Lee Groves

10: Notable Super Bowl week fights

4. Jan. 29, 1983, Roberto Duran KO 4 Pipino Cuevas – Sports Arena, Los Angeles, California

 

The 17th edition of the Super Bowl pitted two traditional powers in the Washington Redskins and Miami Dolphins. The two teams had met exactly 10 years earlier when the Dolphins, inexplicably a one-point underdog, completed their perfect season by beating the Skins 14-7. It also was fitting that their rematch was held at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, just a few miles from the Los Angeles Coliseum where the first meeting was staged.

Less than 24 hours earlier at the Sports Arena, two longtime powers in boxing met inside the squared circle. Roberto Duran once was the most feared lightweight in the world and his inspirational victory over Sugar Ray Leonard in “The Brawl in Montreal” was the stuff of legend. But by this point Duran had fallen on extremely hard times, for after the “No Mas” loss to Leonard in New Orleans an uninspired and occasionally flabby Duran plodded his way to victories over Nino Gonzalez, Luigi Minchillo and Jimmy Batten and back-to-back losses to Wilfred Benitez and Kirkland Laing. Many believed the fire that had burned within the mighty Panamanian had been reduced to fumes.

Cuevas, too, was at a critical crossroads in his career. During his best days, Cuevas’ bone-breaking hooks cut a swath through the history books and after registering 10 knockouts in 11 defenses he was thought by many to be one of the outstanding champions the welterweight division had ever known. But all the accolades were blown to bits at the powerful hands of Thomas Hearns, who scored an emasculating two-round knockout victory before his home fans in Detroit. Since then, Cuevas scored two early knockouts over Bernardo Prada and Joergen Hansen but in his most recent outing he was on the wrong end of THE RING’s 1981 Upset of the Year when Roger Stafford scored a second-round knockdown and captured a wide 10-round decision.

Although both men were down and out in terms of career path, their names still carried immense power. Duran vs. Cuevas not only was a hot ticket it also was a rare dual-division title eliminator. A Duran victory would vault him into a fight with WBA junior middleweight titlist Davey Moore while a Cuevas win would put him in prime position to challenge the winner of Donald Curry-Jun Suk Hwang for the WBA welterweight belt.

The prospect of facing Cuevas motivated Duran to whip himself into fantastic shape as he weighed a trim 152 while the prospect of facing Duran pushed Cuevas to come in at a ready 149, so, in a cosmetic sense at least, fans had a true Dream Fight on their hands. The question was whether either man could live up to his respective legend.

The answer: An emphatic yes – on both sides.

Duran opened by wisely boxing at long distance, jabbing well, moving nimbly and connecting with pinpoint rights. Cuevas, for his part, stalked steadily and hammered Duran’s body with both hands. While Duran beat Cuevas in a battle of hooks in round two, the fight’s first six minutes largely belonged to the crowd favorite Cuevas. Near the end of the second Cuevas landed five consecutive power punches but Duran’s iron chin passed yet another test.

The third bore witness to a breathtaking brawl that had the crowd cheering as robustly as the fighters were punching. A hook that spun Cuevas’ body was answered with a flush right that caromed off Duran’s chin. Duran’s double hooks to the head and body brought back more blasts from Cuevas. It was everything one could have hoped for, and more.

Alas, it wouldn’t – and couldn’t – last. A needle-straight right to the jaw hurt Cuevas in round four and a follow-up volley sent the Mexican sprawling into the corner pad. With Cuevas deeply gulping in air – surely the result of Duran’s own body attack – Duran worked him over along the ropes until a cluster of blows highlighted by a hook to the ribs collapsed Cuevas’ legs. Though Cuevas rose by nine, his corner drew referee James Jen-Kin’s attention and forced him to stop the fight at the 2:26 mark. 

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