There have been many shocking, unsettling and perplexing sights thrown before us inside a boxing ring (“The Bite Fight,” “Fan Man”). Larry Merchant, for the longest time, has referred to the sport of boxing as “the theater of the unexpected,” after all. And how totally, utterly unexpected were the events that took place inside a New Orleans boxing ring exactly 39 long years ago today? It was in fact crazy, something out of whack, seeing the great Roberto Duran throw up his hands and quit against Sugar Ray Leonard in that eighth-round.
Even now, almost a full four decades on, we don’t know for sure why Duran did what he did.
Facing the sport’s new golden boy in June of 1980, Duran cemented his greatness with a superb 15-round win in a truly excellent fight. The the sequel, which came, to Leonard’s benefit, just five months later, was a totally different story.
Duran, who was still very much in the close fight at the time of his puzzling act, 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.
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 again, why?
Last year, when Duran was a guest of honor at the boxing gym of former European super-middleweight champ Henry Wharton, 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 1982 or ’83, 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. It was a truly unforgettable fight/scene/episode in boxing history.