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ONE FOR THE AGES
Pat Putnam
December 18, 1989
Sugar Ray Leonard, 33, beat Roberto Duran, 38, in a fight dedicated to posterity
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December 18, 1989

One For The Ages

Sugar Ray Leonard, 33, beat Roberto Duran, 38, in a fight dedicated to posterity

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Leonard's fight plan could have been devised by Sun Tzu, who wrote the bible of military strategy, The Art of War, in 500 B.C. His tactics were textbook perfect, the sort, as Leonard said after his lopsided victory, "that you try to teach young fighters." The 12-round bout had all the beauty of a bullfight, but without the expected horror of the kill.

Still, the fans didn't like it; Leonard gave them artistic perfection when they wanted heated battle, and they booed lustily. Most fight fans would not spend a dime to watch Van Gogh paint Sunflowers, but they would fill Yankee Stadium to see him cut off his ear.

Only in the 11th round, after thoroughly dominating the bewildered Duran, did Leonard give the fans what they asked for: blood. His own. In the last 30 seconds of the round, he met Duran toe-to-toe. Both men fired right hands; Duran's chopped the gash over Leonard's left eye. Moving quickly away, Leonard thought, To hell with that. His mouth already was bleeding from a butt in the fourth round. Very late in the final round, a Duran hook sliced the flesh on Leonard's right eyebrow.

That finished a high-percentage night for Duran, who landed only 84 of 588 punches, but opened cuts with two of those. In contrast, Leonard landed 227 of 438 punches. His unceasing lateral movement kept Duran in a constant state of befuddlement. His attacks came behind a merciless jab; his combinations were swift and had a mean purity. For one last time Sugar Ray Leonard gave the world Sugar Ray Leonard. The judges' cards read 119-109, 120-110, 116-111, all for Leonard.

When it was over, Leonard grinned at Trainer and patted his thighs. "I've got five or six more rounds in these, Mike," he said. He finished a magnificent career brilliantly, even if few onlookers appreciated his final bit of artistry. If Leonard is tempted to come back again, he should know that next time he may have to cut off an ear.

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