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In Defeat, Roberto's Redemption
Pat Putnam
February 08, 1982
Though Wilfred Benitez beat him, Roberto Duran exhibited no no más in what surely his finale
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February 08, 1982

In Defeat, Roberto's Redemption

Though Wilfred Benitez beat him, Roberto Duran exhibited no no más in what surely his finale

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Wilfred was enraged by the comment. Jumping up, he tried to get at Duran, who laughed and ducked out of the way. Later, in his dressing room, Duran said, "All of Benitez' clowning just proves he is afraid of me. I sleep nights. I am sure he doesn't."

Duran's interpreter relayed a question about Leonard.

"I am fighting Benitez," Duran said angrily. "I don't think about Leonard. Why do you keep asking me about Leonard? Why don't you go ask Leonard why he doesn't give me a second chance like I gave him?"

On the night of the fight Leonard was doing color commentary at ringside for Home Box Office, which was televising the bout live. He had picked Benitez to win. "But only if he doesn't fight Duran the way I fought him in Montreal," Leonard said, grinning.

Just before the first bell, Benitez, who had been scowling across the ring at Duran, turned and winked at Leonard. Then, with a 2½" height advantage and those marvelous reflexes that he calls radar, he went to work.

For this fight, Eleta had coaxed Ray Arcel from retirement. The 82-year-old trainer had packed it in after the New Orleans debacle. "It made me sick," Arcel said. "Physically sick. I couldn't eat. I couldn't sleep. I was jittery. But I guess it's true that time heals all wounds. Who knows what happened that night? Not even Duran can explain it. Can you condemn a man for one mistake? When Eleta called me I told him if Duran was ever in a big fight, I would be there."

Now Arcel had ordered Duran to get on top of Benitez and stay there. "I don't want a fencing match," he said. "That's his game. We got to fight him for 15 rounds. He's a stylist, but we are stronger. It's brain against brawn."

Duran came out firing, but Benitez is a bewildering target. He stands straight up, barely moving, appearing no more difficult to hit than, say, the ring post. But you swing and he is gone; sometimes by no more than a fraction of an inch, but gone.

Duran became frustrated. He tried to lunge in behind a jab, only to leave himself off-balance and open for snapping hooks to the body. In the third round Benitez began to fire righthand leads to the head, each time paying for it as Duran banged combinations to the body. Benitez switched to digging both hands to the body. By the end of the round, Duran was backing up, and he looked grim. Benitez continued to work over Duran's body in the fourth, and at the bell he hit Leonard with another wink.

The sixth was Duran's best round: He hit Benitez with three solid right hands to the head. But Benitez didn't blink.

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