Thomas Hearns leads HOF ballot

Former five-division world champion Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns and former two-division titleholders Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson and Dariusz Michalczewski lead the newcomers to this year's International Boxing Hall of Fame ballot.

Full members of the Boxing Writers Association of America began receiving their 45-man ballots this week. They are due back to the Hall of Fame by Oct. 31. Results will be announced before the end of the year with the annual induction ceremony at the Canastota, N.Y., shrine just outside of Syracuse scheduled for June 10. To be eligible, fighters must not have fought for at least five years.

Star trainer Freddie Roach leads the newcomers to the non-participant ballot, and longtime ESPN and current Showtime broadcaster Al Bernstein is on the ballot in the observer category for the first time.

Hearns (61-5-1, 48 KOs), who fought from 1977 until 2006, is a virtual lock for election in his first year of eligibility. He was part of the legendary foursome of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran, whose round-robin of mega fights from welterweight to middleweight carried boxing in the 1980s.

The other three were long ago enshrined, but Hearns continued to fight through the 1990s. He fought once in 2000 and then the clock for his eligibility started over when he fought once in 2005 and once more in 2006 before finally calling it quits following a 10th-round knockout of Shannon Landberg in a light heavyweight fight in Auburn Hills, Mich.

Hearns, the Detroit legend also known as "The Motor City Cobra," used his devastating right hand to win titles at welterweight, junior middleweight, middleweight, super middleweight and light heavyweight (twice) and electrified fans with numerous action-packed fights.

He is most famous for a pair of thrilling fights that he lost, his 1981 welterweight unification fight with Leonard, who stopped him in the 14th round in one of the biggest fights in boxing history, and his third-round knockout loss to Hagler challenging for the middleweight championship in 1985.

Hagler-Hearns is widely regarded as one of the greatest fights in boxing history, with the first round regarded as one of the most exciting ever.

But Hearns also won major fights, too. With Hall of Fame trainer Emanuel Steward in his corner, Hearns destroyed Pipino Cuevas with a booming right hand in the second round to win the WBA's version of the welterweight title in 1980. He made three defenses before losing to Leonard.

In 1982, Hearns decisioned Hall of Famer Wilfred Benitez to win a junior middleweight title. In perhaps his most spectacular victory, Hearns defended the title against Duran, knocking him cold with one punch in the second round.

Hearns jumped from middleweight to light heavyweight and stopped Dennis Andries in the 10th round to win a light heavyweight belt in 1987 before dropping back to middleweight later in the year to knock out Juan Domingo Roldan in the fourth round to win a vacant title. He became boxing's first five-division titleholder in 1988 when he won a majority decision against James Kinchen for a vacant super middleweight title.

Hearns and Leonard met again in a 1989 super middleweight title bout in which Hearns scored two knockdowns and appeared to win, but he was saddled with a controversial draw.

Johnson (44-5, 28 KOs), a fast and skilled southpaw from Washington, D.C., won titles at flyweight and junior bantamweight twice. He also was a pound-for-pound ranked stalwart during the prime of his career, which ran from 1990 to 2006.

He won a flyweight title with a first-round knockout of Francisco Tejedor in 1996 and made seven defenses, although he could never lure the other big names of his time -- fighters such as Johnny Tapia, Danny Romero, Michael Carbajal or Ricardo Lopez -- into the ring.

In 1999, he won a junior bantamweight title with a lopsided decision against Ratanachai Singwancha in Washington and made two defenses. After losing two fights to a young Rafael Marquez, Johnson unexpectedly won another junior bantamweight title by outpointing Fernando Montiel in a major upset in 2003.

Poland's Michalczewski (48-2, 38 KOs), who fought most of his career in Germany, won 48 consecutive fights to start his career. In 1994, he won a vacant light heavyweight belt against Leeonzer Barber and then jumped up to cruiserweight and won a title with a 10th-round knockout of Nestor Giovannini.

But light heavyweight was where he was most comfortable, so he vacated the cruiserweight belt and went on to defend the light heavyweight belt 23 times during his 1994 to 2003 reign. His biggest victory came in 1997, when he outpointed Virgil Hill to claim two other versions of the title and the lineal championship.

Michalczewski also is known for the one opponent he never faced -- Roy Jones Jr., who also was a champion during most of Michalczewski's run. The sides discussed fighting several times but a deal was never made, despite their positions as the clear No. 1 and No. 2 at 175 pounds.

The rest of the field on the ballot for modern fighters -- meaning that their last bout was no earlier than 1943 -- are holdovers from previous years, including former featherweight champion "Prince" Naseem Hamed, former welterweight champ Donald Curry, former super middleweight titlist Sven Ottke and former three-division titlist Wilfredo Vazquez.

Roach, a former journeyman fighter, made his name as a trainer, working with numerous champions and winning trainer of the year honors five times. He is best known for his work with reigning pound-for-pound king Manny Pacquiao, but also has worked with titleholders such as James Toney and Virgil Hill and reigning titlists Amir Khan and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

The other newcomers to the non-participant ballot are ring announcer Michael Buffer, whose "Let's get ready to rumble" catchphrase before big fights is iconic, and German promoter Klaus-Peter Kohl, who founded Universum Box-Promotion, one of the top promotional companies in Europe.

Kohl has promoted dozens of top fighters, including Michalczewski throughout his career and heavyweight champion brothers Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko in the early part of their careers.

Bernstein called fights for ESPN during the heyday of its "Top Rank Boxing" series in the 1980s and '90s. Since 2003, he has served as an analyst for Showtime boxing telecasts. In 1988, he won the Sam Taub Award for excellence in boxing broadcasting journalism from the BWAA.

Dan Rafael is the senior boxing writer for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @danrafaelespn.