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A new Leonard showed up at the Superdome. "We were sky-high in the dressing room," Dundee says. "Different from last time. Everything was cool, smooth, good." Never was the difference more obvious than when Ray Charles, bobbing in the center of the ring, sang America the Beautiful. Ray Charles Leonard grinned hugely in admiration. Duran stood watching, impassively, from across the ring.
What transpired in the next half hour, from the opening bell to Duran's abdication, belongs somewhere under glass as a study of the fall into disgrace of one of the best fighters of modern times. Leonard seized the issue in the first round and never yielded it. Near mid-round, after the two men had cautiously felt one another out, Duran lunged into Leonard and bulled him to the ropes, just as he had done so effectively last June. But now Leonard spun away and landed a right hand. They exchanged punches. And Leonard jabbed. When the challenger caught Duran with a one-two at the end of the round, Duran smiled.
The pace quickened in the second round, and Leonard's effectiveness became more pronounced. He banged two rights to Duran's head, snapping it back, and then he circled and jabbed. Duran seemed puzzled. He started a right but then held it, sensing that Leonard had it measured. While Duran scored well in the third and fifth rounds—he won the third on all three cards, the fifth on two—he was never able to take over the fight as he had in June. He stalked his man, but Leonard repeatedly escaped, feinting to keep Duran off balance, walking away, dancing. Leonard had made a weapon of his jab, which he had not done in Montreal, and as the fight went on, he was countering well with his hook when Duran tried to move inside.
"You're laying back too long," Arcel told Duran between rounds. "You're not aggressive enough. You've got to fight this fellow like you fought him before. Get on top of him. Don't let him move."
Except in the fifth round, when Leonard went to the ropes and Dundee scolded him for it, Duran could not find a place inside. Leonard had learned how to push and pivot away. And when Duran had him inside, attacking the body, Leonard answered him with whistling uppercuts. Neither man was ever hurt, but Leonard could sense Duran's increasing frustration as the rounds went by. At one point, Leonard says, he had moved right and left and right, and then beheld a curious sight. "He was looking at my feet," Leonard says. "I was moving here and there and it tripped him out. Tripped me out. I said, 'I got him now.' He was reaching for me and couldn't catch me. I could hear Howard Cosell's voice at ringside. His voice, like, stands out: 'Duran is completely bewildered!' "
If it was one thing for Duran to be frustrated, unable to mount a sustained attack, it was another to be made a fool of, to be taunted and dared to throw a punch. Leonard does not know why he did what he did in the seventh round, but he had planned in his mind to be cute, to try to anger Duran. Late in the seventh, Leonard threw the most memorable punch of the night. Winding up his right hand, as if to throw a bolo, he suddenly snapped out a left jab that caught Duran flush on the face. "It made his eyes water," Leonard says. Having made a fool of him, Leonard continued taunting Duran mercilessly. He stuck out his chin, inviting Duran to hit him. Duran hesitated. Leonard kept it up, moving, stopping, mugging. Leonard scored again with a hook and two right hands. At the bell, Duran seemed to smile as he walked back to his corner. Three minutes later the fight was over.
Duran had lost control of his destiny in the ring. Except for one minor defeat, in a non-title fight against Esteban DeJesus in Madison Square Garden eight years ago, he had been in charge in every ring he'd ever entered in his life. And suddenly, no more.
"I didn't use my body," Leonard says. "I used my head." Leonard may have hurt Duran with blows to the body and brought water to his eyes with stinging jabs to the nose, but Leonard knew where to sink the blade to make the deepest wound. That slip-jab off the mock bolo in the seventh round may have been the most painful blow of Duran's life, because it drew hooting laughter from the crowd and made Duran a public spectacle—a laughingstock.
Despite the objections of the boxing purists, Leonard's taunting of Duran did its wicked work; it was undoubtedly the most sustained humiliation Duran ever suffered. Leonard had his number, and Duran knew it. Perhaps, as Arcel suggests, "something snapped." And so, facing seven more rounds, Duran turned and raised his arms in the eighth, as if emerging from a trench.
Immediately after the Montreal bout, in which both men fought gallantly, Duran had refused to touch gloves and had roared around the ring berating Leonard. For months he had been saying that he hated Leonard. And now, finally, he embraced him. Perhaps he had found humility at last. And, not unexpectedly, he announced his retirement, a reasonable thing to do, given what had gone before.