March 5th, 2014 By Pedro Fernandez
STORY OF RAY ROBINSON, ROBERTO DURAN & TOMMY HEARNS!
Las Vegas, NV- Having been a part of the game for longer than most of you have been alive, suffice to say that I have probably seen a bit more than you when it comes to professional prizefighting. Definitely not intending to slight anybody, I say this to you because of all the talk of late about the ultimate exclamation point in boxing, you know the knockout!
BACK THEN OLD ALADDIN HOTEL WAS HOME
But IN ORDER to the fight and the greatest punch I’ve ever seen connect, I’ll have to take you back to June 1984, Lenny “El Animal” Albert and I just checked into the Aladdin Hotel for Tommy Hearns-Roberto Duran. Renting a car, one that we wouldn’t use until we left for the airport three days later, I left it with the Valet. Getting a claim ticket, I inadvertently took the keys to the car with me. The car became a permanent fixture right in front of the hotel as we used a side door that was closer to Caesars Palace, the site of most of the great fights during boxing’s golden era.
HAD PEOPLE IN BOTH TRAINING CAMPS
With a Roberto Duran connection being his future co-manager Hector Martinez, and my knowing the Kronk Gym’s icon Emanuel Steward, I would try and get the inside scuttlebutt from both camps as they prepared to fight for the lineal World jr. middleweight (154 lbs.) championship Duran, the ex-lightweight (135) and welterweight (147) champion, although he had lost his last fight, a UD 15 to Marvin Hagler in November 1983, a blowout on paper turned into a competitive fight as Hagler was at times, schooled by the 32-year old Duran.
PEOPLE WERE SAYING DURAN WAS BEYOND DONE
After losing to Kirkland Laing on ESPN in 1981, Duran looked fat and slow over ten dreary rounds. His next significant outing was a January 1983 KO 4 of Mexico’s Pipino Cuevas, himself a former WBA (147) titleholder that had amassed seven defenses. A few weeks before Duran smoked Cuevas, Tony Ayala, then the #1 WBA 154 lb. contender was arrested for raping his neighbor New Years Eve 1983. With the win, although only seen on Closed Circuit TV with Jerry Quarry, the ex-heavyweight contender doing the commentary on the broadcast emanating from the L.A. Sports Arena, Roberto Duran was back!
One fight and five months later, Duran, a 2.5 to 1 underdog beat Davey Moore so severely that people had forgotten about the No Mas fight with Ray Leonard when in November 1980, five months after beating Ray in Montreal (UD 15), Roberto threw up his hands in disgust because of Ray’s clowning. With two brutal and unexpected knockouts in a row, Bob Arum, the promoter of middleweight (160 lb.) king Marvin Hagler saw Roberto as a name who could put people in both the live arena and Closed Circuit locations and not really threaten his dominant champion.
DURAN TOOK MARVIN TO SCHOOL
It was 15 rounds of battle that were highlighted by the much smaller Duran being able to connect with both left-rights and right hand leads on Hagler’s hairless dome. Put it this way folks, this probably isn’t the fight film Marvin shows people when they come over the house. Afterwards, Duran put on weight faster than he had ever before. Within four months, the man with the Hands of Stone now had a Belly of Jelly.
SAW ROBERTO AT PRESS MEETING PRIOR
As naive as I was back in the day that after the Kirkland Laing debacle I figured Duran would never go into a fight unprepared again. But when I saw him a few weeks prior to the fight at an Oakland, CA Airport hotel, Hector assured me that Roberto would be able to shake off the weight and be ready in less than a month to meet Tommy. Training at Johnny Toccos gym on Charleston & Main in Las Vegas, Johnny the prophet was indeed prophetic three days out.
TOCCO’S WORDS RANG QUITE TRUE!
As I moved about the main ring in the gym with a bunch of other guys, Johnny was running his mouth. “Duran, he was in here yesterday. Fat, out of shape, they wouldn’t let me see what he weighed on my office scale. But they left it set at 174 lbs. He’s going to get knocked silly.” Talk is cheap, especially in gyms. But Tocco, although a great bull spitter in some regards, had never ever been disingenuous in the two decades the late St. Louis native and I were close .
NO NEW YORK-NEW YORK OR MGM GRAND!
The Las Vegas I’m talking about in 1984 is vastly different than what it is today. You could get a great meal for less than $7 bucks, a room for a little more, and rub elbows with pit bosses with bent noses who some 20 years prior wore shark skin suits. Today the Aladdin Hotel is a mega-resort, one of Las Vegas’ biggest properties with seemingly dozens of restaurants and seemingly thousands of rooms. Back in ’84, it was a hotel in a motel-like setting with a lot of ground floor rooms and small buildings.
MEETING “SUGAR RAY” & MILLIE
On the day before the fight, returning from roadwork, I saw the bellman bringing a couple to the room right across from me. The man was the great “Sugar Ray” Robinson and wife Millie. The conversations and interviews with Robinson we’ll save for another day (story), but seeing Robinson wearing a pink bathrobe and shower cap the next day, this was a priceless experience as he signed photographs for myself and the aforementioned Lenny Albert.BACK IN THE DAYS OF MR. CHUCK MINKER
The weigh in was led by another friend who left us too soon, Chuck Minker, then the Nevada Commission strongman, was held the morning of the fight. Sporting a gut that he attempted to hold in, Duran makes the 154 lb. limit with acts so evasive I’ll leave it to your imagination. Although sporting that look of concern, Emanuel Steward, Hearns’ manager and trainer knew that when he saw Duran’s condition that Roberto would pose no major threat.
OUTDOORS ON THE CAESARS PALACE TENNIS COURTS
With the sun still up, Duran, the challenger for Hearns’ WBC trinket enters first. And in a haunting sense of what was to come, instead of warming up and strutting around the ring in his typical possessed manner, Roberto plopped down on a stool in his corner. He wouldn’t rise until Hearns was in the ring. As it turns out, Duran would spend a considerable amount of time on that stool. After being knocked down and nearly into another world in the first round, Duran staggers back to that stool. The corner tried their best to revive Duran, but he got up in the same manner in which he sat down, buzzed!
EMANUEL TOLD TOMMY “FINISH HIM NOW”
With Steward still bluffing concern for Duran, he sent Hearns out for the second round with nothing but KO on his mind. Having lost only to Ray Leonard some three years prior, Tommy knew that drilling Roberto in fine fashion would set up the big fight with Marvin Hagler. With Duran admitting years later that he didn’t remember going out for round two, it was obvious then that he was about to become the Detroit based Hitman’s latest knockout victim.
GREAT FAKE FOLLOWED BY GREATER PUNCH
Faking a left jab to the body, Duran bit on the feint much like a fish bites on a hooked worm. With Duran looking down, Tommy unleashed the most brutal right hand I’ve ever seen land from five feey away. Catching Duran flush on the chin, Roberto fell face first into the canvas. And while it was apparent the fight was over, there was Roberto trying in vain, as if his life depended on getting up, to raise his head and body off the canvas and all the while grunting and groaning.
“SUGAR RAYS FINAL WORD ON HEARNS-DURAN
When I went back to the Aladdin after the press conference, Mille and Ray Robinson were there. Robinson said, “I know Hearns knocked out Duran. But, Hearns will never be a greater fighter than Duran.” Perplexed, I called it a night! But what a thrill, being around Duran, Hearns and Ray Robinson, priceless memories!