Two former world champions, one from Panama, the other from Mexico, both seemingly past their best but still having fire in the belly. It was 40 years ago (January 29, 1983) when former lightweight and welterweight king Roberto Duran met former welterweight ruler Pipino Cuevas.
It was still a big deal when Duran – who had suffered, amongst other things, the embarrassment of “No Mas,” and Cuevas had been smashed by Thomas Hearns – but the fight would have been afforded genuine super fight status had it taken place three years earlier. Still, this fight was very much a case of better late than never. Duran, 75-4, knew he could not afford a fifth defeat. Cuevas, 29-8, knew it would be nothing short of disaster for him and his career if he suffered another loss.
The two met in Los Angeles, fighting at a catch-weight, with 31 year old Duran coming in at 152 pounds, and with Cuevas, still only 25 years old, tipping-in at 149. Duran was coming off a shock loss to Kirkland Laing, while Cuevas had not boxed since being beaten by Roger Stafford over a year ago. Which so-called “washed up” warrior had more left in the tank? A large crowd showed up at the Sports Arena in LA to find out, while many more fans tuned in via closed circuit. It WAS still a big fight.
Duran, as he later showed time and again, was a master at rolling back the years. Dictating the action with his fine left jab, Roberto kept Cuevas off-balance as he banked the opening two sessions. Try as he might, the lethal-punching Cuevas could not get anything going, with the big left hands of his that were thrown being either made to miss or with Duran being able to take them without issue. Duran, who had been stung by Pipino’s taunts of being less than macho for doing what he did in New Orleans against Leonard, was on fire once again on this night.
Round three saw some thrilling, albeit one-sided action. Duran wobbled Cuevas with left hook, and then a right uppercut to the head had the younger man buzzed. Cuevas fired out leather of his own as best he could but the naturally smaller man had the edge in power while Duran also held a shot better than did his rival. Always a great finisher, Duran dramatically closed the show in the fourth.
His punches flowing, Duran landed another big right that had Cuevas on queer street. The follow-up blitz blasted Cuevas into a corner, the ropes holding him up, and the referee issued a count. Duran struck instantly when action resumed, flooring Cuevas for a second time. This time, Cuevas’ manager Lupe Suarez signalled surrender. It was over. Duran had revived his career while Cuevas had seen his sink further downhill.
Duran had plenty more surprises and great nights left in him, while Cuevas, though he did box on, lost as many as he won, with none of his future fights being at anything like top level. Cuevas finally retired in September of 1989, this three months before Duran would fight Leonard for a third time in yet another huge fight.
We will never know how different things might have been had Duran and Cuevas fought in early 1980 instead of in early 1983. But as it was, the Duran of 40 years ago had way more left to offer than did his younger rival.