Robert Silva is back with his greatest super lightweights in boxing history list. This time, it’s Antonio “Kid Pambele” Cervantes.
Antonio Cervantes is the perfect example of a fighter who learned to be a great fighter from scratch. Born in San Basilio de Palenque, Colombia, Cervantes, like the majority of great Latin fighters, grew up in severe poverty. As a teenager, after only three amateur fights, the future “Kid Pambele” learned how to box by fighting seasoned veterans, first in Colombia and then Venezuela. Finally, in 1970, after 49 fights, Cervantes had his first fight in the United States. From there, the 24-year-old Cervantes continued to blossom, eventually to the point where he developed into becoming the third greatest Super Lightweight of all-time.
After winning his first six fights in America, Cervantes was granted his first crack at the 140-pound world title held by legendary Argentine defensive wizard Nicolino Locche on December 11, 1971 in Locche’s native Argentina. Locche made Cervantes miss all night long in winning a lopsided 15-round decision. Cervantes became a better fighter after the loss to the Argentine great. Instead of being an aggressive fighter who would initiate the action, after the loss, Cervantes began to use his jab more often and become more of a counterpuncher. At 5’9”, Cervantes was taller than most 140-pound fighters at the time. This began a nine-year period in which Cervantes would post a sensational 32-2 record at 140. The only two losses were to two of the greatest fighters of that era; Wilfred Benitez and Aaron Pryor.
Ten months after losing to Locche, Cervantes received a second crack at the 140-pound crown. On October 28, 1972, Cervantes faced the man who wrested the WBA Super Lightweight title from Locche, the Panamanian Alfonso “Peppermint” Frazer in Fraser’s hometown of Panama City. Cervantes put on a virtuoso performance before finishing the Panamanian in the 10th round to win his first world title.
For the next three-and-a-half years, Cervantes successfully defended his title 10 times and defeated a who’s who of excellent Super Lightweights. He stopped both Locche and Frazer in rematches. On May 17, 1975, he dropped Puerto Rican great Esteban Dejesus, the first man to defeat Roberto Duran, three times en route to an easy 15-round decision. At 30-years-old, Cervantes seemed to have a stranglehold on the Super Lightweight crown. He then ran into the greatest ring prodigy in boxing history.
Cervantes was the epitome of a road warrior. Throughout his first reign as Super Lightweight champ, “Kid Pambele” traveled to Panama, Japan, Venezuela and his native Colombia to defend his title. In March 6, 1976, in his 11th defense, Cervantes traveled to San Juan, Puerto Rico to defend against 17-year-old Puerto Rican prodigy Wilfred Benitez. Benitez, like Locche, was a defensive and counterpunching wizard. In the single greatest professional boxing performance by a teenager, Benitez masterfully outboxed the legendary Cervantes in dethroning the Super Lightweight champ. Like great fighters do, Cervantes immediately refocused on regaining the crown. Benitez relinquished the title without giving Cervantes a rematch, and on June 25, 1977, Cervantes severely cut up Carlos Gimenez and stopped him in the fifth round to regain his title. Thus began a three-year reign in which Cervantes added to his legacy as an all-time great Super Lightweight.
On August 2, 1980, Cervantes once again traveled to an opponents’ hometown to defend his title. His opponent: the buzzsaw Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor. Pryor was forced to move up to 140 pounds as every 135-pound top fighter refused to fight him. Cervantes never ducked anyone and the 34-year-old Colombian legend tried to add to his legacy by attempting to defeat the dangerous Pryor. As soon as round one began, the Cincinnati fighter jumped all over Cervantes to the delight of his hometown fans. However, late in the opening stanza, Pryor walked into a left hook, right cross combination that knocked him down. Pryor was up immediately and the look in his eyes told Cervantes that combo would be his last shot at beating Pryor. For the next three rounds, Pryor battered Cervantes from pillar to post before finally putting him away in the fourth round. It was a fitting passing of the torch from one great 140-pound fighter to the next one.
Cervantes would win his next four fights before losing to journeyman fighter Danny Sanchez on December 9, 1983. Cervantes immediately retired after that fight at the age of 37. Cervantes held the WBA Super Lightweight World Championship twice for a combined six-and-a-half years and 16 successful title defenses. He ducked no one and his only two losses during that time period were to iconic fighters. All of these accomplishments make Cervantes the third greatest Super Lightweight of all time.