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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Sugar Ray Leonard, hands folded over the raspberry-colored robe covering his pajamas, comes to his feet as if on springs, moves to the center of the den and stops, planting himself in a crouch. Flames crackle in the fireplace behind him. Pivoting quickly, with his slippers flopping off his heels, he lashes the air with his fists.

"The whole fight, I was moving, I was moving," Leonard says. "And Voom! I snapped his head back with a jab. Voom! Snapped it back again. When he tried to get me against the ropes, I'd pivot, spin off and Pow! Come under with a punch." Adjusting his rhythm, weaving in place, Leonard stops and crouches again, his eyes large and unblinking.

"And every time I hit him he'd make that noise." Leonard looks upward, mimicking the eerie sound Roberto Duran makes when he is in the ring—the sound of a malevolent owl. "Hooooo.... Hoooooo.... You know that noise he makes. And then he'd get inside and I'd rip to the body and come across with the right. I did everything I said I was going to do. And he couldn't accept it. He was frustrated, confused. I did everything I could to make him go off, like a clock wound up too tight. He got wound up so tight, he blew a spring."

It is 10 o'clock on Friday morning in Leonard's home in Bowie, Md., some 60 hours after he'd regained his World Boxing Council welterweight championship from Duran in one of the most startling and controversial endings to a prizefight in the annals of a sport notorious for controversy. Leonard has every right on this gray morning to be dancing in his slippers in his den, for the full weight of what he had done has only recently settled in; he is just beginning to comprehend its magnitude.

"Most people considered it impossible," Leonard says. "They said Ray can't get up. Ray's not angry enough. Ray doesn't have that killer instinct. Ray's not that kind of person. Ray's too nice. But I didn't lose track of what must be done to carry out the mission—and it was a mission. It was like going to the Olympics. I proved myself in New Orleans. I proved to him what I could do. I made him quit. To make a man quit, to make a Roberto Duran quit, was better than knocking him out."

And that, undeniably, was what Leonard had done. At the close of a fistic tour de force in which he had beaten Duran to the punch, neutralized his brawling attacks, slipped many of his punches, danced and walked circles around him—and laughed at him, taunted, embarrassed and humiliated him—Duran, the 29-year-old WBC welterweight champion from Panama, simply threw up his arms. With 16 seconds left to go in the eighth round, he surrendered.

If Duran arrived in New Orleans with a reputation as unassailable as Simón Bolívar's—he had a career record of 72-1, after all, including his victory over Leonard last June 20 in Montreal—he left with it somewhere in the neighborhood of Papa Doc's. It was bizarre to witness so swift and devastating a collapse of a man's name. And what a name it was. Here was a man whose whole professional life had been built upon the precepts of Latin American machismo. Child ruffian, teen-age street fighter, fearless and remorseless brawler and boxer, he emerged by stages into a gladiator whose whole public person described with uncommon precision a certain standard of manliness. He had manos de piedra, hands of stone, and was extremely fast on his feet, moving with the suddenness of a mongoose, his black hair flying and his brown eyes flashing. Despite his objections, he was known as El Animal, a name he earned in the ring. He had knocked out 55 of his 72 opponents before the Leonard fights, and he seemed to possess a self-generating fury. He was a hell of a fighter.

So it was incomprehensible that Duran would quit. When, unhurt, he turned his back on Leonard and said to Referee Octavio Meyran, "No mas, no mas" one had the sensation of summer lightning in the air, freezing forever in the mind that scene and that man with his arms raised. Incredulous, the referee said to Duran, "¿Por qué?" Duran replied, by way of not answering, "No mas."

Meyran's question lingers, unanswered yet. ¿Por qué? Duran left his two veteran trainers, Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, groping for an explanation, trying to make sense out of something they would have regarded an hour earlier as not merely unlikely but impossible. So the two were reduced to embarrassed musing. All Duran would say to Arcel was, "I quit. No gonna fight anymore."

"He just quit," said Brown. "I been with the guy nine years and I can't answer it. The guy's supposed to be an animal, right? And he quit. You'd think that an animal would fight right up to the end."

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