Remembering the Career of Pipino Cuevas

05.01.06 - By John Way: Traditionally one of the most colorful weight classes in boxing, the welterweight division has recently been experiencing something of dry spell, featuring mostly imported talent from lower weight classes, like Floyd Mayweather, Zab Judah, Cory Spinks, and Shane Mosely. With closest thing to a high profile welterweight fight coming in the form of Judahís title defense against oft beaten Argentine, Carlos Manuel Baldomir this Saturday, itís time to look back in history when the welterweight champion was a byword for excellence. Squashed in between Sugar Ray Robinson, and Sugar Ray Leonard, Jose "Pipino" Cuevas was the meat between the bread in a proverbial 147lbs. sandwich, establishing himself as one of the greatest knockout artists of all time..

Turning pro when he was only 14 years old, Cuevas only won seven of his first twelve bouts, but eventually put together an eight fight winning streak before losing an unfortunate decision to 20-1 Andy Price. Mysteriously, the defeat to Price earned Cuevas a title shot against streaking champion, Angel Espada. Naturally a big underdog, the young Mexican warrior was given next to no chance of pulling an upset against the seasoned champion, who had twice as many fights under his belt as his raw challenger.

Swinging his left hook like a sledgehammer, Pipino battered his opponent around the ring in the first round, and sent Espada to the canvas early in the second. Rising on wobbly legs, Angelís legendary chin deserted him, and he was dropped twice more later in the round, forcing a stunning halt to the one sided contest. Never before had the welterweight division been host to such a brutal display of monstrous punching power.

Only twenty years old, Pipino was determined to prove to the world that his title winning effort was not a fluke. He came out with spades by crushing respected challenger, Shoji Tsujimoto in six rounds. After his blitz of Tsujimoto, Cuevas brought out perhaps the greatest win of his career by upsetting accomplished veteran Miguel Angel Campanino. Riding high on a thirty two fight unbeaten streak, Campanino boasted a record of 84-4-4, which stood in stark contrast with the championís less than impressive ledger of 17-6. With all of his loses coming by way of injury or disputed decision, Campanino was confident that he easily win the title from his less experienced opponent. Once again however, Pipino needed less than six full minutes of action to brush aside his usually durable opponent, notching yet another second round knockout victory. Campanino would continue to campaign unsuccessfully for the title shot for several more years, but would never lose another fight.

By this time, the Mexico City Native had established himself as one of the premiere punchers in the business, and was already drawing comparisons with men like Rocky Graziano, and Ike Williams: all power and no defense. Most thought that he would have to show another dimension of himself when he signed to fight 58-5 Clyde Gray, who, having only been stopped twice in his entire career, was not only tough, but also an elusive veteran who could punch well with either hand. It didnít matter a lick as Cuevas had a field day against the veteran, cranking out another vicious second round knockout.

Only a few months later, Pipino returned to the ring, this time for a rematch with arch-rival Espada. Rather than suffering the indignity of an early knockout, Espada managed to last until the twelfth stanza, by which time he had taken a terrific pounding. After disposing of Harold Weston (who had previously ruined Vito Antoufermoís unbeaten record) in nine rounds, Cuevas gave Billy Backus such a beating, it forced the grizzled veteran to retire after only one round. Backus never fought again.

After disposing of Peter Ranzany in two, Cuevas struggled mightily against legendary tough man, Randy Shields, who seemed at times only a step or two away from beating the champion, but had to settle for a narrow decision loss. Naturally, the champion dismissed the affair as an off night, but when he had to come from behind to knock out Harold Volbrecht in the fifth round later that year, it seemed that the Mexicanís rocket was finally starting to burn out. With critics beginning to label him as crude and one dimensional, it was do or die for Pipino when he signed to fight wicked-hitting prospect, Thomas "The Hitman" Hearns. This time, the roles were reversed: Hearns was the inexperienced, with Cuevas serving as the accomplished veteran.

Attempting to box from the outside behind his previously nonexistent jab, Pipino didnít stand a chance against his lanky opponent, whoís combination of speed and deft boxing technique was simply too much. After dividing his time in the first round between retreating, and getting clocked, Cuevas decided to try and get inside with his fabled left hook. Desperately attempting to charge inside Hearnís freakish wingspan, he was finally caught by a whistling right hand. Showing the same assassin-like composure that later helped him dispose of Roberto Duran, Hearns smeared Cuevas with another perfectly timed right, this time dropping the champion for the first time in his career.

In an attempt to gain a return match with Hearns, Cuevas managed to put together a decent three fight-winning streak before suffering a ten round decision loss to unheralded journeyman, Roger Stafford. After losing again to come-backing Roberto Duran, Pipino still had one last great knockout left in him when he starched 25-1 Mauricio Bravo in the first round with a flawless ferocity. It was all down hill from there as Cuevas futilely sought to regain his former glory, ultimately falling victim to men who couldnít have lasted five rounds with him in his prime.

After consecutive TKO losses to Lupe Aquino and Jorge Vaca, Pipino retired in May of 1989. With a fairly deceptive record of 35-15-0 with 31 knockouts, Jose "Pipino" Cuevas is one of the most underrated fighters in recent years, rarely getting the recognition he deserves on the all time level. With fourteen of his wins coming by clean ten counts, he also managed to successfully defend his title eleven times with ten knockouts. Also, Cuevas fought the best opposition available at the time, accumulating his extraordinary title record against opponents with a combined record of 505-70-29, a total greater than that of Sugar Ray Leonard, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, Carmen Basilio, Sugar Ray Robinson, Carlos Palomino, Oscar De La Hoya, Pernell Whitaker, Buddy McGirt, or Simon Brown. Not bad for a guy who turned pro at fourteen!

Comments and questions are welcome below.

Article posted on 05.01.2006

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