Who's going to win the Roberto Duran- Sugar Ray Leonard welterweight title fight? Duran, if he presses, says Cus D'Amato, the boxing oracle who predicted Ali would become the first heavyweight to win the championship three times (SCORECARD, July 10, 1978). "If Duran stays on top of Leonard, he'll win," is the way D'Amato puts it. "But he can't stop and rest because that will give Leonard a chance to use his superb talents. If Duran doesn't press, Leonard will beat him. Duran has the ability to anticipate a punch, but Leonard throws three, four or five punches in a fast combination or rhythm, and he could stop Duran with the second, third or fourth one. Duran must press. Leonard doesn't fight when he's pressed. Also, when he's pinned on the ropes, he's constantly on defense. Leonard did not do well in his fight with Marcos Geraldo, and his camp tried to explain his poor performance by saying he had fought a middleweight. It wasn't that; it was the pressure Geraldo put on him. Pressure inhibits Leonard's performance."
What can Leonard do if Duran is ultra-aggressive? "Sidestep to negate the pressure," says D'Amato. Won't the skillful Leonard do that? "I doubt it," D'Amato says. "I've never seen him do it, and I have observed him a lot."
Peering into the future, D'Amato inclines toward Ali should his fight with Larry Holmes ever come off. "It all depends on Ali's attitude," Cus says. " Holmes can be intimidated. In the finals of the Olympic boxing trials at West Point in 1972, Holmes quit right in the middle of the third round. Something like this doesn't stay with all people, but I think it has with him. Holmes used to spar with Ali, and he had to be affected by Ali's personality. Ali doesn't beat opponents because he's much better, but because he's been able to psych them out. That's why he never liked to fight guys who didn't understand English. If Ali can become motivated and project his attitude of inevitable force, Holmes will be receptive to Ali's mental powers."
Now in their 12th season, the San Diego Padres have developed few top-notch players from their early draft choices, and their selection of Jeff Pyburn, University of Georgia outfielder and quarterback, as their first-round pick this year has upset fans. Padre GM Bob Fontaine passed over two highly rated local outfielders, who went in the first round, to make Pyburn the fifth player selected in the draft. "A lot of teams shied away from Jeff because they thought he would go into pro football," Fontaine says, "but he had indicated to us that he preferred to play baseball. [Pyburn's father, Jim, is a former Oriole outfielder.] Jeff has as much as or more power than Dave Winfield, and Jeff is the player we were hoping to get in the first round."
However, according to the Major League Scouting Bureau, Pyburn is muscle-bound as a result of lifting weights for football and will have trouble hitting major league fastballs. The bureau also called him a below-average outfielder and listed him as "NP," no prospect, though he hit .400 at Georgia, set school records for homers and RBIs and has 6.4 speed in the 60.
Fontaine, who signed Pyburn for an estimated $100,000, watched him make his pro debut for Class A Reno last week. Pyburn singled in two at bats and drove in the winning run. That gave Fontaine cause for cheer; he may rise or fall on Pyburn's performance. So might someone in the scouting bureau.
FRIDAY THE 13TH
Superstitions abound in baseball. Some players refuse to change an article of clothing during a streak, others erase the white lines delineating the batter's box, avoid stepping on the foul lines or make sure they touch second base on the way to the outfield. Some scan the stands for red-haired women for good luck. Some refuse to hold a baseball during the playing of the national anthem.