1. “HE wasn’t much,” remembered Thomas Hearns’ trainer Emanuel Steward about his young protege when asked in 1980 about the beginning of their relationship. “In fact, he was one of worst fighters. He lost three of his first four amateur fights. But he wanted to be a fighter. The other guys would mess around, skip training, but not Thomas. He was totally dedicated.”
2. SO Steward persevered with the lanky young man. Hearns started to get the hang of fighting. Steward realised Hearns fists were laced with dynamite and, after they turned professional, nurtured a destroyer. By August 2 1980, the young welterweight was ready to challenge WBA champion Pipino Cuevas.
3. “I NEVER saw a welterweight hit as hard as this kid,” said promoter Bob Arum after watching Hearns destroy Pedro Rojas. “One punch and Rojas was on queer street. Nobody is going to beat this kid. Nobody is going to stand up to him. He hits better than Ray Robinson did.”
4. STEWARD predicted that his charge would destroy the accomplished Cuevas: “Cuevas could be the toughest fight,” he speculated, “or a very easy fight. I think Cuevas could be kayoed in the first round, because Pipino is too easy to hit, and no one who can be hit that easy can stand up to Thomas Hearns.”
5. FORMER world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, preparing for an ill-fated comeback, also tipped Hearns to triumph. “It will be a great fight in every way, but Hearns will win by knockout or decision because my group is backing him. I don’t back a loser. Really, the only way a smaller man like Cuevas can win is if he holds a big advantage in punching power or hand speed. Although he has hand speed and punching power he doesn’t have an edge over Hearns.”
6. THE prophecies rang true. Hearns – who entered the bring to the ‘Rocky’ theme tune – was frightening as he battered Cuevas into defeat in just two rounds at the Riverside Joe Louis Arena in Detroit in front of 14,000 fans. The promoters hoped the 21,000-seater venue would be full, but there was high unemployment in Detroit following a slump in the car making industry.
7. BUT the noise from the crowd was thunderous, much like Hearns’ punching. Lefts and rights rained all over the 5ft 8ins Cuevas from the opening bell and he was distressed. Never before had he felt punches like that, delivered with accuracy and spite, from a 6ft 1in frame designed for destruction.
8. THE champion barely survived the opening round, and his admirable spirit in the second hastened his fall. He could not land anything without clattering headfirst into the accurate violence Hearns was launching in return. Cuevas staggered all over the ring under the pressure, drunkenly trying to remain upright, swaying untidily to the beat of the challenger’s punches.
9. A VICIOUS right hand ended matters. Cuevas collapsed and it was clear on impact the thrashing was complete. The dazed loser was helped to his stool by his team and he sat on his stool for several minutes while the fog slowly cleared. “Hearns is too tall and long to be a welterweight,” he said when his senses returned.
10. HEARNS would grow out of the division, not before losing a thriller to Sugar Ray Leonard, and win world titles all the way up to light-heavyweight, cementing his reputation as one of the greatest fighters of all-time along the way. And on this night against Cuevas, he proved he was one of the hardest hitters to ever grace the sport of boxing.