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"Eleta didn't even call me. Eleta forgot me," says Duran. "Even one of my own sisters forgot me. I was hoping that Eleta would come and tell me, 'Well, I've got you the date for the rematch with Leonard,' so I could begin training in earnest. But no, nothing." Even today, after all he has been through, Duran doesn't seem to fathom what he did in New Orleans that night; how fully he condemned himself to the "wind and dizziness" that followed. He never stopped crying for one last chance against Leonard. He cries yet.
Duran was living in a house haunted by Leonard, and the exorcising of this ghost required no less than a third Duran-Leonard fight. Duran vowed not to return to Panama until he was re-crowned a champion, and he began his pursuit of Leonard, who was preparing for Hearns. It tormented Duran. "He thinks about it all the time, all the time, all the time," Eleta says.
When King and Eleta set Duran up for his first fight after New Orleans, against Nino Gonzalez, an unranked junior middleweight, Duran trained indifferently. "I didn't want that," he says. "I wanted Leonard. I fought Gonzalez just to fight. Not many people showed up, and those that did came to mock me and scream at me." Duran struggled, showing only brief flashes of his former self, but he won a 10-round decision. Six weeks later, on Sept. 26, he decisioned Luigi Minchillo. "Why won't Leonard give me the rematch?" he asked.
Duran's weight blew up in the ensuing months, and when he signed to fight Benitez for his 154-pound title on Jan. 30, 1982, Duran was the Bad Year blimp; he weighed more than 180 pounds. At the suggestion of the late General Omar Torrijos, then head of the Panama National Guard, Eleta sent Duran to the island of Coiba, off the Panama coast, a maximum-security penal colony. There, sharks patrolled offshore and prisoners ran free.
"Wow!" says Duran. "I was a prisoner among prisoners! To make a telephone call you had to climb a mountain. You called by shortwave radio. There were many murderers there; not many thieves, mostly pure murderers. I was scared. The prisoners walked around with machetes because they used them for work in the mountains. Whenever I went into the streets I had a guard with me. At three in the morning, roosters would be crowing. I couldn't get any sleep. I was pulling my hair out. That was a disgrace. It was a big mistake, a bad decision to go there."
Duran fought gamely but ineffectually against Benitez and lost a unanimous 15-round decision. After almost 14 years together, Eleta and Duran parted following that fight, Eleta scolding Duran one more time about his crash weight-loss programs before each fight. "You should train in the proper way or you should retire," Eleta told him. "You are going to kill yourself."
Eleta's departure from Duran's camp left only King and Nestor Quiñones, his Panamanian trainer since he was a boy, from the inner circle that had surrounded Duran in the glory days. The 84-year-old Ray Arcel, Duran's strategist since he beat Ken Buchanan for the lightweight title in 1972, had retired after the second fight with Leonard, shaken and bewildered. Arcel had come back for the Benitez bout, but when that was over he bowed out, writing a letter to Duran about all books having a final chapter and suggesting that Duran had written his. The 76-year-old Brown, for 11 years Duran's conscience and shadow in training camp, had departed after no más, bitter over a money disagreement with Eleta.
Along with his handlers, Duran's dream soon disappeared, too. By the time of the Laing fight, Leonard had been operated on for a detached retina sustained in training. He would retire two months later. Then, after the Laing fiasco. King ungracefully bowed out; the final encounter between Duran and King occurred in New York two days after King's tirade in Detroit and, if anything, was more humiliating to Duran.
King lets you know how brightly you shine in his firmament by how long he keeps you waiting in his outer office. Roberto and Felicidad arrived at 1:30, seeking the purse for the Laing fight. When King hadn't called them into his presence by four o'clock, Duran left. "I'm not going to be humiliated by anyone," he said, leaving his wife with the lawyers who had accompanied them. She finally saw King around two hours later.
The following day Duran walked the 20 blocks to the office of King's archrival. Bob Arum, who with King had co-promoted the first Leonard-Duran fight. Even before the Laing fight Duran had asked Arum for the chance to fight his young, inexperienced WBA junior middleweight champion, Davey Moore. Arum had agreed to make the fight, which led to a clash with King that ended abruptly after the Laing fight. King then didn't want Duran anymore. "I figured I wouldn't hear from Duran again," Arum says.