It was an unbelievable sight, a thoroughly unpredictable event. The great Roberto Duran, for many the toughest of all tough guys, quitting in the ring. In fact, he seemed to have quite shamelessly quit. Fans know much about the infamous fight that took place 38 years ago today in New Orleans. Duran was facing Golden Boy “Sugar” Ray Leonard for a second time, having won an epic 15-round decision over the new lower weight superstar five months earlier. But the sequel was a totally different story.
It was in the eighth-round when Duran, who was still very much in the close fight, threw up his hands, walked away and quit, reportedly uttering the words “No Mas,” or “No More.” The entire world, sporting and general, was shocked to its core. Just why had Duran done what he had done? Almost 40 years later, and fight fans are still asking this question.
Duran doesn’t really like to talk about the fight, and Leonard was for years frustrated over the way Duran’s bizarre actions overshadowed the brilliance of his revenge victory. To this day there is tension between the two all-time greats whenever their paths do cross. Duran said many things in the days after his quit job: it was stomach cramps being his most consistent attempt at an alibi. Maybe the Panamanian legend did have stomach issue, but enough to make him quit? The scores at the time of Duran’s capitulation read as follows: 68-66, 68-66 and 67-66, all for Leonard. So it’s clear to see this fight, with over seven rounds remaining, was still very much hanging in the balance.
Yet Duran bailed out. He quit. But why?
A few months back, Duran was a guest of honor at the boxing gym of former European super-middleweight champ Henry Wharton, and this writer was there, listening to the greatest living fighter talk about many things pertaining to his quite incredible career. Chief among these things, quite surprisingly, was the infamous “No Mas” fight. Here is what Duran had to say about the fight that still plagues him to this day:
“My manager called me, I was just at home watching TV, and he said he had got me a fight with the new superstar from America,” Duran said upon recalling the first fight with Sugar Ray. “He told me I’d be fighting the best America had to offer, a fighter that was called The King of New York. I wanted to be The King of New York, and after I beat him [Leonard] I was! The fans went crazy after that win, I was partying for a long, long time after that win (laughs).
“The second fight, I was up to around 196 pounds and my manager said I had to go back to Panama right now, that the second fight was signed. I said, ‘Are you crazy!’ I knew I couldn’t fight again so soon. But I had a month to lose all that weight. I starved myself, I pushed myself so hard. In sparring, I felt each punch from my sparring partners, they felt like rocks. I was ill and I felt bad. I crawled to the weighing scale. I then had a cup of coffee and some water and I felt sick. Later I saw members from Leonard’s team loosening the ropes in the ring, in the corners. In the fight, when I had Leonard in the corner, he was able to get away from my punches. There were a lot of shady things in that fight.
“Also, I never said the words, ‘No Mas.’ That was made up by American commentator Howard Cosell. He didn’t like me very much, because I never gave him many interviews. So he made that up. I waved my arms in the air, yes, but I never said anything. How could Cosell have heard me anyway, from all the way across the ring where he was? I had really bad stomach cramps and I thought I would lose the fight, then get the third fight and make sure I was in top shape to kick his ass. But he never gave me that third fight (until years later, in 1989).”
A lot of interesting stuff there indeed. Did Leonard’s trainer, Angelo Dundee have anything to do with the suggested “loosening of the ropes?” Was Duran really a whopping 196 pounds in the weeks leading up to the second fight? Should there in fact have been a third fight, in maybe 1981, and not way too late in 1989?
Duran’s reputation eventually recovered, “Hands of Stone” being praised as one of the very best of all-time. But to the present day many fans instantly think of that rematch with Leonard whenever Roberto’s name is brought up. How greater still would Duran be hailed as had he not done what he did all those years ago in Louisiana?