In an attempt at bravado, as if he really didn't hear bombs ticking in the fists of Pipino Cuevas, Tommy (Hit Man) Hearns issued his own welterweight rankings before Saturday night's fight in Joe Louis Arena. The 10:30 p.m. bout will be shown on closed-circuit television at the Warner Theater in Washington.
As an 8-to-5 favorite to take the World Boxing Association championship from the Mexican, Hearns staked a claim to being the best of the big four in his division.
After himself, he placed World Boxing Council titleholder Roberto Duran, then Cuevas and finally Sugar Ray Leonard, for whom he was a sparring partner for a week in 1977. Later, he rated Wilfred Benitez above Leonard.
"Leonard would be easy for me," Hearns said. "As my other opponents have been; like he was against Duran."
In what seemed to be another contradiction, Hearns then said Leonard "fought like a girl" against Duran.
For all of his 26 knockouts in 28 winning bouts, the 21-year-old challenger was sounding as though he was trying to mask championship-fight jitters.
Opponents have remarked that the product of Detroit's East Side fixed an intimidating stare at them from his imposing 6 feet 2 1/2 inches, using it as a psychological weapon.
"The thing is," Hearns explained, "you begin staring real hard at a guy as soon as he gets into the ring. Your eyes never leave him. You don't blink, you just stare holes into him. I make him do all the thinking. The staring makes him wonder, makes him confused."
Hearns said in that connection: "Cuevas didn't show me that he was doing any thinking in his fight against Randy Shields (which Cuevas won by decision). Shields was always moving.
"I feel I'll have to outpoint Cuevas by a lot to take the title."
Cuevas has won 18 of his 32 bouts by knockout within the first five rounds; 24 of his 27 victories have come on knockouts. He has lost five fights.
Hearns has an even more impressive record for early knockouts, 22 of 26 within four rounds. Four came in the first round, six in the second, 10 in the third and two in the fourth.
The odds are 3 to 2 that the bout will end before the fifth round and, in view of that prospect, CBS has bought the rights to show the bout on home television. There will be no radio broadcast.
Mexican Cuevas says he is unconcerned about a possibly hostile crowd. A 22-year-old veteran of 10 title defenses, he will be earning, in effect, $100,000 a round if the bout goes the 15-round distance, or $1.5 million. Hearns' purse is $500,000.