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A fan remembers: Leonard-Duran II 40 years later

Leonard got his revenge over Duran in New Orleans. Photo from The Ring archive
25
Nov

Forty years ago today, the boxing world witnessed one of its most seismic moments: Roberto Duran turning his back on Sugar Ray Leonard and telling referee Octavio Meyran multiple times that he didn’t want to continue fighting. Although Duran has repeatedly said he never uttered the words “no mas” to Meyran, Leonard-Duran II instantly became the ” ‘No Mas’ fight,” so much so that “Uno Mas” was used as the tagline for their rubber match nine years later.

Duran’s surrender was so unthinkable that it spawned a legion of amateur detectives and psychiatrists. They posited a variety of motives in the hopes of cracking the code because Duran’s own explanation — stomach cramps — seemed too simplistic and too limited to produce such an epic result. The avalanche of speculation served to overshadow the remarkable achievement produced by the fight’s winner; not only did Leonard avenge his only professional defeat to date and regain the WBC welterweight title he lost just five months earlier, he forced the sport’s ultimate warrior to carry out the ultimate act of submission. His combination of athletic superiority and psychological mastery allowed Leonard to conquer the man who had once conquered him in the most emphatic manner, and in rejoining the roll call of champions, Leonard also inflicted a permanent scar on Duran’s legacy. In that moment, he owned Duran — mind, body and soul.

The following is one man’s recollection of this touchstone event, an event so fascinating on so many levels because it involved two all-time greats with contrasting styles, backgrounds and mindsets and because it best illustrates the truth behind Hall of Famer Larry Merchant’s declaration that boxing is the theater of the unexpected.

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On Thursday, November 25, 1980, I was just days away from celebrating my 16th birthday. Despite my young years, I had already invested more than six-and-a-half years of my life into “The Sweet Science” and the reason I made that decision was because of what Roberto Duran did against Esteban DeJesus on March 16, 1974. On that scorching, sun-drenched Saturday afternoon at the Gimnasio Nuevo Panama in Panama City, Duran faced the highly regarded Esteban DeJesus for the second time. WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh (my area’s ABC affiliate) aired the match and I tuned in just as broadcaster Howard Cosell began detailing a most compelling storyline: Duran, the reigning WBA lightweight titleholder, was facing the only man to have defeated him in his 42-fight career as well as the only man to have floored him —  and this time Duran’s championship was on the line. Would DeJesus repeat his triumph or would Duran exact his revenge? That was enough for this nine-year-old to keep the channel selector where it was, and that decision ended up changing my life.

The fight more than lived up to its preamble. Just as he had done in New York 16 months earlier, DeJesus decked Duran with a hook to the jaw in the fight’s opening round, and, at least for a few moments, it looked as if Duran’s championship reign was imperiled. Duran, flashing a sheepish grin, regained his feet, then regained his footing by forcing DeJesus into ferocious toe-to-toe exchanges. The first five rounds of this match remain among the most intense I’ve seen, but the pulsating pace — combined with the searing heat — eventually broke the challenger’s stamina and his will to fight. Duran floored DeJesus in the seventh and scored a fight-finishing second knockdown in the 11th. Duran’s fusion of skill and savagery had an enormous effect on me; moments after the telecast ended I raced into my older sister’s bedroom, began throwing punches in the air and yelling “look at me! Look at me! I’m Duran! I’m Duran!” She looked at me, all right — she looked at me as if I were crazy. In a way I was — I was crazy for boxing.

Over the next several years I made it my mission to learn everything I could about this exciting new sport. I checked out library books, watched every fight that aired on ABC, NBC and CBS — I didn’t have access to cable channels or closed-circuit theaters in rural West Virginia — and, starting with the April 1977 issue of The Ring, purchased every boxing magazine I could get my hands on and committed much of what I read to memory. During down moments in study hall, I would scribble various lists in my notebook such as fighters who won more than one divisional championship and would write reports of “fantasy fights” such as Duran versus Alexis Arguello. My devotion to boxing was such that one of my earliest term papers was a history of the heavyweight championship and the sport became such a huge part of my identity that teachers not only would ask me my opinion on upcoming big fights but appeared to take my answers seriously. There was a reason for that: Even then, I was right much more often than I was wrong.

One of the highlights of my week was the shopping trips to either New Martinsville, W.Va. “up the river” or to Parkersburg, W.Va. when we traveled “down the river.” On our journeys to New Martinsville, the first stop was to drop me off at the public library so I could pore over the 1972 Ring Record Book and, after my mother and sister picked me up, one of the final stops was Witschey’s Market where I would buy the latest copies of the boxing magazines. When we traveled to Parkersburg, I purchased my periodicals at the People’s News bookstore in St. Marys, W.Va. or at Waldenbooks inside the Grand Central Mall in nearby Vienna, W.Va.

My passion for boxing was all-consuming and ceaseless, and Roberto Duran — the first winning fighter I ever saw — was the man who ignited it. Because of that, he earned a special and unique status with me.

(Original Caption) Las Vegas, Nevada: Leonard (right) takes on Wilfred Benitez.

Like just about everyone else, my first impressions of Leonard were formed during the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, also aired by ABC. Although lightweight gold medalist Howard Davis Jr. won the Val Barker Trophy as the tournament’s most outstanding boxer, it was Leonard, who won gold at light welterweight, that was the team’s breakout star with his megawatt smile, unmistakable charisma and superlative skills. I followed his subsequent professional career closely on CBS, then on ABC, and appreciated how well he performed against increasingly difficult opponents. The experts agreed to the point that Leonard was installed as a 3-1 favorite to dethrone WBC welterweight titleholder Wilfred Benitez, who entered the fight with a 38-0-1 (25) record that included a 6-0 (2) mark in world title fights. Their center-ring stare down was the stuff of legend, as was Leonard’s all-around performance. He out-boxed the boxer, was more elusive than the defensive wizard and scored knockdowns in rounds three and 15 en route to a stoppage victory just six seconds before the scheduled end of the bout.

With Leonard’s victory over Benitez, he and Duran were officially placed on a collision course. Duran never again fought at lightweight after stopping WBC counterpart DeJesus in their January 1978 rubber match to become undisputed champion and he ran off eight consecutive victories at welterweight and super welterweight to run his winning streak to 39 fights. Meanwhile, Leonard scored a spectacular one-punch KO over Dave “Boy” Green to retain his championship before his home state fans in Landover, Md. as part of a four-fight, three-city prime-time telecast on ABC that included two other title fights in Knoxville, Tenn. (Eddie Gregory KO 11 Marvin Johnson and Mike Weaver KO 15 John Tate) and a third in Las Vegas (Larry Holmes KO 8 Leroy Jones).

Once the fight was signed, Duran, fueled by a deep-seated resentment of Leonard’s “all-American” image and what he saw were undeserved riches and superstar treatment, whipped himself into exquisite physical condition and into a murderous emotional froth. Also, like Muhammad Ali before his fights with Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier and George Foreman, Duran further tightened the screws by engaging in an extended and well executed assault on Leonard’s psyche. Duran hurled insults at every public event, a gambit that left Leonard confused, emasculated and enraged. The final skewer came at the weigh-in when Duran looked down at Leonard’s wife Juanita and declared “after I beat him, I f*** you!”

The storm of emotions was too much for Leonard to handle, and, according to his autobiography “The Big Fight: My Life In and Out of the Ring,” Leonard felt distracted, empty and distressed upon leaving the dressing room. To make matters worse, the crowd at Olympic Stadium shunted aside Leonard’s gold medal exploits in 1976 and opted to cheer for Duran and to boo him. Meanwhile, Duran had achieved a perfect synchronicity of mind, body and spirit and for 15 rounds he imposed his strength, technique, instinct and intelligence. It was a masterclass on infighting and ring generalship on Duran’s part and while the scorecards were closer than the action suggested (148-147, 146-144, 145-144), Duran still walked out of the ring as a two-division champion. For Duran, it was his finest hour and with a record of 72-1 (56 KOs) that included 40 consecutive victories, “Manos de Piedra” was, pound-for-pound and inch-for-inch, the best fighter on the planet.

Duran (left) and Leonard in their thriller from June 1980. Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

The accolades for Duran poured in from media and boxing fans alike. Duran joined Henry Armstrong and Barney Ross as the only fighters to that point to win the lightweight and welterweight championships and the sporting public held the Panamanian in such high esteem that a reader poll printed in the January 1981 issue of The Big Book of Boxing placed Duran second behind Sugar Ray Robinson as the greatest welterweight of all time (Leonard, by the way, finished fifth behind Armstrong and Jose Napoles and ahead of Ross, Thomas Hearns, Kid Gavilan, Emile Griffith and Pipino Cuevas).

In “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu wrote the following: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” The analytical and perceptive Leonard got to know Duran well during the pre-fight buildup, learned even more about him inside the ring, and used that knowledge to maximize his chances of gaining vengeance.

Leonard knew that Duran loved the party life between fights because, to Duran, it was his reward for the victories he earned as well as for the hard training and the constricting discipline that preceded those victories.

“People don’t understand what it takes to become a champion in boxing,” Duran wrote in his autobiography “I Am Duran.” “You have to bust your a** every day, every week, for months on end — and then get up the next morning and do it all over again. You know what it’s like to train for two or three months? You go crazy! It’s the most difficult thing you can ever do. So I busted my a** training; now it was time to go to the disco, start f***ing around. I deserved it! And after the Leonard fight, that became the norm for me.”

Conversely, Leonard was a fitness fanatic who never went more than a week without engaging in some form of exercise. As a result, his weight remained between 145 and 155 at all times and that behavior pattern gave him the flexibility to begin hard training at a moment’s notice and to spend his camps crafting and perfecting strategy instead of focusing on dropping weight.

By Duran’s account, he weighed nearly 200 pounds when he received a September phone call from manager Carlos Eleta that he and promoter Don King had committed Duran to a rematch with Leonard. The good news: Duran was guaranteed a minimum of $8 million, far more than the career-high $1.5 million payday he got in fight one. The bad news: In order to get the money he had to fight Leonard November 25 in New Orleans — just five months and five days after his triumph in Montreal.

The news horrified Duran; he had heard — accurately it turned out — that Leonard was considering retirement, but unbeknownst to Duran, Leonard’s competitive juices began to return two days after the former champion and his wife began vacationing in Honolulu. That urge then prompted Leonard to call lawyer and business manager Mike Trainer and inform him that he wanted to fight Duran again. According to Leonard’s autobiography, Trainer advised him to wait a few days, and if the desire was still there, to call him then. Leonard followed his counsel’s counsel, and once he confirmed that his need to compete was still there he made that call. With that, the wheels toward making Duran-Leonard II began to turn.

Leonard’s decision to seek the rematch so soon after his loss was a stroke of genius, not just because the move amplified Leonard’s strengths and exploited Duran’s weaknesses outside the ring but also because their June fight was so successful aesthetically and financially. Their 15-round “Brawl in Montreal” was a Fight of the Year candidate and public interest in a second act so soon after the first was strong enough to virtually guarantee box-office success. Trainer smartly parlayed his client’s star power not only to secure a $7 million payday but also to dictate the terms of battle. Those terms included a 21-by-21 foot ring that would give Leonard plenty of room to maneuver while also making Duran’s job of cutting off Leonard’s escape routes that much harder.

July 1980 issue

Perhaps knowing about the larger ring surface, Leonard transformed his game plan; in fight one he was so hell-bent on punishing Duran for his pre-fight rhetoric that he ignored chief second Angelo Dundee’s stick-and-move game plan in favor of a crowd-pleasing but foolish toe-to-toe war. This time, Leonard intended to move side-to-side instead of straight back, to keep the action at ring center as much as possible, to use uppercuts to split the charging Duran’s guard and to immediately pivot to one side or the other whenever Duran tried to pin him to the ropes.

Another vital component was to attack Duran’s manhood, and, according to Leonard’s autobiography, that idea came from older brother Roger.

“Ray, you got to embarrass Duran,” he said. “When you do, he will lose trust in himself and you will have him. Duran has to always be the macho man. Make fun of him, and he will not know how to handle it.”

In contrast to Leonard’s resolve, Duran, dreading the process of shedding so much weight in such a short period of time, was depressed, lethargic and disinterested. He made matters worse by continuing to party once he returned to Panama, after which he began his desperate descent down the scale.

“A baby could have punched me and it would have felt like a heavyweight, that’s how drained I was,” Duran wrote. “I felt rotten from the day I started training again, and it stayed that way right up to the day of the fight. A few days before the fight, I saw Leonard running outside the Superdome and I told Plomo (his first trainer and longtime friend) ‘this guy is going to get away from me.’ ”

Following a regimen that included daily sauna sessions, doses of diuretics and two days of starvation, Duran arrived at the weigh-in staged at noon the day of the fight and scaled 146, the same weight as Leonard, whose torso appeared more sculpted than was the case in June. Leonard’s 146 was fit, strong and dynamic while Duran’s 146 was achieved only after dropping the final two pounds the morning of the match.

Once it was confirmed to Duran that he had fulfilled his contractual obligation of scaling under 147, the Panamanian immediately chugged a large thermos of consomme and a half-a-thermos of hot tea. He then reportedly devoured a giant orange, two enormous T-bone steaks, French fries, four large glasses of orange juice and/or tomato juice, two glasses of water and a cup of tea. At dinner, he consumed half-a-steak and followed a cup of very hot coffee with a cup of very cold water. After denying himself for weeks on end, the sudden tsunami of calories had to have been a major shock to his system. As for Leonard, he had the luxury of eating a relatively hearty breakfast — two eggs and grits, two pieces of toast, peaches and Kool-Aid — before the weigh in.

While Leonard’s physique and confidence sent a strong message to the general public, his attire further illustrated his level of seriousness: Black robe, black trunks, black shoes and black socks. “I would have put on black gloves if they had let me,” he wrote. There was not a tassel in sight, and the only departure from the theme was the gold-lettered “Leonard” on his robe and on his belt-line as well as thin golden stripes that extended from waist to thigh. When Leonard asked Trainer in the dressing room how he looked, the manager had the perfect response: “You look like a mix of the Grim Reaper and an assassin.”

It was clear to everyone — including Duran — that this was a far different Leonard than the one he faced in June. And, unfortunately for everyone — especially Duran — this also was a far different Duran than Leonard faced in June.

The atmosphere was also in sharp contrast to the scene in Montreal. That city’s heavily pro-Duran crowd was replaced by one that favored Leonard and the crowning moment of the pre-fight fanfare occurred when Ray Charles — the namesake of Ray Charles Leonard — sang “America the Beautiful.” Just before he left the ring, Charles leaned in toward Leonard’s right ear and made one final request: “Kick his a**!”

The first clue that this night would turn out differently came in the bout’s onset as a placid Duran actually stuck out his left arm as if he wanted to touch gloves with Leonard , something the “Brawl in Montreal” version of Duran never would have considered, much less tried. Leonard, who probably would have granted the request in fight one, ignored the entreaty in fight two. The second clue revealed itself moments later as Leonard effortlessly moved around the champion in tight circles while Duran, the owner of the “Hands of Stone,” also displayed legs of stone as the very act of moving toward Leonard seemed overly laborious.

A third took place when Duran tentatively tried to charge at Leonard; the challenger lifted his arms, skittered along the ropes to his right and easily glided to ring center the moment he sensed danger while Duran, unable to close the distance, quickly aborted his attack and opted to reset. It quickly became apparent that Leonard was primed, proactive and in full command of his weaponry while Duran was tentative, reactive and out of sorts.

Duran atypically bit on Leonard’s feints and Leonard’s first serious jab attempt easily got past Duran’s gloves and connected flush. Duran’s next charge was more successful in that he landed a light right to the ribs, but even then, Leonard’s lightning legs helped him escape before the off-balance Duran could fire another blow. As the round neared its end, Leonard connected with a right that Duran mostly rolled away from, then with a cleaner cross that drew a smiling sneer from Duran. At the bell, Leonard fired an icy stare at the champion while Duran simply turned his back and trudged toward his corner.

Although few punches were landed, the challenger was able to establish new rules of engagement, rules that had historically worked against the Panamanian.

Even during his lightweight prime, Duran was extended by opponents who displayed above-average speed. The nimble Edwin Viruet twice took Duran the scheduled distance (10 rounds in fight one, 15 rounds in the rematch), as did Saoul Mamby (10 rounds) and DeJesus (10 rounds, 11 rounds and 12 rounds). Heavy underdogs Vilomar Fernandez, Lou Bizzarro, Ray Lampkin and Leoncio Ortiz managed to take Duran into the 13th, 14th, 14th and 15th rounds before being stopped and Zeferino Gonzalez — nicknamed “Speedy” — lasted the 10-round distance with the 149 1/2-pound Duran thanks to his pesky mobility. Given this history, was it any surprise that this version of Leonard would fare very well against any version of Duran, especially the ill-prepared and unmotivated shell that showed up in New Orleans?  Moreover, the difference between Leonard and the other listed boxers was that Leonard possessed elite skill as well as above-average power in both hands.

Between rounds, the sharply observant Leonard noticed Duran’s downbeat demeanor and pointed at Duran’s corner as if to say, “look at him!” It was evident that Leonard was drawing strength from Duran’s weakness and even then, he sensed that success was just around the corner.

“Almost immediately, Duran knew, (Howard) Cosell knew, and the thousands of fans in the Superdome and the millions tuning in on closed-circuit knew: I was not the same man I was in Montreal,” Leonard wrote. “I wasn’t standing still. I was dancing and jabbing, and Duran did not seem energized by every blow he absorbed. It was my turn to get inside his head. Aggressive as usual, he got me toward the ropes, but I spun away and connected with a hard right, and landed a solid combination before the bell. Round two offered more of the same. The strong start ensured I wouldn’t have to claw from behind as I did the first time.”

Leonard’s jab gave Duran a nightmare. Photo from The Ring archive

The second round proceeded much like the first, with the highlight being a pair of chopping rights that ignited a fury within Duran. But as charged-up as he was, Duran couldn’t make Leonard stand still as he had in Montreal. Instead, Leonard shifted from side to side, connected with counters and subtly turned Duran so that his own back was pointed away from the ropes. It was a marvelous display of ring generalship and there was little Duran could do to change the pattern.

The lone impediment to Leonard’s game plan was a soft spot in the ring approximately eight feet from Duran’s corner, apparently the result of loose boards that sagged whenever anyone got near them. The mindful Leonard made sure to limit the time he spent in that area, and during those few moments when they were at close range Leonard smothered Duran’s arms, made sure to throw the uppercuts he practiced during training, and waited for Meyran to break them.

When he returned to the corner following Round 2, Leonard came to the following conclusion: “He’s gone. Duran is gone.”

But even during the worst of times, great champions find a way to break through from time to time. Duran produced a few good moments in rounds three (when he forced Leonard into an extended exchange along the ropes), four (when he trapped Leonard on the strands and connected with several body punches) and five (when he landed a whistling hook and a whipping cross during a late exchange) but those moments were overshadowed by Leonard’s higher quality work. Leonard nailed the lunging Duran with sharp counters, closed the inside exchanges with blistering combinations and seemed to have the right answer for every tactic Duran tried.

But Duran could not have been prepared for the surprise Leonard unveiled a little more than midway through Round 7, a tactic that befuddled, bedazzled and perhaps broke the high priest of machismo.

It began with a shimmy of the shoulders, then an exaggerated upper-body waggle. As the buzz of the crowd intensified, so did Leonard’s taunts: He leaned forward and jutted out his chin, shrugged his shoulders, fired a quick combination and unveiled his version of the “Ali Shuffle,” a move that caused Duran to pound his chest as if to say “stop that and fight me!”

But Leonard continued to tease Duran, and his shenanigans reached their crescendo with 25 seconds remaining when he helicoptered his right arm to divert Duran’s attention then popped him with a flush jab to the face. As ringsiders laughed at Leonard’s schoolyard move, Cosell was amazed by the challenger’s brazenness.

“Now the bolo…and he caught him with the left!” Cosell reported. “And he’s got Duran openly — not just furious, but puzzled. Duran troubled by the movement. Dundee would be well advised, I think, to tell Leonard to stop that.”

According to Leonard, Dundee did just that between rounds seven and eight.

“You don’t need to do that,” Leonard quoted Dundee as saying. “You’re about to be the welterweight champion of the world.”

Dundee was proven right, but no one could have ever predicted the fashion by which he was proven right.

Leonard returned to serious boxing in Round 8 and he out-boxed the champion with comfortable ease. His jabs popped, his hooks and crosses hit their targets and he kept the fight mostly at ring center. But just as it appeared that Leonard was about to put another round in the bank, Duran suddenly threw up his right glove and began walking toward his corner. Leonard, thinking Duran was setting a trap, leaped in and connected with a solid right to the stomach and a hook to the hip. Meyran jumped in to separate the two and as he asked Duran for an explanation, Duran waved his right arm in frustration and threw up his left arm as if to say, “screw it, I’m done.” Meanwhile, Leonard, instantly recognizing what Duran was doing, triumphantly raised his arms while walking toward his corner.

Meyran, however, wanted to give Duran one more chance to change his mind. He yelled at Leonard to get his attention and smacked his hands together in the classic signal to resume fighting. Duran, however, was resolute; he waved his right glove, then said something to Meyran that prompted the Mexican official to stop the fight.

At 2:44 of Round 8, Sugar Ray Leonard completed his quest for redemption while Roberto Duran transformed his reputation in most ignominious fashion.

As the jubilant Leonard leaped onto the neutral corner ropes, Cosell spoke for the entire sporting world when he asked, “what?!” A split-second later, Cosell spoke the words no one thought anyone would ever utter: “Duran has quit! Roberto Duran has quit! There can be no other explanation! Pandemonium in the ring! And Roberto Duran has quit!”

Leonard’s entourage tried to lift him onto their shoulders but the fighter, rage creasing his face, used his right glove to slap away the hands that sought to elevate him. Instead, Leonard approached Duran and offered a hug, an offer Duran accepted.

Heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, who provided analysis for the closed-circuit telecast, said again and again, “I don’t understand it.”

Forty years later, the boxing world is still struggling to understand it.

“I never said ‘no mas’ ” Duran wrote. “This is the truth. I just turned my back and motioned to the referee that I didn’t want to continue. Howard Cosell made that crap up because he didn’t like me. When the referee asked me what I was doing, all I said was “no sigo,” I couldn’t go on, I couldn’t keep fighting. It wasn’t my night. I felt like crap, but I never said, ‘no mas.’

Meyran, however, said he did.

“I said, ‘fight!’ in Spanish,” he said in the ESPN documentary “No Mas,” “He said, ‘no more’ (the English translation of “no mas”). I ask again to continue boxing so I can assure myself and not commit an error. And Duran said, ‘no more.’ ”

Leonard exacts revenge. Photo from The Ring archive

The ramifications of Duran’s act were swift and wrenching on several levels. Duran’s purse was said to have been withheld by the athletic commission but the following day he was fined $7,500 because his $8 million purse had already been deposited in Panama. The listed reason: “Non performance.”

Only five months earlier, Duran stood atop boxing’s summit as a bona fide icon on the heels of his greatest triumph, aesthetically and athletically. Now, the good name he began to build upon turning pro in February 1968 was in tatters. The images of Duran’s terrifying lightweight title reign, the Satanic visage that prompted Joe Frazier to equate Duran with mass murderer Charles Manson and the freshly minted memories of his first fight with Leonard were swept away with a dismissive swipe of the hand. For many, it was cool to be down on Duran.

He became a world-wide punch line and the phrase “no mas” remains part of the global lexicon. For Duran, however, the greatest pain was inflicted by the people of Panama. The same countrymen who celebrated his triumphs with parades now called him a coward, a bastard and a traitor, among other names. They vandalized his mother’s home and schoolmates teased his children. His longtime trainers — 83-year-old Ray Arcel and 79-year-old Freddie Brown — were so heartbroken and so stricken by disbelief that they effectively retired from the sport, though Arcel was in the corner of Holmes when he fought Gerry Cooney in June 1982.

As for me, I only heard about Duran’s surrender via radio reports, and my initial reaction was shock and disappointment. The Duran I knew never would do such a thing, but when I saw the network replay on ABC on the night of December 19 I finally saw what everyone else saw. I couldn’t, however, turn my back on Duran because he had produced so many excellent performances and created so many great memories. How could I forsake the man who ignited my passion for boxing?

Still, I wondered why Duran would turn his back on Leonard, on his fans, on the sport and on his legacy. I don’t recall what I believed then but I know what I believe now: Instead of a single cause I think it was a perfect storm of physical, emotional and external factors. The massive weight loss and his gorge-fest following the noon weigh-in established a horrible baseline that was only worsened by Leonard’s brilliantly executed fight plan. The taunting of Round 7 may well have been the final straw; it was one thing to be out-boxed but it was another to be the butt of a rival’s joke before thousands of witnesses — especially for such a prideful man and for such a pure warrior. Duran gave it one more try in Round 8, but once it became clear that matters would only get worse — and when he realized there were still seven more rounds to fight after this one — Duran pulled the escape hatch. The relief he felt lasted only a few moments,  but that relief turned into regret once he realized the ramifications of what he had just done. He said as much in his autobiography.

“I’m a proud man, but also an impulsive one,” he wrote. “sometimes I make a bad decision, and in due course, I’m brought up short and think, ‘oh s**t.’ This was one of those moments — the biggest ‘oh s**t’ moment of my life — but it was too late. I’d let my emotions get the better of me. I didn’t know the world would react the way it did, and I didn’t know I would get treated like s**t for so long. I didn’t know it would haunt me for the rest of my life. But it happened. I have no regrets.”

As much as I still loved Duran the fighter, I harbored no ill will toward Leonard, a marvelously skilled tactician who deserves the highest marks for his extraordinary accomplishments in this fight. My admiration for him continued through the years; in fact, based on the public workout footage I saw a few days before the match, I declared Leonard would defeat Marvelous Marvin Hagler by split decision in the original draft of the Hagler-Leonard prediction column I wrote for my college newspaper, but shortly before sending the final proofs to the printer I got cold feet and changed the copy to read Hagler by split decision. That episode taught me the value of sticking by my first instinct, and I’ve done my best to follow it ever since.

When it was announced Duran would return to the ring against Nino Gonzalez in August 1981, I walked over to my neighbor’s house to visit one of my closest friends during my teen years, Chuck Jobes, the day before the fight was televised on CBS. Both of us were deeply competitive and while he smoked me in basketball, I did the same to him in all things boxing. I asked him to make a prediction on Duran-Gonzalez and his guess was Gonzalez by eighth-round TKO, no doubt a reference to the result of the “No Mas” fight. As for me, I guessed Duran would win a 10-round decision, and, for the record, Duran did just that by scores of 48-45, 48-44 and 47-43 under the five-point must system then in effect in Ohio.

Like virtually all of his fans, my spirits rose and fell in lock step with Duran’s results in the ring. But who could have guessed that Duran would manage to resurrect his career not once, but twice? Following his listless 10-round loss to Kirkland Laing – The Ring’s 1982 Upset of the Year — promoter Don King abandoned him while King’s rival Bob Arum, at the recommendation of matchmaker Teddy Brenner, signed Duran. After victories over Jimmy Batten (the Aaron Pryor-Arguello I walk-out fight) and Pipino Cuevas, the revitalized Duran regained the world’s esteem by crushing defending WBA junior middleweight belt holder Davey Moore to capture his third divisional title. Duran’s second revival occurred in the wake of his smashing two-round KO loss to Thomas Hearns and his 10-round split decision loss to Robbie Sims three fights later; he rolled off five straight wins to earn a shot at WBC middleweight boss Iran Barkley, and after 12 scintillating rounds the 37-year-old Duran, who floored Barkley in the 11th, joined Leonard and Hearns as the only men to date who had won world titles in four weight classes.

Shortly after Roberto Duran was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, writer Lee Groves — whose passion for boxing was ignited by Duran’s second fight with Esteban DeJesus — presents him with an album containing DVDs of Duran’s fights, sparring sessions and TV specials. Groves counts this as one of the proudest moments of his life and the photo remain the profile picture on his Facebook account. Photo by Boxing Bob Newman

One of the proudest moments of my life was my first face-to-face meeting with Duran in June 2007. A few months earlier I purchased Christian Giudice’s biography on Duran and read that while the Panamanian legend had plenty of movies in his DVD collection he didn’t have any of his fights. That passage sparked an idea: To thank the man who introduced me to boxing, I would make DVDs of every fight, every special and every exhibition I could find and present them to Duran, who was being inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Fightnews.com writer Boxing Bob Newman — who is also one of my best friends — provided an album to store the discs and Jeff Brophy, the nephew of IBHOF Executive Director Ed Brophy, allowed me to enter the museum following the induction ceremony. There, I presented Duran with the discs and as I expressed my thanks through an interpreter the coal black eyes that had terrified so many opponents were softened considerably. After Duran thanked me, Newman snapped a photo to preserve the moment, and, to this day, it remains my Facebook profile picture.

Forty years after it occurred, the “No Mas” fight remains mysterious, controversial and indelible. It will remain so for the remainder of time.

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SUGAR RAY LEONARD-ROBERTO DURAN 1: THE TACTICAL DEBATE 40 YEARS ON

 

Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, West Virginia. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 19 writing awards, including two first-place awards, since 2011. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales from the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics” (available on Amazon) and the co-author of  “Muhammad Ali: By the Numbers” (also available on Amazon). To contact Groves about a personalized autographed copy, use the email [email protected] or send him a message via Facebook.

 

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