Having watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “No Mas” I was disappointed that nothing new regarding the circumstances surrounding why Roberto Duran resigned during the eighth round of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard and relinquished his WBC welterweight title belt was exposed.
However, it was great to see during the show that Duran has lost weight and lives a very comfortable life with his legacy intact. Leonard has aged well and still has the charm and charisma that made him boxing’s biggest star during the 1980’s. And watching the “No Mas” special brought back memories of just how great and complete both Leonard and Duran were as fighters.
After beating the undefeated Leonard in June of 1980, it was highly publicized that Duran was partying, drinking and eating as if New Year’s eve were a three-month holiday. Having defeated the fighter who was the darling of the America media, Roberto was relishing the sweet taste of victory like he never had before. Duran’s tenacity during the first Leonard bout was incredible and only rivaled by “Smokin” Joe Frazier’s refusal to be denied during his first meeting with the superstar of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Muhammad Ali.
To Leonard’s credit he couldn’t handle being defeated and having Duran rub it in his face and sought a rematch as soon as possible. And as it was pointed out during the film, Duran was all about getting more money than Leonard in the rematch, and Ray’s money man, Mike Trainer, knew it. So they threw millions at Duran and scheduled the fight quickly knowing that there was no way he could get in phenomenal shape and gain the psychological advantage over Leonard he had the first time.
The rematch took place five months and five days after the first fight. Everybody saw from the onset of the second bout that Leonard wasn’t going to be lured into a street fight with Duran this time. He used his foot speed like he never had before and had Duran following and chasing him all over the ring. After seven rounds Leonard was leading on the scorecards 68-66 twice and 67-66. I had it 4-3 Leonard in rounds watching it live that Tuesday night as a 21 year old amateur middleweight golden glove champ fighting out of Philadelphia. It wasn’t as if Duran was being taken apart by Leonard after seven rounds and the fight was still yet to be decided. Leonard was having a good eighth round and landed some terrific body shots and counter rights to Roberto’s head, not to mention he was at his showboating best. Then with 15 seconds left in the round Duran turned his back and waved Leonard off with his right hand and resigned from the fight, thus handing Leonard an eighth round TKO victory.
The speculation as to why Duran quit during a round in which he didn’t appear to be hurt and wasn’t being beat up or punched around hasn’t quelled in the 33 years since the fight. Yes, immediately after the fight Duran said he had stomach cramps and felt weak. To Leonard’s surprise this is something he again endorsed during the documentary with both of them standing face to face in the middle of a ring in Panama. Leonard acted as if he took Duran at his word and later implied that he didn’t think Roberto was being truthful regarding why he quit during the fight. And you know what, nobody believed Duran on 11/26/80 and no one believes him today. And that’s why Roberto Duran should never again as long as he lives, answer the question why he quit during the second bout versus Sugar Ray Leonard.
Duran is in a no win predicament. There’s nothing he can say that anyone would believe. People and especially die-hard fans believe whatever they want to believe and oftentimes facts never cloud their judgment or beliefs. Depending on whom you were rooting for that night or who you are a bigger fan of, that determines what one deems plausible as to the reason for Duran withdrawing from the fight. Depending on what reason makes their man look better drives what many believe.
If you’re a big fan of Leonard and were rooting for him to win, you want to believe that Ray was handling Roberto so thoroughly that Duran feared he was going to get knocked out and quit so he could deny Leonard a clean victory over him. If you’re a Leonard guy that fits your perfect world perfectly. However, if Duran came out and said he quit because he feared Leonard was going to stop him, you wouldn’t believe that either. You’d rationalize that by reminding yourself how fearless and tough Duran was and never backed down from anyone.
If you’re a big fan of Duran and were rooting for him to win, you rationalize his action due to the fact that Leonard wasn’t really fighting him. You tell yourself that Leonard was running around the ring, not boxing, and was more interested in mocking Roberto than actually beating him up. Then you’d justify that by telling yourself that after the first war they had, Leonard didn’t want any part of that again. And once Duran figured that out in the eighth round he said, “screw it, if you want to fight like a girl, you can have the title. I’ll taint Leonard’s victory and kick his ass in our third fight when I’m really in shape.” If you’re a Duran guy that fits your perfect world perfectly.
Then there’s the possibility alleged by a minority that Duran took a dive so there could be a third fight with Leonard. But what if Duran looked Leonard in the eye during the filming of the documentary and said, “Ray, I bet on you to win our second fight, but I couldn’t lay down and act as if I were being counted out with you standing over me defiantly looking down, that’s why I did what I did.” Who’d believe that? Nobody, other than maybe some rabid Duran fans.
The point is, there’s nothing that Duran can say, the truth, whatever it may be, or anything else that’ll satisfy boxing fans. People/fans will believe what they want to believe as long as it makes their guy look good. Nobody will ever take Duran at his word regardless of how plausible or crazy they think it is. The minds of boxing fans were made up the morning following the fight. They’ll never change regardless of what comes out or is said by either Roberto or Ray.
No, we’ll never be satisfied with the reason that Duran gives for his abrupt action on the night of November 25th, 1980, so why bother to answer the question again for the millionth time? And if forced to do so, he should say he bet on Leonard as he smiles and walks away. After giving fans over 30 years of the best boxing in most of our lifetimes, Duran doesn’t owe the public anything.
POSTSCRIPT: On the night that Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran met for the second time, I was pulling for Leonard to win heading into the bout. During the first seven rounds I felt Leonard had a slight lead in the fight, but was a little disappointed that he wasn’t engaging with Duran more. He damn near fought him to a stand still fighting Roberto’s fight the first time. Sure, I was glad that he was winning but inside I was a little disenchanted that Ray didn’t try to put some real hurt on Duran. My initial instinct when Duran turned his back and waved Leonard off was, Duran is disgusted that Leonard won’t fight him like the warrior he did the first time they fought. And if he’s going to hit and move away, he doesn’t want to fight, so can have the title.
In my opinion based on no inside knowledge, just my experience of partaking in ring combat, I believe Duran felt that Leonard was running and not trying to fight him. I think Roberto felt that Leonard was more intent on winning the show and making an ass out of him than he was proving he was the better and tougher fighter. Duran felt humiliated during the seventh and eighth rounds and fighters fear being embarrassed more than they do getting knocked out. I believe Duran sensed that with the tactics Leonard was employing, he was never going to pull the fight out and decided to resign instead being further humiliated by Leonard for another seven rounds. Being a fighter who saw himself as a 165 pound Ray Mancini, I almost rationalized at the time why Duran said the hell with it and walked away. It’s no fun chasing quick guys around the ring who are mocking you in the process while you can’t get a hold of them or hit them cleanly. Duran was frustrated that Leonard wouldn’t let him beat him up, not because Leonard was beating him up. So in what was a terrible impulsive reaction, Duran said screw it and bailed, figuring he’d kick Leonard’s ass in the rubber match. The problem was that due to Duran making a mockery out of the fight, he was blackballed from getting a third fight with Leonard for nine years.
I’m not sure there’s anything Duran could say or reveal that would change my mind. That’s why Duran should never address it again because I’m not the only one whose mind most likely can’t be changed.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com