Duran vs Leonard 2: ‘No Mas’
Hugh McIlvanney was a true heavyweight of his craft. So eloquent and powerful with his words, he had few equals. The great wordsmith said of Sugar Ray Leonard after his frightening ordeal from the fists of Roberto Duran in their first meeting that Leonard had gone to a bad place and came back a mature hero of the game.
Leonard learned plenty in Montreal. It was a horrible painful experience for the young fighter. Duran was older and the more mature of the two in fighting terms. Leonard ignored his own considerable array of skills and fought Duran’s fight engaging in toe-to-toe conflict. As a result, he lost his unbeaten record and his world welterweight title in the early months of 1980. Leonard proved a lot of things against Duran, but not that he had the beating of the former world lightweight champion.
Retirement, not for the first or the last time, was an option. But time spent in Honolulu on a family vacation gave Leonard time to process his thoughts and plan his next move. He had options, but as each day passed thoughts inevitably returned to boxing and revenge.
With his mind now made up to fight on, Leonard wanted the rematch as quickly as possible. And he had his reasons for wanting the fight sooner rather than later.
Duran was now, even more, the hero in his native Panama since his win over Leonard in June 1980, and he celebrated his win over Leonard in some style. And he kept on celebrating. Duran had gained weight and plenty of it. Reports of the Panamanian ballooning up to 200 pounds were rife. And accurate. The rematch set for November looked too soon for Duran who was still very much in party mode.
Leonard as he said himself, ‘trimmed the fat from his bloated entourage’ and adjusted his mind to revert to the tactics that gave him the best possible chance of victory.
The rematch at the Superdome in New Orleans was an entirely different affair. The distracted and conflicted Leonard was now a thing of the past. This time his mind and body were ready for a Duran who this time was also a different fighter.
Duran seemed a lesser fighter, a fighter without the old fire. A beatable fighter. Some of the devil and the rage had left Duran in the months of excess. Leonard had cut his entourage down, Duran had expanded his. The signs were there in plain sight:
“It was calculated on my part,” Leonard would tell author George Kimball for Four Kings. “I knew Duran was overweight and partying big time. In retrospect, it was pretty clever of me.”
Ray Charles sang America the Beautiful, it was a powerful rendition, another sign there was something in the air. Charles was Leonard’s mother favourite singer and she named her son after him. Leonard had no idea Charles would be in the ring that night. It would be the only time they would ever meet.
Charles whispered in Leonard’s ear and said: ‘Kick his ass.’ Leonard said right at that moment he knew he would win.
“This was Ray Charles, my hero, my namesake,” Leonard would later say.
Leonard had learned many lessons from Montreal. The movement was back, using quickness of hand and foot. Within seconds of the first bell, we all knew this would be a completely different fight. More importantly, so did Duran.
In the second round the ring developed a sinkhole, Duran would soon be wishing the ring would swallow him up. A brigade of security guards was summoned to go under the ring to support the faltering structure. It worked, but for Duran, there would be no such escape.
Duran did have some semblance of success but the inner frustration was rising, Leonard turned the screw. The mental warfare Leonard was so good at, would be the definitive tool in the arsenal of the former champion.
In round seven, Leonard taunted the ultimate macho fighter. As the crowd laughed, Leonard turned up the mental heat. The hands dropped, the chin invitingly stuck out without reply, the right arm did the windmill rotation, and there was more. Three minutes of public humiliation for the Panamanian. In many ways, the final nail. Very soon Duran would do the unthinkable.
As the fight extended, Leonard was winning, but it was still relatively close, at least on the cards, even Leonard admitted the fight was still in the balance before the sudden anticlimactic ending.
The next round is one of legend. Duran turning his back on many things is still all these years later, an unbelievable sight. A moment of madness that would haunt Duran for years.
“Duran came to yield his world welterweight championship to Sugar Ray Leonard as meekly as a 10p poker player throwing in a bad hand,” McIlvanney summarised.
The surrender took away from what Leonard quite brilliantly served up. Post-fight the conversation was led by what Duran did rather than what Leonard did. The performance of Leonard deserved better. The recrowned WBC welterweight champion felt he didn’t get the respect for his win. Leonard felt he got more credit for the loss in Montreal than he did for his win five months later.
“I made him quit. To make a man quit, to make Roberto Duran quit was better than knocking him out.” Make no mistake, Leonard was the architect of the demise of Duran and crucially, the manner of it. That shouldn’t be forgotten in the avalanche of excuses and speculation.
Duran offered up extreme weight loss and stomach cramps as a reason for his ‘No Mas’ but Leonard said:
“He quit out of humiliation and frustration.” Leonard almost certainly was right.
Duran ruined his reputation and legacy, at least in the extended short-term, with his refusal to fight on. To see out what he had signed up for. The ultimate betrayal of his image and everything he stood for.
He entered the ring a hero, he left it a pariah. Abandoned in his homeland, his redemption would be a long-time coming. At one time, Duran’s period in boxing’s wilderness appeared to have no end. But eventually, it would come. Another story for another day.