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More important, Arum had a fight in mind that he knew would make the turnstiles sing in Los Angeles: Duran against Mexico's Pipino Cuevas, a former WBA welterweight champion himself who, until he was knocked out by Thomas Hearns in August 1980, was looking toward a title-unification bout with Duran, who had won the WBC title from Leonard six weeks earlier. Now, three years later, they were both on the skids, but it was still a natural for L.A., with its heavy Mexican population. Knowing that this was it and that he would be fighting before a pro-Cuevas crowd, Duran trained with a fury.
They sold out the Sports Arena, and Duran, the fittest and sharpest he had been since beating Leonard in Montreal, caught his man in the fourth round, wobbling him with a right, and then chased him up and down the ropes. Under the relentless attack, Cuevas didn't last out the round. Duran was nowhere near fully fit, but there was no mistaking the crackle of the old fire. So Arum signed him to fight Moore.
Moore, who's 24, had no idea what he was getting into, and nothing possibly could have prepared him for it. He grew up poor in the Bronx, a child set adrift by a working mother to fend for himself. A bright lad, he did especially well at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, where he was an honor student with a 90-plus average. At 15 he started boxing at the Morrisania Recreation Center under Leon Washington, a former pro, and became one of the best Golden Gloves fighters in New York. By the time he turned pro in 1980, after the U.S. boycott scuttled his dreams of an Olympic gold medal, he had won four Golden Gloves titles and 96 of 102 fights.
Moore's professional career began on Nov. 1, 1980, and his lift-off was phenomenal. Moore signed on with Arum, who at the time was well connected in the WBA, and after only eight pro fights—Moore won them all—he took Tadashi Mihara's junior middleweight title by knocking him out, in the sixth round, in Tokyo. He then stiffened three more opponents—including a South African white hope, Charlie Weir, and a club fighter named Gary Guiden. Moore (12-0-0 with 9 KO's) figured he was ready for Duran (75-4-0 with 56 KO's).
In training, Duran looked as trim and agile as a puma, and the suspicion arose that he was doing it with mirrors, as Muhammad Ali had before Larry Holmes knocked him all over the ring 2½ years ago in Las Vegas. Duran laughed at the notion and said, "People think I've been in the sauna because of the way I look. What they don't understand is that I've been working out for four months. Forget about those fights before I defeated Cuevas. I'm not the same person."
The crowds came hoping to see the reincarnation, and the evening became electric. Ali himself set the current humming. As Alfredo Escalera and Gene Hatcher pounded each other in a preliminary, he entered the arena, and the chant began: "Ah-LEE! Ah-LEE! Ah-LEE!" By the time Duran entered the ring, dancing—after former middleweight champ Jake LaMotta had kissed his wife, Vicki, at ringside—the place reminded some in the crowd of old Garden fight nights. "It had the flavor of the Joe Louis nights," said veteran boxing writer Barney Nagler. "The exuberance, the sound and the fervor were old-fashioned."
And so, in a sense, was the way Duran fought, using every move and trick he knew. Duran made the attack from the outset, taking the fight where he wanted it to go, slipping punches deftly while beginning his work on Moore's body. Near the end of the first round, he struck the most telling blow of the fight—a thumb poked in Moore's right eye. It closed gradually in the next few rounds as Duran made a target of it with his jab. Duran shook off whatever Moore landed and continued to press the issue inside and to the body. In the second round, he began pounding Moore's body with uppercuts. Then, coming over with a right, he bloodied Moore's nose. "I wanted to keep up the pressure," Duran said. He did just that. With Duran's back to the ropes, after Moore hit him with a right, he spun Moore around, putting him on the ropes, and ripped back at him with a flurry. "I hit him back in payment for what he'd hit me with," Duran said.
Feeling sluggish, Duran relaxed his attack in the third and fourth rounds, and Moore became the aggressor. "Then I began to get air and began to box, and the boxing renewed my speed," said Duran. He never stopped punishing Moore's body, but now he went after the head, too. By the fourth round, the right eye had' closed, and Moore was bleeding from the nose and lip; by the seventh he was all target. Duran buckled Moore's legs with a combination to the head. As the champion backed up, Duran dropped him with that hard right hand, sending him to the floor with his back on the ropes. There he simply sat with his lower lip puffed out, dazed and helpless. "That punch came from nowhere," Moore said later. He gamely climbed to his feet at the count of eight, and then the bell rang.
At ringside, Moore's mother and girl friend had fainted, slumping in their seats, and now there were cries to stop the bloodbath. But the referee, Ernesto Magaña of Mexico, appeared blind to what was going on. He kept looking at Moore's closed eye, as if waiting for it to fall out before he would stop the fight. Leave it to the WBA to hire a turkey to run a cockfight. That is what it had become, and Duran had all the talons.
"Finish him off now," Duran's trainer, Nestor Quiñones, told him before the eighth. It took Duran two minutes and two seconds to convince Washington to throw a blood-splattered white towel of surrender into the ring. If Magaña saw it, he ignored it. Finally Jay Edson, a Top Rank representative, clambered into the ring and called a halt to the proceedings. "The worst ref I've looked at for a long time," Arcel said. On top of that, the WBA's two Japanese judges, Kasumasa Kuwata and Tashikawa Yoshida, apparently were content to spend the night looking at Magaña looking at Moore's eye. They both called four of the seven rounds even.