2. Pipino Cuevas — 1971-1989, 35-15 (31)
In terms of raw, bone-breaking power, Pipino Cuevas’ left hook was among the most lethal the ring has ever known. The tales of its incredible force were legion during Cuevas’ welterweight title reign between July 1976 and August 1980. Countless speed bags were broken off its moorings and more than a few opponents’ facial bones suffered the same fate.
Leverage and torque was the key to Cuevas’ success with the hook. The best of them were compact and arrived with stunning speed and force, like the one that scored the first knockdown against Scott Clark in their January 1979 title fight. More often than not, though, Cuevas swung the hook in sweeping arcs but even they carried tremendous potency and inflicted horrific damage that sent opponents not only to the canvas and the dressing room but also to the hospital.
Angel Espada, from whom Cuevas won the title at age 18 to become history’s youngest welterweight champion, suffered a fractured jaw in their second and third meetings while Harold Weston incurred broken ribs to go along with his fractured mandible. Former welterweight champion Billy Backus retired after Cuevas’ hooks fractured his orbital bone. It was tales like these that made Cuevas one of the most feared fighters in the world during the late 1970s. In 12 title fights, only Randy Shields managed to last the full 15 rounds.
The one fight that changed the course of Cuevas’ career and legacy – his two-round KO loss to Thomas Hearns – could have turned out much differently had Cuevas won the exchange of hooks that occurred in the opening seconds. Because Hearns’ hook arrived a split-second earlier, Cuevas was the one who staggered backward and began the slide toward disaster. Though Cuevas fought on for nine more years, the hook remained an ever-present threat, for while he went just 8-8 in his final 16 fights, seven of those wins were by KO, and that savage hook was probably responsible for most, if not all of them.