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Everyone thought the end had come when Laing whipped Duran in Detroit and King discarded him. That was when he very nearly quit his profession of 15 years. He told Felicidad later, "I'm going to retire. Everything is finished. I don't have the same feeling for it that I had before."
Felicidad listened intently and then had her say. "You can't retire," she told him. Then she pricked him with this needle: "If you had any pride you would demonstrate to Panama and the whole world that you are not finished. You have to sacrifice yourself! One year."
The way back had begun.
To come back, Duran first had to recover his pride, which he had lost in New Orleans' Louisiana Superdome on the night of Nov. 25, 1980 when he spun away from Sugar Ray Leonard in the eighth round of their WBC welterweight title fight, threw up his arms and declared, "No más...no peleo más" (No more, I don't box anymore).
It was, for Duran, more than a simple act of surrender; it was one of near self-immolation. For 6½ years, from June 1972 to December 1978, he had been the lightweight champion of the world, acclaimed as one of the best boxers ever and by consensus the fighter of the 1970s. Always quick to strike, a furious puncher and relentless attacker, he also became a superior boxer, technically and tactically. Defensively, he was as elusive as a wisp of smoke. In Montreal on June 20, 1980, he fought perhaps his best fight, bulling and pressuring and banging the previously undefeated Leonard out of his welterweight crown.
Duran had beaten the American, and he was feted nightly in Panama. Bottoms up. He ate, he drank, he partied. In three months his weight climbed from 147 to 185. "After the Leonard fight in Montreal, I lost control of him," says Carlos Eleta, his manager then. "I couldn't help it. There were so many people around him. The fight went to his head." And the fried rice and whiskey to his belly. Janks Morton, Leonard's trainer, had heard reports of Duran's excesses, and so Leonard's camp sought a return fight as soon as possible. Eleta, not wanting to gamble on his fighter making a defense against a lesser opponent and maybe losing, said yes.
"I was caught off base," says Duran, who had eight weeks to prepare for his second encounter with Leonard.
Duran's chief trainer, Freddie Brown, worked to melt the weight off him in New Orleans, but it was a daily struggle. Duran's entourage was of a size that would have befitted Montezuma, and Eleta says some of the hangers-on slipped him food at night, telling him, "They are training you too hard, taking too much out of your system." Brown complained about this to Eleta, but Eleta could not regain control of Duran.
Until two days before the fight Duran trained in a rubber corset, and three days before it, desperate to lose weight, he took a diuretic. After the weigh-in, dehydrated and famished, he gorged himself on two 16-ounce steaks and almost a quart of orange juice. There were only eight hours to go until the fight.
By the time Duran arrived in the ring, he was ripe for picking. Even today, almost three years later, he stands by his story that stomach cramps did him in; that he was too weak and out of shape to deal with what was before him. In the seventh round, while winding up as if to throw an exaggerated bolo punch, Leonard suddenly popped Duran with a stiff jab, the punch of the year, and danced in front of Duran, sticking out his chin.