It would prove to be the first of many – many world titles won and many great nights for Thomas Hearns.
It was 40 years ago when the great Thomas Hearns captured his first world title. It was August 2 in Detroit when local hero to millions Hearns absolutely destroyed the feared and brutally powerful Pipino Cuevas. The Mexican was as tough as he was powerful. Cuevas had never been down in his career, he was making the 11th defence of the WBA welterweight title he had held for four years and he was deemed by plenty of people to have too much experience for the 21 year old Hearns.
Cuevas, born tough like so many Mexican warriors, had been fighting since the age of 14, and he was a destroyer in the ring; broken bones a regular thing when he was in action, his opponent often going to hospital. Hearns had attracted a huge following in Detroit due to the wreckage of discarded foes he had left in his wake. Tall and skinny, in fact a “freak” for the 147 pound weight class, the 6’1” Hearns had been a beautiful boxer as an amateur, before Emanuel Steward turned him into a lethal punching machine – a “Hitman.”
“Take care of business and then leave town,” was how Hearns would describe his job. 40 years ago, Hearns’ job was that of taking Cuevas’ belt. Could he do it? Man, could he! Cuevas may have frightened plenty of his previous challengers, yet against the wiry, solidly muscled rival who was stood glaring at him with the meanness and intent of an old west gunslinger, it was Cuevas who appeared intimidated.
The fight turned out to be a slaughter.
Hearns began by firing out his superb left jab, then he fired in not his fearsome fight hand but his left hook. Cuevas would be wobbled, hurt and stunned a number of times during the opening three-minutes. Cuevas was not accustomed to being dominated in such a way. And then in the second, it was over. Hearns was in total charge, Cuevas – as would be the case when another Latino great met Hearns yars later – was unable to get anywhere near close enough to do his thing.
Hearns fired in his savage right, the bomb landing flush on Cuevas’ jaw. The defending champion’s entire body lurched, inviting Hearns to blast off with another right, and then Pipino fell hard on his face. Incredibly, Cuevas got back to his feet before the count of “10.” His corner, though, had seen enough and stopped the fight.
Hearns had done it. The shy, softly-spoken kid who came up in the hot fires of The Kronk Gym had made Detroit proud, he had fulfilled his lifelong ambition and he was now perhaps the best welterweight in the world. Battles with Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Wilfredo Benitez would follow. As would the winning of four more world titles.