by Fox Doucette
Repeat after me: Styles. Make. Fights. Tonight, we’ve put Miguel Cotto into the time machine fresh off one of his best wins, an eleven-round smackdown of Zab Judah where Cotto beat the fight out of Zab en route to that late stoppage. He faces Pipino Cuevas, who comes to us from his pasting of Harold Volbrecht in 1980, a five-round ass-whipping that saw Cuevas at his very best landing bombs at will. Will the deadly attack of the Mexican champion dent the chin of the Boricua legend? Or will Cotto’s tight, straight punches and exquisite timing be enough to wear his opponent down before the hammer falls?
(first time here? Read our Reader’s Guide here. )
The co-feature brings us one of those guys who’s as fundamentally sound a fighter as anyone who ever laced up the gloves in the form of Kostya Tszyu, who rode the mantle of being just enough better than his opponents in a very good but not great division all the way to a lengthy title run and a berth in the Hall of Fame. Tszyu had that basic boxer positioning with a puncher’s killer instinct, and we bring him in tonight after he wrecked the eardrum of Jesse James Leija and forced the stoppage in the sixth round.
Tszyu faces Aaron Pryor, another guy who had a student’s approach to the game, but combined it with a much more flamboyant style if his opponent was unable to earn his respect. Never was this more apparent than in his fight with Dujuan Johnson, and it is from that seven-round volume-punching, disco-dancing, get-this-guy-out-of-my-ring beatdown that Pryor gets shuttled into the time machine.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Kostya Tszyu (1/19/2003, 30-1, 24 KOs) vs. Aaron Pryor (11/14/81, 29-0, 27 KOs)
Aaron Pryor was a technically sound fighter with power to match, one of those terrifying champions whose place in the Hall of Fame would be assured in any era. If there was a knock on the Hawk, it was his unwillingness to move up in weight into a loaded welterweight division; Pryor stayed at 140 while the likes of Leonard, Duran, and Hearns were putting on wars seven pounds to the north.
Still, if you’ve got the power at the weight you’re at, and you want to clean out a division, knock a bunch of dudes out, and secure your legacy, there is nothing wrong with that. After all, it’s basically what Kostya Tszyu did.
The difference is in questions of the men’s durability. A very much in his prime Tszyu got completely wrecked by Vince Phillips in the late rounds, eating right hands like they were nachos at a Super Bowl party, and it was with that in mind that Pryor built his fight plan. He’d seen what Tszyu did to people who didn’t take him sufficiently seriously, and this was going to look more like the soon-to-come Alexis Arguello fight in terms of Pryor’s commitment to his training and his game plan.
For Tszyu, he was going to rely on the wisdom that carried him in every fight except the Phillips fight and the fight against Ricky Hatton that ended his career, the wisdom that no opponent would be able to lead with the right hand and expect to gain the upper hand in the fight.
Pryor came out sharpened to a razor’s edge in this fight. Eight weeks of proper training and 2015 sports medicine, combined with a sense of the moment and of his ability to show off his greatness in front of a history-minded crowd, energized the Cincinnati native, who had heard throughout the lead-up to the contest that Tszyu was a great fighter from a weak era and sought to prove that a fighter from a strong era could change the complexion of the fight.
Which is to say that Pryor started snapping out his jab and swinging the left hook like a warhammer. Tszyu had shown his tendency to get backed up by pressure in the Leija fight, even though Leija’s aggression was rarely effective with long, looping shots.
Pryor never threw a looping shot in his life unless it was to tee off on a nearly stationary target. Pryor’s hooks were crisp, his right crosses like supersonic missiles to bombard the face of the Russian by way of Australia.
There were two versions of Aaron Pryor in history. One was a guy who clowned around with weaker opponents and played a cat and mouse game. The other was a guy who could focus in key moments and key fights and show off a boxing skill that was beyond compare in his era.
We got the latter version of Pryor tonight.
Charged by the crowd, which cheered appreciatively at the fist pump Pryor gave them whilst en route to his corner between the first and second rounds, Pryor came back out to do more damage. Pryor never took his foot off the throat of his foe, knowing that if he did not keep up the pressure, a guy who could set himself and throw short but powerful hooks and uppercuts might just eat his lunch.
Tszyu kept hitting that back foot, and in his unrelenting backward momentum, he found himself an unfortunate victim of circumstance when, trying to get loose from being walked down, he went to escape out the side, ate a left hook, then stumbled forward into Pryor, whose momentum carried him around in such a way as to throw Tszyu against the turnbuckles in the ring—a side effect, one supposes, of using a ring that had previously in the day been used for an old-school professional wrestling exhibition involving Rowdy Roddy Piper and Gorilla Monsoon. One “sport” and its cinema verité proved quite bothersome when repurposed for another sport.
Said Jim Lampley, calling the fight: “They tell us it’s expensive to gas up the time machine and go drop in a new ring from some other arena in some other time.” His tone shifted to annoyed sarcasm as he continued: “Apparently violating the laws of reality itself requires a lot of fuel. So we get this ring, and Tszyu still looks dazed in there.”
Tszyu finished the round, but Pryor was completely in charge.
With Tszyu still showing signs of being hurt by the accidental foul in the previous round, Pryor switched to leading with the straight right that had worked so devastatingly for Vince Phillips, sometimes doubling it up, other times putting a left hook and a right uppercut behind it in a three-punch combination that rocked Tszyu like a ship in a typhoon.
This was turning into one of those “no man could beat this guy in this ring on this day from this point in history” moments. Tszyu’s corner wanted no more of the slaughter, cashing in their ticket back to 2003, where Tszyu could enjoy his 22-month retirement before coming back to beat Sharmba Mitchell.
At 1:57 of the third round, the towel landed in the sight line of Richard Steele and the fight was over. Said Lampley: “You do not mess with Aaron Pryor in his prime.”
RESULT: PRYOR TKO3 TSZYU.
Miguel Cotto (6/9/2007, 30-4, 25 KOs) vs. Pipino Cuevas (4/6/1980, 27-6, 24 KOs)
There has, in the history of this series, never been quite so binary a main event as this. Cuevas enjoys a three-inch reach advantage, an inch in height, and a left hook that, if it hits you, can end your night with one punch.
Cotto enjoys a preternatural ability to beat a guy to the punch, a tight, controlled straight right hand and left hook, and enough pop that if that straight right or his uppercut hits you, goodnight, sweetheart, the game’s over.
So we’ve got two guys, one smaller and compact, the other a wild chain swinging on a ship liable to decapitate the fool pirate who tries to grab the chain and get it fixed back down to the deck? It’ll be fun while it lasts…
Cuevas came out trying to get a sense of what was going to come at him and how much of a threat it posed. Cotto came out with his guard up, snapping out his jab rather than try to lead with the heavy stuff and get countered.
There are certain times in certain fights where the first round is two all-action fighters who step into the ring and as soon as the bell rings, immediately begin to attempt to decapitate each other; now was not the time for that. This would not be Hagler-Hearns or Louis-Schmeling II or Dempsey-Firpo. This was two fighters, each of whom respected the other’s power, with one man unwilling to open up the big hook with jabs coming at him and the other man unwilling to abandon the jab until his opponent started getting wide.
On the bright side from Cotto’s point of view, however, if the fight kept going like this, it would be twelve rounds of easy dominance during which he’d hardly have to sweat. For the first three rounds, that’s exactly what it was.
Someone must have had the good sense to alert Cuevas to what was going on; he was giving away the fight, and would have to take risks in order to win.
So Cuevas, still cognizant of that piston hitting him in the face with the consistency of a machine gun on a fighter plane, opened up in earnest. His shots got wider, trying to catch Cotto in between pumping out that jab and put him on the back foot.
Cotto, however, knew it was coming, as sure as if he’d called his opponent’s play in a game of Tecmo Bowl. Seamlessly he shifted from the double jab to the jab-cross-hook, the first freezing Cuevas, the second loosening his guard, and the third punch leaving him feeling he’d been hit by a car. What’s worse, one of those straight rights cracked the orbital bone of Cuevas and opened a nasty cut on the outside of the left eye. Referee Arthur Mercante ruled it from a punch (correctly, incidentally), which meant that Cuevas had no hope left on the cards, not if that nasty injury was going to be the death of him in the fight.
Cotto tightened up his shots and aimed them. Even though he was put in the time machine in 2007, his trainer tonight is Pedro Diaz, brought in from the second Margarito fight at risk of the Temporal Boxing Commission having a psychotic break upon learning the news.
This did not change the fact that Cuevas still needed to get wide with his shots in order to have any chance of working around the defenses of Cotto, and Cuevas kept getting beaten to the punch. Cotto pounded that eye, even switching southpaw inside to get a better angle with which to target the now-critical weak point of his opponent.
Ever just get frustrated with a lobster claw and start smashing the thing to bits with a hammer and digging the shards out of the meat? That’s pretty much what the right hand of Cotto was doing to Pipino Cuevas. By the end of the next round, Pipino’s eye was a bloody mess, swelling had developed around the eye itself, and vision? There was no vision. Pipino Cuevas was literally half blind.
At the end of round 6, Mercante wanted the fight to continue, but the corner of Cuevas stopped it, realizing just how far beyond messed up that eye truly was.
RESULT: COTTO TKO6 CUEVAS, AND ONE PISSED-OFF TEMPORAL COMMISSIONER.
It’s Part One of Here’s To The Losers! For the next two weeks, we’re going to have guys brought in from demoralizing losses in which many say they were never the same again…and we’re going to make them fight.
The main event pits Ernie Terrell, brought in from the night Muhammad Ali beat him utterly senseless in the “What’s My Name” fight, against Ron Lyle, the night George Foreman beat him silly in five rounds.
Speaking of Foreman victims, your co-feature involves longtime whipping boy of the What If series Joe Frazier. Can the man ever catch a break, or will he be so broken after his fight with Foreman that he will be unable to stand up to the attack of the version of Larry Holmes who had his career as a serious contender ended by Mike Tyson in 1988, ever after relegated to knocking out club fighters and losing those title shots he got purely based on his name?
Tune in to The Boxing Tribune every Friday at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific for Historical Fight Night, and if you want to get in on the new “Let’s Make History” behind-the-scenes column, it’s available as a reward to our Patreon supporters within an hour after the show goes live.
Thank you for reading!