Wilfred Benitez: The Fifth Member Part Three

03rd December 1982, Superdome, New Orleans

WBC Light-middleweight Title

Wilfred Benitez Vs Thomas Hearns

Thomas Hearns and Wilfred Benitez were due to face each other at New York's Madison Square Garden for the formers WBA welterweight title on 23rd February 1981. The card was billed as 'This is it' and would feature Gerry Cooney against Ken Norton, WBC light-heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad taking on WBA counterpart Eddie Mustafa Muhammad and WBC super-bantamweight champion facing Mike Ayala.

However, the show never happened when promoter Harold Smith, who was the chairman of Muhammad Ali Professional Sports (MAPS), disappeared amid allegations that he was involved in a $21.3 million fraud against Wells Fargo National Bank.

Before Benitez outpointed Roberto Duran last time out he claimed he would move up to middleweight. However, the $1.5 million dollars promised by promoter Don King was too much to resist.

The promoters had hoped to attract forty-thousand fans to the New Orleans Superdrome. Unfortunately there was an estimated crowd of twelve-thousand and a week before the contest King had persuaded both boxers to take a pay cut of $250,000 (Hearns was also guaranteed $1.5 million).

The co-main event of Wilfred Gomez defending his WBC super-bantamweight belt against WBC bantamweight champion Lupe Pintor, also agreed to take $125,000 less from their guaranteed $750,000 purses. In an exciting contest, Gomez, who was making the seventeenth title defence, knocked out Pintor in the fourteenth round.

Home Box Office showed the fight on pay-per-view and at one-hundred-and-fifty closed-circuit locations. Both Hearns and Benitez were twenty-four-years old as the challenger towered over his opponent by three inches (7 cm) and scaled in at 153¾ (69.74 KG), compared to the champion's 152 pound (68.95 KG).

Hearns used his height and reach advantages to good effect as he boxed behind the left jab and fired his right to the champion's body. Benitez, who was a master at counter punching off the ropes found Hearns' long frame difficult to do such a thing. He was effective at making the 'Hit Man' miss as the challenger built up quite a points lead, even with a point deducted towards the end of round four for holding the Puerto Rican's head down, Benitez still had it all to do to keep a hold of his title.

The jab was a dominating factor in the fifth as Hearns continued his hit and move tactics. As the round was coming to a close a jab followed by a right to Benitez' jaw put the champion on the canvas. The glancing right hand caused the Puerto Rican's legs to betray him as he staggered back and saved himself from falling flat on the mat with his gloves. As he remained upright Hearns tried to follow up with another right, as referee Octavio Meyran intervened and administered a count to the dismay of the champion.

Benitez wasn't badly hurt as he entered round six, a mile behind on the judges cards. The boxer was getting out boxed and had to turn things into a war if he had any chance of winning. The champion was much more aggressive in this round and actually had his man on the ropes for the first time in the contest. Benitez had to gamble as he left his chin exposed as Hearns was able to land his danger punch and had the Puerto Rican in all kinds of trouble at the bell.

Hearns continued to box in rounds seven and eight, with the champion getting closer with his right hand, but failing to make a dent on the 'Motor City Cobra'. The challenger caught the champion high on the head in the eighth and felt something give in his hand, failing to mention the pain to his corner on his return to Emanuel Steward.

A phantom knockdown was accredited to the champion late in the ninth. As he pulled back from a Benitez right hand counter, his legs tangled with his opponent's and he slipped to the canvas, as Meyran dished out an eight count.