On This Day: When The ‘Four Kings’ Rivalry Ended In Disappointment With Leonard-Duran III

There were fireworks, courtesy of the newly opened Mirage casino and hotel in Las Vegas, but none were on display in the ring. It was 32 years ago today when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran – the two greats who kicked off the rivalry that would become known and celebrated as “The Four Kings” – ended both their historic rivalry and the “Four Kings” series with their third fight. The star factor was there, but the fight was a dud.

Fans everywhere wanted to see what would happen in the super-fight that was dubbed “Una Mas.” Duran might have been 38 years of age, but he had turned back the clock in a major way in February of that year, when he had performed magnificently to dethrone the big (for the weight) and dangerous Iran Barkley to become a champion all over again; this time the WBC middleweight champ. Duran stunned the man who had KO’d Thomas Hearns, and Duran fans bought into the idea of their hero beating Leonard and in so doing making amends for his infamous “No Mas” capitulation of November 1980.

Leonard was coming off a draw with Hearns, in a fight that saw him decked twice and fortunate not to go home with a decision loss. Sugar Ray might have been pushing his luck more than Duran was in still fighting, this at the comparatively young age of 33. Leonard’s frequent acquaintance with the canvas (knocked down by Donny Lalonde in 1988 and by Hearns twice in June of 1989) convinced some that “Hands of Stone” could get a second win over his nemesis.

Instead, fans got a dull fight. Leonard was still very much in Duran’s head and he proceeded to outbox the man who had given him his first pro defeat. Duran was unable to get anything going, as Sugar Ray boxed and moved and frustrated. It was a boring fight, a sad end to a legendary series. Aside from some late drama, which came when a Duran right hand opened a cut over Leonard’s right eye and then, in the final round, a left hand inflicted a cut over Sugar’s let eye, nothing much happened. Leonard was pouring blood but he was miles ahead on points. Duran failed to find the fire to go for the blood in an effort at getting the stunning late finish.

Leonard walked away, needing stitches, with a commanding 120-110, 119-109, 116-111 decision win.

Duran fumed afterwards, saying the referee allowed Leonard to hold him. Leonard had offended the paying crowd with his, “to hell with the crowd,” declaration during the break between rounds nine and ten, this when Sugar was aware of the displeasure of the paying fans.

And that was it. “The Four Kings” had danced their final dance.

We had been thrilled by Duran-Leonard I. We had been shocked by Leonard-Duran II and “No Mas.” We had been sent into a state of delirium by Hagler-Hearns. And, thanks to Leonard-Hagler, we had been forced to debate the outcome of a fight for all-time. But the finale of the series was a downer.

The last super-fight of the decade came with so much promise but it went out with a whimper. Still, all these years later, many of us argue over who was the greater fighter: Leonard or Duran!