June 20th, 2012 By Pedro Fernandez
GREATEST FIGHT OF THE DECADE
San Francisco, CA- They called it, “The Brawl In Montreal,” Roberto Duran, ex-lightweight (135 lbs) king taking on boxing’s glamor boy “Sugar Ray” Leonard on June 20, 1980. In the three decades and two years that have passed since, I can’t remember a more captivating evening of watching professional boxing. Duran, who turned 61 on June 16, in the “prime” of his career was a man that would not be denied that cold night in Montreal, the site of the 1976 Olympics where Ray Leonard became the darling of boxing.
GREATEST FIGHT OF THE DECADE?
I had seen most of the major fights in the 1980s sitting ringside, but for this event we were at the Cow Palace in Daly City, CA watching Duran school Leonard on Closed Circuit TV. It was an epic event, Ray coming in the betting favorite and Duran rocking him in the second round with such force from a left hook thrown in combination, that Leonard’s brain trust, Mike Trainer, a Washington DC area attorney told me later. “At that point, I knew Ray wasn’t going to win. So I lit up a cigarette, sat back and hoped that he would not get hurt.” Of all the fights I saw in the decade, this is still the one that stands out for me!
LEONARD ATE RIGHT HAND LEADS LIKE CHEERIOS!
Duran, the shorter of the two, timed Leonard, something nobody had ever done before professionally. When Leonard would jab, Duran would would either counter or lead with bone-crunching right hands from the third round on. Leonard had a few moments, this when Duran lapsed into a state of relaxation because of his dominance. But each time Leonard would flurry, Duran would answer back with ferocity that Leonard thought going into the fight was all hype!
DURAN WON 10-4-1 ON MY CARD
Hurting Leonard with those right hand leads throughout, Ray could never solve the puzzle as to how to avoid them. Never hurt, although Ray Leonard connected solidly on occasion, Duran smiled and sneered at Ray, not displaying one ounce of respect for the defending WBC welterweight (147) champion. Leonard had beaten Wilfred Benitez for the title in November 1979 in a fight that made Las Vegas’ premier boxing handicapper Herbie Lambeck hate referee Carlos Padilla for life! Herbie had gotten good odds on the fight going the full 15 rounds, thus dropping $20,000. When the referee waved the fight off with just a few seconds left, this with Benitez on his feet, Herb blew a cork he could never ever put back in the bottle.
LEONARD COMING OFF BEST ONE-PUNCH KO OF HIS LIFE!
In Ray’s lone defense before meeting the man with the “Hands of Stone,” Leonard threw a combination that was punctuated by a left hook that left “Davey Boy” Green looking like a corpse. Ray didn’t just knock Green out, he to use street vernacular, “knocked green the **** out.” It was a perfect ending to set up the Duran fight some three months later. Roberto’s claim to fame as a welterweight was beating the snot out of former champion Carlos Palomino in Madison Square Garden. Carlos was a good fighter, but Duran toyed with him, seemingly not trying to KO Carlos, just punish him.
DURAN GETS UNANIMOUS DECISION
Right after the bell sounded that ended the fight, a swollen Ray Leonard knew he had lost. Duran on the other hand was running around the ring jumping up in the air when he ran over to where promoter Bob Arum and Wilfred Benitez were sitting. He grabbed his crotch area and told them to suck his, you know. The next day, Roberto flew home to Panama in a private jet as thousands jammed the airport to see him. He started partying that night in Montreal and did not stop for nearly four months.
MIKE TRAINER GOT THE LAST LAUGH!
With Duran somewhere over 200 lbs., this Leonard’s guy Mike Trainer learned after sending a spy to Panama to verify the weighty rumors, Trainer offered Duran $8 million, eclipsing the $1.5 million he made beating Leonard in June. It was now late in September 1980 and Trainer told Duran’s people that if they wanted the $8 million, he had to fight Leonard on November 25th. With around seven weeks to train, Duran shed the weight but never really got in fighting shape. As a result of this, and Duran’s people not reading the contract Trainer had prepared, the ring side was at least 22 by 22 feet, some say 24 feet. It looked more like somebody’s backyard, not a boxing ring as Leonard danced and dazzled Duran for the most part.
DURAN HAD ENOUGH OF RAY’S CRAP AND WAVED OFF THE FIGHT!
Roberto was in condition to fight a lesser guy in a smaller ring. But when you combined Ray’s skills, his running and Duran’s lack of preparation, after seven rounds, Duran got off the stool for round eight. With Leonard doing his Carl Lewis imitation, in other words sprinting, Duran had enough of Ray’s clowning and waved for the referee to stop the fight in round eight, uttering the words that would haunt him for the rest of his career, “No Mas Box,” or “No More Boxing.”
THE CRAMP STORY WAS HOGWASH!
Duran would claim that he had eaten two steaks and that he had cramps, when the truth of the matter was Team Leonard had outsmarted the former Panamanian street urchin by getting him into a fight he was not physically or mentally prepared for. All Duran could see was the $8 million and knowing he had beaten Ray to a pulp the previous June, that the fight was going to be easy. Leonard got his revenge for the loss and Duran calling his then wife, Juanita Leonard, a “whore” before the fight.
RAY & DURAN WOULD FACE OFF ONCE MORE
In late 1989, after Duran had did the impossible and beat Iran Barkely for the WBC middleweight belt in February, Roberto again got fat. Leonard goaded him into a third fight for the grand opening of Steve Wynn’s Mirage Hotel. In an outdoor arena in December, with the temperature around 38′ come fight time, Leonard ran circles around Duran and beat him with ease. In the end, Duran had beaten the crap out of Leonard once, and Leonard humiliated by out running him twice. Today when they see one another, there is nothing but mutual respect. You know, I’m well aware that it’s been 32 years and yet it seems like it was yesterday!