On This Day: Thomas Hearns Knocked Out Pipino Cuevas
By Sina Latif
In 1980, there was no division more compelling and relevant than the welterweights.
Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, Wilfred Benitez, Pipino Cuevas, Thomas Hearns, Carlos Palomino and Randy Shields were the main players in the 147lbs division. Such widespread talent was resulting in terrific match-ups.
With the passing of the 1970’s golden era of heavyweight boxing, the days of the heavyweights commanding the big crowds and money was gone. The welterweights were now the stars of boxing.
The next big anticipated fight was Cuevas vs Hearns. This was two months after Leonard and Duran’s first showdown in Montreal. The casual sports fans were not as familiar with Hearns and Cuevas as they were with Duran and Leonard, but within the pugilistic community, fans were aware that this was a serious fight between two men with reputations as power punchers.
This was a fight not expected to go the distance, which is exactly what whets the appetite of hardcore’s and casuals alike.
Hearns had been successful as an amateur and as a professional he was young, undefeated, and knocking out contenders for fun.
After being a cautious fighter in the amateurs, using his long reach and quick feet to jab and move, trainer Emanuel Steward nurtured a killer. He taught Hearns how to use his 78 inch reach and 6ft1 inch height to his advantage to gain leverage in that right hand in the professional ranks.
Hearns had dimensions similar to that of a heavyweight contained in a body fighting at 147 lbs, and had a record of 28-0 with 26 KO’s heading into this fight, 20 of the knockouts before the fourth round.
Cuevas was a power-puncher with a brutal left hook, having made 11 successful title defences with 10 KO’s after becoming the youngest welterweight champion of all time at 18 after winning the WBA title by defeating Angel Espada after a vicious display of monstrous power punching.
During these title defences, only Randy Shields had lasted the distance. Credible challengers and accomplished veterans had been crushed one after another.
During the late 1970’s, Pipino was certainly one of the most feared fighters in the world.
If Hearns wanted to become champion, he had to defeat a concussive puncher, a man who Cuevas’ manager, Lupe Sanchez, claimed was the best puncher pound for pound since Sugar Ray Robinson.
Proceedings commenced and this day 40 years ago, on 2 August 1980, marked the real introduction of “The Hitman”, one of the pound-for-pound hardest punchers of all time.
The fight was taking place in Joe Louis Arena in Hearns’ hometown of Detroit, with Muhammad Ali sat ringside. Greatness was destined for the man they called “The Motor City Cobra.” The stage was set.
Cuevas had been in tough fights and had defended his title against good fighters, but none had been like Hearns.
Prior to the fight, Steward stated: ““Tommy and Pipino are two of a kind…Tommy’s got no respect for Pipino’s left hook…I know Pipino feels the same way about Tommy’s right hand.”
After this fight, Pipino and the rest of Hearns’ rivals knew that right hand was to be respected, substantially so.
In the first round, Hearns was hitting Cuevas with constant left and rights to head and body, with an active and accurate jab which was keeping Cuevas at bay and unable to get inside.
Cuevas had never been in with a welterweight who possessed such dimensions, tailor-made to deliver pain on his opponents. The champion with a steel chin who had not been stopped since his pro debut nearly nine years earlier just about survived the opening round after being backed up and staggered numerous times by Hearns.
The second round started the same, with Hearns’ significant height and reach advantages over his 5ft8 opponent, coupled with greater hand speed, meant that Cuevas was unable to get close and bring his left hook into play.
Hearns was in total control and looking relaxed, showing that he is more than just a big puncher, making Cuevas miss whilst simultaneously landing his own shots like none Cuevas had ever felt before.
Then, towards the end of the second round, Hearns’ vaunted straight right landed like a missile. Cuevas’ legs turned to jelly, and another right from Hearns sent Cuevas to the canvas face first.
The gutsy Mexican got up looking unsteady, and his trainer had seen enough, stepping through the ropes and stopping the fight.
Hearns was the new WBA welterweight champion of the world and as far as first world title shots go, this was one of the most destructive and greatest performances of them all.
The Motor City Cobra went on to make three successful title defences of his title before losing in a spectacular classic to Leonard. Hearns proceeded to win world titles all the way up to light-heavyweight, as well as the lightly-regarded WBU and IBO titles at cruiserweight.
Along this journey, his fights whilst making a quarter of the famed “Four Kings” alongside Leonard, Duran and Marvin Hagler cemented his reputation as one of the greatest and hardest-hitting fighters of all time. His second-round knockout of Duran is one of the most vicious knockouts amongst those suffered by the greats of the sport, becoming the first man to KO the tough Duran.
Cuevas is a man who rarely gets the recognition and respect he deserves in all-time great discussions. He is one of the greatest knockout artists of all time having maintained a high knockout ratio whilst defending his title against the best opposition available with good winning records. Cuevas was the most consistent and shined the most during his career when he was defending his title against credible opposition.
Cuevas just happened to be competing during the same time as one of only few men in history who could have overtook him as the most feared puncher at the time in the welterweight division, “Hitman” Hearns.
Against Cuevas, Hearns was at his most destructive and terrifying best. On a night when he was supposedly taking a massive step up in class, Hearns looked like he had been boxing at elite level for years.
Cuevas just happened to come across a special fighter on this night who was destined for greatness.