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Normally a placid 20-year-old, when he gets into the ring Pipino Cuevas becomes what his fellow Mexicans call a tipo asesino—an assassin type. At the start of the first round, he surges out of his corner throwing punches as if his opponent had just insulted his mother. For this reason, and others, Pipino Cuevas is the welterweight boxing champion of the world.
Carlos Palomino, a 28-year-old college graduate, usually starts his fights slowly, watching for openings. He gets stronger and more assertive as the match wears on. An opponent must either take Palomino out early or suffer a battering. He is more a surgeon than an assassin. Palomino also is the welterweight boxing champion of the world.
The World Boxing Association recognizes Cuevas, the World Boxing Council recognizes Palomino, and everyone recognizes that a match between the two would not only settle the title but also be a very big draw. "The thing that's holding it up is money," says Palomino at his Huntington Beach, Calif. home. "The networks or the promoters are unwilling to pay what each one of us is asking, say, $500,000 each. In an age when they're putting up millions of dollars for the heavyweights, I can't see why they can't pay a fraction of that to title-holders in another division. And this would be a more interesting fight than most heavyweight matches that can be made right now."
Cuevas won his version of the title July 17, 1976, in Mexicali, Mexico, by knocking out Angel Espada in the second round. The toughest of his six defenses was a return engagement against Espada in San Juan, Puerto Rico late last year; Cuevas won that one on an 11th-round knockout, or about nine rounds late for him.
Cuevas now fights mostly in California, where his matches are promoted by ex- Los Angeles Rams Placekicker Danny Villanueva, now a sportscaster on KMEX, a Spanish-language TV station in Los Angeles. "The rumor is that Cuevas fights three rounds in the dressing room before he even goes out to fight," says Villanueva. "I'm not kidding you."
"I've seen a few of his fights," Palomino says. "Only one in person, the others on television. Cuevas is a very strong guy. He depends a lot on his left hand. He's a hooker from the word go. He starts a fight very, very fast; just comes out smoking. But one thing, he's very easy to hit. He can be hit just about at will. I'm very confident I can beat him for that reason. Cuevas hasn't fought anybody with a punching ability in my class."
" Cuevas is fairly easy to hit," agrees Palomino's manager, Jackie McCoy. "And he does sure enough come out swinging, all right. The only thing is, Cuevas is very dangerous those early rounds. He seems to tire as the rounds go by, but he's liable to kill about three guys before he runs out of gas. That's the bad part."
Cuevas, who is listed as " Jose Pipino Cuevas" in The Ring record book but as Pipino Cuevas Gonzalez on his birth certificate, is part Italian on his mother's side of the family, hence the Italian diminutive Pipino rather than the Spanish Pepe. The son of a butcher, he grew up in the Colonia Panamericana section of Mexico City with four brothers and six sisters.
According to Villanueva, Cuevas got into a lot of trouble as a boy, so his father took him to a gym at age 13. At 14 he turned professional and suffered four early losses—two in 1972, two in 1973—but only one since. At 18 he was a champion, decking Espada with, yes, a left hook.
Cuevas' training base for the last three years has been a second-floor public gymnasium above the Arce Public Baths in Mexico City. There the young fighter is put through his daily hour-and-a-quarter workouts by Manager Lup� Sanchez. Cuevas loves to train, says Villanueva, does everything Sanchez tells him to do and stays away from serious social entanglements. It has paid off: he owns five automobiles—an LTD, a Valiant, a Gremlin, two Dodges—and a four-ton truck. The truck is for hauling meat to the three butcher shops he has bought for his father. Cuevas is also a qualified butcher—in the literal sense.