While the announced retirement of any fighter should never be taken as gospel (Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali come to mind), it's probably safe to bet the rent that Roberto Duran will never again be paid to appear in short pants and padded mitts. The 30-year-old Panamanian cashed in his career chips last Saturday night at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas after losing a unanimous decision to Wilfred Benitez, the WBC junior middleweight champion with a 43-1-1 record.
Although Duran, the former lightweight and welterweight champion, lost the fight to Benitez, he could walk away from the game with pride and dignity, qualities he conspicuously failed to exhibit 14 months ago.
All week before the Benitez bout, Duran kept saying that if he lost this one there would be no more. "I am fighting Benitez to get one more chance at Ray Leonard," he said. "Leonard is my ultimate goal. But if I lose to Benitez...."
Leonard was the ultimate because on Nov. 25, 1980 in New Orleans' Super-dome, Duran lost his welterweight championship rematch to Leonard when he quit without honor in the eighth round. The words he muttered at the time—no más, no más—have haunted him ever since.
Returning to Panama in disgrace, he begged his manager, Carlos Eleta, for a second chance. "No," said Eleta. Then he relented. "In New Orleans, Duran had surrounded himself with bad people," Eleta explained. "I told him that if he wanted to fight again, first he must get rid of that entourage. It took nine months before the last one was gone. Then he came to me, and I said I would help him."
Duran began his comeback as a 154-pound junior middleweight by winning unspectacular decisions over Nino Gonzalez and Luigi Minchillo. Then he signed to fight Benitez for $500,000.
Duran had been known to train on rich food and fast nightlife. And, next to the Canal, Panama considered him its most important asset. Reports from New York, where he spent time last summer, said Duran had ballooned upwards of 180 pounds before the Gonzalez fight in August. In Panama, getting him into fighting shape for the Benitez bout became a national concern.
Secretly, Eleta and General Omar Torrijós Herrera, Panama's ruler, who has since died in a plane crash, set up training quarters for Duran on Coiba, a penal island 15 miles off the coast of Panama. About 350 people, including Panama's most vicious convicts, live there. For Duran, there would be no restaurants or theaters, no television or telephones. There are no cells on Coiba, but the waters surrounding the island are shark infested.
Duran had been led to believe he would train in Los Angeles, a city of delights that he knows well. Too well. One of his closest advisers, Luis Henriquez, established a training camp in L.A., and last Dec. 2 he returned to Panama to get Duran. On arrival, Henriquez was met by a detachment of national guardsmen.
They took Henriquez to Florencio Flores, their commandant. "Colonel Flores told me not to bother unpacking," Henriquez said. "He said they had a plane waiting to take me and Duran to Coiba. It turned out to be a masterstroke. All the prisoners know what hard times are, and it didn't bother them what Roberto had done in New Orleans. They did wonders building his morale. And, with no distractions, he became hard and mean once more."