Lee Groves

10: Notable Super Bowl week fights

6. Jan. 24, 1982, Eusebio Pedroza W 15 Juan LaPorte – Sands Casino Hotel, Atlantic City, N.J.

Super Bowl XVI represented a potential changing of the guard in the NFL. The 1970s had been ruled by the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and Oakland Raiders, who made a combined 11 appearances in the championship game and captured eight titles in the decade. While this fearsome foursome remained a force in the league, their influence was waning.

The new kids on the Super Bowl block certainly earned their tickets to the Pontiac Silverdome: Bill Walsh’s 49ers (6-10 the previous year) beat the Cowboys 28-27 in the NFC title game thanks to “The Catch” made by Dwight Clark while the Bengals (also 6-10 one year earlier) endured a record 59-below-zero wind chill to beat the San Diego Chargers 27-7. If any two teams were ready to pursue their first championship, the 49ers and Bengals were it.

At age 22, Juan LaPorte was a young gun eager to make his mark at the championship level but unlike the 49ers and Bengals he had to face a member of the old guard to achieve his dream. WBA featherweight champion Eusebio Pedroza was a testament to longevity and consistency, for in just under four years he had already made 13 successful title defenses. LaPorte had logged a spirited but losing challenge against Salvador Sanchez and he hoped that experience would serve him well against the Panamanian.

Although Pedroza had scored 10 stoppages in his last 12 fights, he wasn’t known for one-punch power. Pedroza prospered with pinpoint punching, stamina, savvy and ring craft, of which one ingredient can charitably be called the “dark arts” of boxing. Pedroza knew how to mix in just enough elbows, forearms, low blows, kidney shots and rabbit punches with his formidable legal offense to largely avoid detection and his 18-fight winning streak was beyond argument.

“The Battle Before the Battle” was part of CBS’ coverage and the bout began approximately three hours before kickoff. After a quiet first two-and-a-half minutes LaPorte began to find the range with strong right crosses and midway through the second several more buckled the champion’s legs. Pedroza received smelling salts between rounds but they didn’t help much as early in the third a thunderbolt right from LaPorte sent Pedroza reeling across the ring. Realizing his crown was under mortal threat Pedroza unleashed a desperate and sometimes foul-filled assault that lasted several moments after the bell, an act that prompted referee Guy Jutras to take a point from Pedroza.

The fourth was a vicious affair as the pair brawled without pause. Pedroza’s full-shouldered body shots were particularly venomous and his wild-eyed attack temporarily deadened LaPorte’s legs. Pedroza won the fifth with constant punching while LaPorte seized the sixth when a huge right briefly wobbled Pedroza. The seventh saw plenty of hard inside fighting by both, with Pedroza’s punches peppered with forearms, elbows and kidney punches. The eighth was brutal for Pedroza, for not only was he penalized a second point – this time for low blows – he suffered a cut over the left eye.

Pedroza’s experience in the late rounds served him well starting in the ninth when he kicked into a higher gear, a gear LaPorte only experienced against Sanchez. Pedroza’s constant hammering to all parts of LaPorte’s anatomy wore down the challenger, who only could fight in spurts. Despite his success Pedroza couldn’t stop himself from fouling, and in the 14th he suffered his third point deduction for flagrant elbowing.

After all the fury and the fussing, Pedroza emerged victorious on the scorecards – 145-143, 144-142 and 144-141. Although the Bengals got in their share of licks (they out-gained the 49ers 356-275), San Francisco built a 20-0 halftime lead and held on to win 26-21 after the Bengals scored a TD with just 20 seconds left. 

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