Thomas Hearns Vs Pipino Cuevas
August 2, 1980
Venue: Joe Louis Arena
As stated in my earlier two articles written on Thomas Hearns, the “Hitman” was the first fighter I followed from the beginning of his career in 1977. Hearns at 6’1 and a 78” reach had never been seen before in the welterweight division. Despite a laser left jab that felt like a two-by-four constantly smacking you in the face, so called boxing experts looked at Hearns as more of a puncher than the master boxer he was. My father kept emphasizing the greatness of Hearns’ jab. Even at the tender age of 21 heading into his first world title shot against Mexican slugger Pipino Cuevas, my father felt the only fighter with a better jab at the time was Larry Holmes.
Hearns’ sojourn would eventually garner him the number one contender for the WBA Welterweight title held by longtime belt holder and devastating puncher Jose “Pipino” Cuevas. Their fight, held on August 2, 1980 in Detroit’s legendary Joe Louis Arena, was billed as World War II. It was more akin to the Boston Massacre.
Jose “Pipino” Cuevas was a monster puncher who had decimated 10 of the 11 fighters he defended his WBA welterweight title against after destroying Angel Espada in two rounds to win the title back on July 17, 1976. At the time, Cuevas was only 18 and the youngest man ever to win a world title. I was fearful of Cuevas’ nuclear power but my father told me not to worry. According to Pop, the only chance that Cuevas had was if he brought a machine gun in the ring, a saying I’ve used ever since when predicting a massacre. He assured me that Pipino would be the easiest fight of Hearns’ career. As we sat in our South Bronx neighborhood theater right before the opening round, Pop said to pay close attention to how Hearns exploits his five inch height and over 10 inch reach advantage.
My father was correct in his assessment that the 5’8″ Cuevas was tailor made for Hearns. Hearns’ performance that night was offensively perfect. His jab and legendary right cross landed at will throughout the opening stanza. Hearns’ game plan, as orchestrated by his legendary trainer Emanuel Steward, was to attack Cuevas because Cuevas couldn’t fight backing up. Cuevas, despite his scary power, couldn’t keep Hearns off him. Finally, towards the end of the second round, Hearns landed two consecutive spectacular right crosses that dropped Cuevas face first. Amazingly, Cuevas got up at nine out on his feet. His corner ran in and immediately stopped the fight. At the tender age of 21, Hearns was on top of the world. The time was right for him to fight the winner of the upcoming rematch between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. You can read about his legendary war with Leonard in a previous article, as well as articles I wrote about his iconic runs at 147 and 154 pounds.
While Hearns continued to make history as one of the top 10 fighters of his era, Cuevas was never the same after his destruction that night in Detroit. Although only 22 years old at the time, the Hearns decimation sent his career into a downward spiral. He would lose eight of his next 16 fights before finally retiring at the age of 31 in 1989.