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Ricardo de la Espriella, the President of Panama, invited Duran to come back home, but Duran begged off temporarily, saying he first wanted to spend a few days in Miami among the Cubans and then some time in California among the Mexican-Americans, both of whom had, Duran says, "opened their doors to me." He adds, "Yeah, how come they want me in Panama? How come they didn't say that before? I remember when I used to go out to the street to run in Panama and people would yell to me, 'Retire! Are you crazy? You're not going anywhere!' Today, all those people hug me, kiss me."
He eventually went back to Panama, of course, and had a good time. Still, he never misses a chance to remind Panamanians of how they treated him after New Orleans and of how cold the shoulders got again after the Laing fight. "When I spoke to the President, he asked me to please come, and because of him I finally went to Panama," Duran says. "He said he'd send an airplane. I went to Panama to see those people humble themselves beside me, applaud me and all those things."
On the ride from the airport into Panama City, crowds estimated at 300,000 to 400,000 lined the streets, cheering him as he passed. Less than three years before, he had been a prisoner in his own house in this town, and now the people were greeting him as they had greeted Pope John Paul II three months earlier. "When I was in the car, during the parade, I laughed and laughed at the hypocrisy," Duran says. "I was saying to myself, 'Look at all those hypocrites, today applauding me, saluting me.' "
There was talk of a Hagler-Duran matchup even before Duran destroyed Moore. In May, Hagler was supposed to do a boxing skit with Leonard at Bob Hope's birthday party at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., but Leonard had to drop out at the last minute to undergo surgery for a hernia. Duran was summoned from his training camp in McAfee, N.J. to replace him; he left in such a hurry that he arrived wearing two right shoes.
Duran and Hagler shared the same dressing room. At rehearsal, while the two fighters went through their skit, Spada said to Arum, "I don't believe it. They're about the same size." Hagler, at 5'8½", is only one inch taller. It got the two camps thinking. When Duran stopped Moore, Hagler was among the first to get to the ring, and he ended up giving most of the interviews. The fight was made.
Hagler, with a record of 57-2-2, is a 3-to-l favorite, and the consensus of smokehouse savants was that Duran, substantially outgunned and undersized—Hagler, for example, has an eight-inch reach advantage—was in for a desperate evening. Hagler, 29, a true 160-pounder and a natural lefty, is regarded as the most capable champion in boxing today. He throws a crushing punch from either side and is notably hard-hitting with his right jab and hook. He's also a studious boxer who changes stances easily.
"There's no script for this fight," says Mort Sharnik, CBS-TV's boxing consultant. "Anything could happen." It could be a war, with Duran attacking as he attacked Leonard in Montreal, taking the fight to Hagler from the git-go. It could be a long, boring boxing match in which two superior boxers make intermittent contact between disengagements. Or a combination of the two. Hagler is worried about the bout going the full 15 rounds, since the WBA, which will designate the ref and judges, is controlled politically by Latin Americans and Duran is a Latino. "I can't leave it up to the judges here," Hagler says. "I have to go in and do the job. If Duran goes 15 rounds with me, he's going to be busted up."
Hagler, as usual, has trained as if he's to meet the Creature from the Black Lagoon. "I respect Duran," Hagler says. "He's a very experienced fighter. When guys are dangerous, don't play with them. My motto for this fight is: Don't play with him—bust him up. I think this fight will bring out everything I've learned. It will all come out that night. I'd like nothing better than to end Duran's career."
For his part, Duran, whose record stands at 76-4-0, has never seemed looser before a fight. Recently, getting a haircut at his Palm Springs hotel barbershop, he serenaded the attendants with a medley of Cuban songs. He told joke after joke, night after night, as he moved about Palm Springs, and he laughed loudest of all at them. He punished sparring partners during his daily afternoon sessions. He saw Arum walk by the ring one day and said, "Hi, Bob." Arum glanced over, and Duran stuck out his tongue.
"The problems Hagler presents don't interest me," Duran says. "When I'm in condition and I train, I'm not interested in anything like that. Nothing bothers me when I become hot-blooded; let him come any way he wants. I can fight inside as well as outside. If I'm not there, he won't hit me. I will have a lot of movement for him. I will go to the body. I should be frightened because he's a higher weight than me? You're crazy. Now it's time. Now he's going to fight someone with quality."