"¡Sí!" Duran said, flashing three fingers. "Tres títulos...." Only six other men have won as many.
What happened in the Garden last Thursday night had about it a magical quality rarely felt at a sporting event. Most, but not all, of it could be attributed to the quest of this apparently spent bullet, a man seemingly with a future no más. Here he was, a discredited, aging—he turned 32 on the day of the fight—5-2 underdog who had come back to New York insisting that it believe in him again, as it had when he swaggered into the Garden on June 26, 1972—almost 11 years before—and separated Scotland's Ken Buchanan from his world lightweight title.
"I can't find words to express how I failed in the past," Duran said before the Moore fight. "There are no excuses. Once I thought I was a man; now I am a man and I know it. In truth, I have such enthusiasm, like it was the first time I came to New York to fight for the title and the people were with me all the time. I've prepared very hard for this. I'm the old lion. I don't fight for the money. I want to show myself that I'm a champion. I do this in search of glory."
That Duran was even getting another chance to search for it—not to mention an opportunity to win his third title in the same ring in which he won his first—would have seemed as remote early last year as Moore having a title to defend.
Since Duran, then the defending champion, walked out on Leonard in their welterweight title rematch in New Orleans on Nov. 25, 1980—saying "No más.... No more box"—he had been a sorry spectacle, a man who had compromised his place in history with a single reckless act. For months he spoke only about the day when he would get the chance to redeem himself against Leonard. But Duran could merely talk. Leonard always had livelier, more attractive crabs to steam, so another rematch was not to be. As he passed 30—boxing's traditional line of demarcation—Duran seemed on his way to oblivion, overweight and out of shape, overindulging in food and life in the fast lane. When he got a title shot against WBC super welterweight champion Wilfred Benitez in January 1982, he had to lose 30 pounds to make the weight. Benitez easily outpointed him.
Duran looked finished then. His longtime manager, Carlos Eleta, who had been urging him to retire since the second Leonard fight, renewed his appeal. "He was not living an athlete's life," Eleta said last week in Panama. "He was drinking a lot. He did not exercise. He was growing fat. I told him better to retire. He got upset and resented it."
There was an unpleasant parting with Eleta. One of Eleta's former associates, Luis Spada, took over as Duran's manager. Arcel, who had come out of retirement to handle Duran against Benitez, slipped back into retirement. Last Sept. 4 in Detroit, Duran hit bottom. Looking sloppy and slow, he lost a 10-round decision to one Kirkland Laing. Next Duran and Don King, his promoter, had a falling-out, and King dumped him.
It had been a long tumble in the 22 months since New Orleans. Having been abandoned even by his old friend and interpreter, Luis Henriquez, Duran began to feel sorry for himself. "I felt sad," he says. "I said to myself, 'Duran, you must demonstrate to the world that you're not finished.' "
A few days after the Laing fight, Duran visited King's archrival, Bob Arum, the head of Top Rank, Inc., in his New York office. "At the time, he was finished," Arum says. "Everybody told me he had nothing left." Arum discussed signing Duran with his matchmaker, Teddy Brenner. "Teddy told me the only thing wrong with him was upstairs," Arum recalls. "There was nothing wrong with his reflexes. He had gotten lazy and sloppy."
This was Duran's last chance, and he knew it. He told Arum, "I will work hard, be more serious, be a man, dedicate my life to it." Arum agreed to take him on, offering him $25,000 to fight Jimmy Batten on the Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello card on Nov. 12 last year. At Duran's insistence, he fought after the main event—appearing in a prelim would have been too humiliating—and while he won a 10-round decision, he weighed 157 pounds, the heaviest of his career. He looked awkward and unfit, at times pitiable. "People were telling me, 'You've got to be crazy!' " Arum says. "Half the audience walked out on him. But I knew he was trying."