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"He should have made far more money. Salvador Sanchez made more out of four fights than Eusebio has in all his great career. But he is shy, gets homesick, won't meet people. He likes to arrive in a place Wednesday for a Saturday fight. If planes had gyms in them, he'd arrive a half hour before the bout. If he'd only head up to New York for a while.... Wouldn't writers see him in restaurants there? Wouldn't every little thing he did make the papers?"
Actually, only seven of Pedroza's defenses have been in Panama. He made his sixth defense, against John Aloa, in November 1979, almost halfway around the world from home, in Port Moresby, New Guinea. "Fifteen hundred cops," recalls his manager, "500 of them with German shepherds, holding back guys carrying lances and wearing grass skirts."
At home in Panama City's middle-class Los Pinos district with his wife, Rosa Amalia, and his two daughters, Yuleiska and Yemajara, Pedroza makes no bones about why he has traveled like a wild goose. He needed the cash, and until recently his division had not attracted big-money interest. After Pedroza won his title, promoter Don King signed the new champ to a three-fight deal worth a modest $350,000. But even this unexceptional sum failed to materialize—the contract became void when there were no TV takers after three months. "I have had to be a good soldier," Pedroza says, "and go where the battle is. Even to a place like Port Moresby, full of Indios, some civilized, some savages, the strangest place I have been in my whole life, a place where much blood had been shed. But I told myself, 'He who is with God is safe.' "
Such devout expressions are rarely far from the champion's lips, and now and then you have to remind yourself that Pedroza has been vilified at times as an especially dirty fighter who has benefited from some extraordinary decisions. There was, for instance, the strange business of his 10th defense, against Rocky Lockridge in October 1980 in McAfee, N.J. One judge, Rodolph Hill of Panama, scored the fight 149-139 in his countryman's favor, while the other two judges had it much closer, 144-142 and 146-141. In Pedroza's 14th defense, against Juan LaPorte of the U.S., this time in Atlantic City, he had two rounds taken away for hitting after the bell and for using his elbows. Though his win by a unanimous decision was subsequently overturned, and the fight was declared "no bout," Pedroza kept his title. There were more noisy recriminations when he fought to a draw (and thus retained the title) against Bernard Taylor before the challenger's home crowd in Charlotte. N.C. in October 1982. And the following year, in a bout in Saint-Vincent, Italy, he was warned repeatedly for kidney and rabbit punches when he fought Jose Caba of the Dominican Republic.
Pedroza listens to a summary of these events with equanimity. "You have to do what you can when you feel the pressure," he says. "That's being a pro. Myself, if I want to be a crybaby, I go to the nursery, I don't show it in the ring. All those stories about me were started up in North America, when I fought Lockridge and LaPorte. And if I'm dirty, where did I learn the tricks but up north? I don't hear them calling Hagler dirty. But he has a very, uh, technical way of using his head, he's sort of loose with his thumbs, he knows how to use his elbows, the butts of his hands, his laces. But I don't want to go on about that. It's part of boxing."
It is also clear that no mere repertoire of dirty tricks could have carried Pedroza through 19 defenses. In Panama City, 52-year-old Alfonso Castillo is the doyen of boxing journalists. Castillo has been a columnist for La República, a national newspaper, for 28 years and has missed only two of Pedroza's fights. "Sure," says Castillo, "he'll defend what he's got with everything he's got. He'll use every trick. Others do the same. But remember, he is also a most complete boxer. He can brawl as well as box and still maintain his distance. But watch the way he delivers the left jab. He leans right back, as if he were throwing the javelin. His reach is so long. He'll study his man for maybe two or three rounds, then let down his guard just so that he can counterpunch, like Ali." But like other knowledgeable Panamanians, Castillo is aware of how politics are taking over much of Pedroza's life. "When he fought Angel Mayor in Venezuela last May," says the columnist, "he only trained 14 days. He has trouble making weight, and that might be weakening his punch. His last honest-to-God KO was back in December '81."
Should Castillo's forebodings about the bout with McGuigan prove correct, there is one fellow townsman of Pedroza's who will not buy black crepe to hang on his door. "People here are proud of Eusebio," Castillo says, "but when Roberto Duran announced last month that he would return to the ring, there was an earthquake in Panama."
To be brutally frank, however, Pedroza's more famous compatriot looks as if he could cause an earthquake just by sitting down—and as if his next match should be against a sumo wrestler. Duran certainly looked that way last month while relaxing at home after a tour of Latin America with Felicidad, his" 11-piece salsa band. As he drank white wine with a dozen cronies, watching a bloody shootout in a Mexican movie on TV, his pendulous belly hung over his red shorts. Duran must now weigh more than 200 pounds, even though he intends to return to the ring as soon as this fall. "Pedroza, who is he?" Duran shouted, as his cohorts sniggered. "He has fought nobody! And those he has fought have not pressured him!"
For his part, Pedroza is not a member of the local chapter of the Duran fan club, though he chooses his words far more carefully. "It is ambition that kills men," Pedroza says, "and it still hurts Duran. He has done much damage to himself. You have to be calm to be a human." Pedroza was far from calm recently when he read in El Tiempo, a Colombian newspaper, the headline DURAN: PEDROZA IS ENVIOUS OF ME.
"Eusebio has always been in Duran's shadow," says del Rio. "Panama is a small city. If Pedroza stayed out at a nightclub until 3 a.m., the next night Duran would be out till four. Back when Duran was due to fight Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal, Pedroza was working out in New York, so I took him up to Canada just to help a fellow countryman. But Duran wouldn't say hello, he wouldn't run or spar with Eusebio. Wouldn't remain in the same gym. Eusebio is quiet and a gentleman, but this time I had to cool him down."