He was an Olympian who got trapped in a time warp between Olympics. He graduated with the forgotten class of '80, which won a gold medal in the boycott, a non-televised event. No big deal, Donald Ray Curry thought at the time. He was only 18 and he had been fighting for more than half his life, but Moscow seemed a long way to go to display the dazzling gifts he had discovered were his as a 68-pounder in Fort Worth. He had won 403 of 409 fights since then and was certainly ready to demonstrate why he was the world's best amateur welterweight, but he wasn't overly upset when Jimmy Carter said nyet.
"I didn't understand the magic of a gold medal," Curry reflected the other day in Palm Springs, while training to defend his WBA 147-pound title on Jan. 19 against Colin Jones in Birmingham, England. Now 23, Curry reads Money and The Wall Street Journal and has learned the hard way that, in boxing, an Olympic gold medal can mean instant big bucks.
For his first pro fight, Sugar Ray Leonard, a 1976 gold medal winner in the light welterweight division, earned $40,000. After his recent pro debut, Mark Breland, 1984's golden welterweight, banked $100,000. And on Dec. 26, 1980 Curry knocked out Marty Tineo in his first pro fight and earned $3,000. Leonard paid his sparring partners more than that.
Curry may own half of the title Leonard surrendered in 1982—the WBC part belongs to Milton McCrory—but only ardent boxing fans know it or are able to tell you that he won it by hammering on a helmet-headed Korean named Jun Sok Hwang in February of 1983 in a bout televised by ESPN. Or that he fought the last three rounds with a broken right wrist. Or that he has successfully defended his title four times—in Sicily and in Monte Carlo, among other places—or that his next port of call is an industrial town an hour and 30 minutes by train from London.
Curry's style is that of an artist: He fences deftly with the rapier and disdains the bold slashes of the saber. His moves are more poetic than pugilistic, gracefully deadly and, to some, deadly boring: And so, as a champion, even though the combined record of the five men he has beaten in title fights is 165-5-1, Curry seems to have fought all his fights under a flickering 50-watt bulb inside a closet. To the average fight fan, Curry is merely agate type.
"Most fans like to see fighters get hit, and Donald just doesn't get hit," says Paul Reyes, the only trainer Curry has ever had.
In the ring, Curry is a Van Gogh, and few would have paid to watch the Dutchman paint. To see him lop off his left ear, well, that might have filled a stadium or two. Curry's problem, if such is the term, is that his fights are brilliantly stroked masterpieces that end in sophisticated coups de grace, not explosive one-punch knockouts.
Curry resists any changes to his style—to lower his swift hands or to showboat with a flashy bolo—simply to satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd. He is a disciple of self-defense.
"The beauty of Curry," says veteran trainer Eddie Futch, who has trained Joe Frazier, Alexis Arguello and Larry Holmes, "is that he doesn't give away anything. Whatever you get from him, you gotta earn."
What Futch means is that if Curry gets married, he won't get hit by any rice.