock somebody out and go home.

Naw. Couldn’t say that if you watched Tommy. Tommy studied his opponents the way he studied boxing, meaning he didn ‘t miss a comma or a period. He’d already read your whole book – and the sequel – before he ever got in the ring with you. There was never any need for the trash talk or the wild and crazy antics with Tommy. Tommy never felt the need to bite off anyone’s ear. He only felt the need to take care of business, and to leave no doubt that business had, indeed, been taken care of once the fight was through.

Even when he lost the fight, you never saw Tommy fold up, or lose that dignity. He never disrespected the sport and he never disrespected himself, even when the sport was costing him blood and pain the likes of which the flesh and blood  rest of us could never endure without filing a complaint against God himself.

Maybe it’s a man thing, you know? Maybe because, to so many of us, that’s what the essence of manhood is all about. It’s about taking every single blow life has to throw at you with a particular grace and never bowing down to it. It’s telling life that no matter what it has in store, you will never, ever, bow down. When we cheer, we’re not cheering necessarily for the bloodshed, or to see somebody go down in a crumpled heap. We’re cheering the sheer defiance of manhood because manhood – especially black manhood – requires a certain measure of defiance. This much I know.

So when Tommy finally did show up at Sweet Georgia Brown’s, I did a lot better at trying to act cool than I did at succeeding. To me, Tommy is on that short list of men who fronted off the devil and won. Then he came back to tell the rest of us that it can be done, and that your soul can still be intact afterwards.

We were all there, the five of us, for at least two hours. Maybe longer. But even though we were all well aware of the giant in our midst, the evening was simply five men enjoying the pleasures of good company on a freezing cold February evening in Detroit. Outside the large window next to our table we could see folks grinning and laughing as they walked back and forth among the events of the Winter Blast as if it were springtime outside. Every once and awhile somebody would peek in at our table and then do a double take when they recognized Tommy. The double-take was always followed by a smile, and Tommy always made sure to smile back and wave.

“Yo, that’s Tommy Hearns, man!”

Tommy was one of the legions of legendary boxers cranked out by Kronk boxing, the equally legendary boxing club led by, you guessed it, legendary trainer Emmanuel Steward. To this day, Kronk has yet to receive anywhere near its just recognition, even though it is a name  recognized and praised around the world with nearly as much fervor as Motown  Records. Kronk was the birthplace of kings. Matter of fact, and not to play too much on words, but it’s definitely fair to say that Kronk delivered more hits than Motown ever did. So to speak.

  The fact that Kronk’s accomplishments are so monumental and yet its demise seems to elicit little more than a shrug from so many Detroiters is something that bothers Tommy a lot. More than any other subject we touched on that night, the current lack of respect for Kronk and what it means to this city is one that easily got his passions burning. To him, the fact that Kronk had been allowed to go under with barely a whimper signified that nobody really cared about the tremendous history of Kronk boxing and what it did for Detroit youth. As someone who had given his life to boxing, and as a “straight up East-sider” who has never given up his love of his hometown Detroit, it’s a snub that hurts deeply. Why aren’t Detroiters paying more attention to what’s happening? The new clubs, the River Walk, Campus Martius, all that is wonderful. But are we so hell bent on building a New Detroit that we’re willing to simply walk away from some of the traditions that made us what we are?

Past plus present equals future.



~ by Keith A. Owens on February 18, 2007.

3 Responses to “What Tommy Sees”

  1. teamowens313 wrote “To him, the fact that Kronk had been allowed to go under with barely a whimper signified that nobody really cared about the tremendous history of Kronk boxing and what it did for Detroit youth.”

    I agree, Detroit has invested as well as devoted a great amount of marketing and finance to it’s professional sports franchises and all but totally abandoned it’s respect to the sport of boxing. Boxing literally carried the city back in the glory days of legendary world champion atheletes such as Joe Louis, Hilmer Kenty, and as course Tommy himself.

    That being said, the sport of boxing has basically been in turmoil and in dire need of a marketing identity for quite some time. This is true not only in Detroit, but also on a national level as well. Though the sport may claim to have legitimite world champions in it’s many, many, many, many different weight classes, those individuals have not been embraced by the media or for that matter corporate sponsors as being a truly marketable entity.

    For many years the sport of boxing has adorned fans with more havoc outside the ring than inside the ring. For example, though “Iron Mike” Tyson was a helluva champion his outside- the-ring antics have been embraced by the media as more news worthy than say an up-coming unification chanpionship bout bout.

    It’s not that Detroit has forgot about Kronk and it’s contribution to the sport of boxing or the thousands of lives that has been possibly saved from a life of drugs, institutions, and death; this “recognition deprivation” directly related to the “Black Eye” the sport has been saddled with for over a decade.

    Until a truly marketable, recognizable champion emerges and can “carry the proverbeal torch” for the sport of boxing, historical gyms or “gems” will continues to struggle with historical enshirnment and the reciept of the recognition it truly deserves.

  2. Thanks for sharing this information. Really is pack with new knowledge. Keep them coming.

  3. Land of Home,

    Thanks much for dropping by, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Hope to see you back in the neighborhood again someday soon.
    Take care.

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