SI Vault
William Nack
December 08, 1980
In a stunning fall from glory, Roberto Duran, the apostle of machismo, blamed stomach cramps as he surrendered his welterweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard
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December 08, 1980

The Big Bellyache

In a stunning fall from glory, Roberto Duran, the apostle of machismo, blamed stomach cramps as he surrendered his welterweight title to Sugar Ray Leonard

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"I went to his room to commiserate with him, to console him, and I could hardly get in," said Arcel's wife, Stevie. "There was a party in the room. Roberto was singing with his wife."

"You'd think he'd won the fight," growled Brown.

"That's it," said the 81-year-old Arcel. "I've had it. This is terrible. I've handled thousands of fighters and never had anyone quit on me. I think this guy needs a psychiatrist more than he needs anything else. What happens to the human mind? Who knows? I've been associated with guys like Ezzard Charles and Barney Ross, guys who gave their all. Duran always possessed the same courage, the same determination. He was a fighter. If anyone had ever come to Freddie and me and said, 'This guy will quit on you,' I'd have spit in the guy's eye. Duran quitting? Never. He would never quit."

But quit he did. Duran said he started suffering from stomach cramps in the fifth round, and then came nausea and weakness—and all that may be true. But he was not ill after the fight—in fact he ate as well as partied that night—and a comprehensive medical examination the following day uncovered no physical disorder. Dr. Orlando Nuñez, Duran's personal physician, says the problem stemmed from the fact that Duran ate too much after the noon weigh-in on the day of the fight. The bout began at 9 p.m.

When he was the undisputed lightweight champion of the world (1972-78) Duran always had trouble making the weight; even as a welterweight he has had to diet seriously to make the 147-pound limit. On the morning of the fight he weighed 148 pounds, and he spent the hours before the weigh-in drying out. He came in at 146. Immediately afterward, Nuñez says, Duran drank a large thermos of consommé and half a thermos of hot tea. He then wolfed down an orange as big as a grapefruit. At 1 p.m., Nuñez says, Duran ate lunch: two large T bone steaks, French fries, four large glasses of orange juice, two glasses of water and a cup of tea. At 5 p.m. Duran ate half a steak and drank more tea. (Leonard, incidentally, had a large breakfast on the day of the fight—two eggs and grits, two pieces of toast, peaches and Kool-Aid. He also weighed in at 146. So while Duran was starving himself to make the weight, Leonard was able to eat well. For dinner, at 4 p.m., Leonard had fried chicken, green peas, a glass of water and Kool-Aid.) Duran may well have had cramps from stuffing himself the day of the fight, a condition no doubt exacerbated by the right and left uppercuts that Leonard stuck in his belly. But Carlos Eleta, Duran's manager, shrugged at the suggestion that Duran had overeaten. The stomach of stone, Eleta insists, always ate that way before a fight.

Even if he was suffering cramps, the question persists. Why would Duran, a warrior one would expect to demand to be carried off on his shield, simply throw up his hands and quit? Arcel says he got a telephone call the morning after the fight, and the caller accused Duran of a calculated fix.

Does that make sense? Money has never been the principal engine driving Duran. Eleta has said that Roberto never knows how much he makes for a fight, trusting Eleta to invest his share for him. The one thing that Duran has always cared most about—the thing that money cannot buy and that he senses every moment he spends in Panama—is his status as a national hero. Would he deliberately lose a fight, especially as ignominiously as he did this one, and thereby jeopardize his place before a nation that adores him? Would a man who had fought so hard and so well and for so long—a man of inordinate self-esteem—roll over and take a dive near the end of his career? If he would behave so remarkably out of character, then we have never known him.

Surely the circumstances—and Leonard—conspired against Duran, leading him to commit the one act of which those around him thought him incapable. While Duran came to the fight at the end of a long, enervating battle against weight—according to Brown he went into training in September at 173 pounds and still weighed 160 as late as the first week of November—Leonard stayed in condition. Throughout the summer Leonard had been running, and he went to camp in late October already fit. In fact, Leonard says, he never approached a fight better prepared mentally, physically and tactically than he was for this one. He had had a falling-out with Dave Jacobs, his trainer since his amateur days. Jacobs had wanted Leonard to take a couple of tune-up fights before he met Duran again, but Leonard insisted on the rematch immediately. So Jacobs quit. That left Leonard's day-to-day conditioning program in the hands of Janks Morton, his trainer, closest adviser and best friend. And, ultimately, it also gave Angelo Dundee more of a hand in working on Leonard's technical skills.

In the past, Morton says, Leonard worked hard and continuously in preparing for a fight, sometimes sparring as many as 15 rounds a day. Convinced that Leonard would benefit from less work, Morton started Leonard sparring a week later than normal, never let him spar more than nine rounds a day and periodically gave him a day or two off.

Dundee flew to Washington, D.C. in early November, earlier than he usually arrived in camp, and began to work at once in schooling Leonard in a strategy for the rematch. After workouts, Dundee, Morton and Leonard would huddle, Dundee talking and gesturing. Sitting there listening, Leonard at times looked as earnest as a graduate student in theology. Dundee's litany was simple. "Keep the guy turning...hit him with shots coming in...belly jab...pivot off the ropes...spin out...slip jab.... Move over! Don't go straight back...push him off you.... When you spin, stay there. And nail him!"

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