Early of a morning five years ago, while training for a fight in New York, Roberto Duran put on his sweat suit, joined his perpetual shadow, Trainer Freddie Brown, and started out of the Hotel Mayflower to do his roadwork in Central Park. But it was raining when they hit the street. Not wanting to expose his fighter to the chill of the elements, certainly not on the eve of a fight, Brown waved Duran back inside.
"If it stops raining," Freddie said, "I'll call you."
Duran returned to his room, Brown to his. Half an hour later Brown peeked out the window and saw that the rain had stopped. He went to Duran's room.
"No rain," said Freddie. "We go."
Duran waved the trainer away. "No," the fighter said. Duran was overweight, as usual, and needed the work to trim down to 135 pounds, the ceiling for the lightweight division. Over the last few years—ever since Duran had pounded Ken Buchanan loose from his lightweight title in 1972—Brown had served not only as Duran's chief cut man, counselor and chaperon, but also as his conscience, a stern reminder that Roberto must work to win.
"Come on," said Freddie, "ya gotta go, ya gotta run."
Duran was standing at the door of the room, facing it, when he exploded in a rage. He suddenly threw his awesome straight right hand into the door. The thwack resounded like a thunderclap. On the adjacent wall a framed picture fell to the floor, its pane of glass shattering. Saying nothing, Brown left the room and headed for the lobby. Duran soon joined him and set out on his run.
" Duran's a funny guy," says Brown. "Hard to work with. He's definitely got a mind of his own. But he listens. He does. He listens."
Now it is May 1980, and Duran is still listening. It is midafternoon at Grossinger's in New York's Catskill Mountains. The fighter is moving around a ring in the middle of a circular wooden structure that serves as the resort's ski lodge in winter. There are flowers in the fields now, and on this drowsily warm spring day sweat beads the fighter's impassive face. Duran is preparing for the night of June 20, when he will climb into the ring in Montreal's Olympic Stadium to fight the World Boxing Council's welterweight champion, Sugar Ray Leonard, for the title. Duran is sparring, after a fashion, with one Simon Smith, who is throwing feather duster punches and running from Duran. Brown stands on the ring apron, his arms resting on the top rope, watching with mounting dismay.
Duran has already gone four rounds with Teddy White, a Leonard look-alike, pursuing him from one corner of the ring to another and howling like a hoot owl as he throws his punches—"Hoooo! Hoooo!"—but now he is slowing; the owl in him is asleep. He turns his back on Smith and walks away. Facing him again, he jams his thumbs into his trunks. He leans back, bends side to side, ducking and slipping whatever Smith throws. He shrugs. He dances a step or two. He raises his hands palms out, and parries. Brown snorts and stalks away from the ring as the round ends. Had someone offered him a pan of water, he surely would have washed his hands of this.