“I think it’s a part of history. It’s such an important period in my boxing career and I hear it all the time,” said Leonard with a laugh, realizing this subject will always resonate with the public. Perhaps some don’t remember his historic come-from-behind victory over the undefeated Thomas Hearns but they all remember “No Mas.” “Whether it’s from a young kid who wasn’t born - in fact his parents were not born when that happened - but I do hear it quite often,” said Leonard.
From the very time the fight ended, Duran (who went into hiding as he became a pugilist pariah) became the focus, not Leonard, who avenged his first career loss.
“Well, y’ know, back in the day, back when it did happen - and let’s say a week or two weeks or a year later, it was more so about what he did as opposed to what I made him do. And it used to bother me a little bit,” he admitted, “but naturally, as we age and as we became a little more lenient or more understanding, whatever Duran tells me now, it’s cool with me.”
The story of these two legends really begins five months before the rematch when they engaged in their first encounter in Montreal. Despite Leonard having won a gold medal in that city several years before, Duran somehow captured the imagination of the locals. Leonard admits Duran’s behavior got under his skin. The normally cool and unflappable Leonard was anything but going into this fight.
“Big time. I mean, everything because I had never met anyone that was so vulgar and street and I’m from the streets but not that kind,” said Leonard, who grew up in Palmer Park, Maryland. “This guy was in my face, in my wife’s face, my kid’s face; he was in everybody’s face and I think one of the main reasons was that there was such a communication gap that I didn’t understand him - but I understood what he was saying and the way he was saying it.
“When he said things, I said, ‘I got that’ and I didn’t verbally retaliate and it always bothered me. I mean, it bothered me so much that I said, ‘I’m going to fight this guy and beat him at his own game.’ Stupid? Yes. But that’s what occurred.”
Over 15 back-and-forth rounds, Leonard and Duran battled but the latter got the better of the exchanges as the normally smooth-boxing Leonard decided to stand and trade with Duran, dropping a close unanimous decision.
Leonard admits, “I took such a brutal beating in that fight.”
But was his pride hurt more than his body?
“No, baby,” said Leonard, laughing at the thought. He readily admits he took a shellacking from the heavy-handed Panamanian. “Listen, I had bumps, contusions, bruises - I had everything. He hit me so hard and when he hit me the first time, I said, ‘That name fits him quite well, ‘Manos de Piedra’ (“Hands of Stone”).
It didn’t take long for Leonard to seek a return bout.
“A few months later I said, ‘Let’s do it,’” recalled Leonard, who made the decision to revisit Hell while in the tropical paradise of Hawaii. “I’m on the beach running instead of being in the ocean and I’m hearing people say, ‘Hey, Sugar, you could’ve beat Duran if you had boxed him,’ or ‘Hey, man, close fight. I thought you won the fight,’ and ‘Why did you fight that way?’ On probably the second day of running, I said, ‘Y’ know I gotta call Mike Trainer (Leonard’s adviser),’ and I called Mike and said, ‘Mike, I want Duran ASAP, right now.’ It was pride. It was pride and it bothered me.”
The rematch was scheduled for the Superdome in New Orleans just five months after their initial meeting. And Leonard had a great omen as he stepped into the ring that night: Ray Charles was brought in to sing “America the Beautiful.”
“I mean, of all the places to meet my namesake, of all the places, Ray Charles, a legend. When he was in the ring and if you go back and watch the tape, you’ll see me - all of a sudden - smile. It was like, ‘OK, Duran; you’re in trouble. This is the USA, baby.’ I swear it was like, ‘You’re in trouble.’ I was so comfortable, so pleased with my training. I knew I was going to win but when Ray Charles was there - because I didn’t know he’d be singing - I was like, ‘Wow, this is too good to be true,’” recalled Leonard, who was looking to regain his WBC welterweight title.
Unlike the first chapter, Leonard wasn’t standing in the pocket or on the ropes but was riddling Duran with his movement and quickness.
“I just felt so good, naturally. I was being mobile, side-to-side, and he really couldn’t hit me,” said Leonard, who, during his prime, had dancers’ feet. “It was totally opposite of Montreal, some five, six months later. It was so opposite because I was moving. I was in control. I stayed out the corners. I threw my combinations. I used my jab. Everything worked.”
Then in an act of hubris, Leonard started embarrassing a fighter who defined the very word “machismo.”
“When I did that little nodding, sticking my chin out, that was so spontaneous. It was something my brother, Roger had tried to convince me to do to Duran to make him mad, push his head down. All those things - and I did those things. That was my brother’s fight plan. I don’t encourage anyone to do that. That just happened that night,” Leonard said while chuckling, “but it worked and I heard people laughing at Roberto Duran and I’m sure - I’m sure that it really bothered him.”
The popular misconception about Leonard-Duran II was, while Duran was being mocked and ridiculed, he was still very much in the fight. Two scorecards had Leonard up by two points (68-66) and the other by a single round (67-66). Yet Duran still felt compelled to just step away from the breach and call it quits. Suddenly in the middle of the eighth round, he decided he had had enough, shocking Leonard, referee Octavio Meyran and millions across the world.
“Well, the referee didn’t quite understand what [Duran] was trying to say or express but when he kept shaking his hands like, ‘No, no, no’ and he walked away, his facial expressions said, ‘This is it; I’m done. I’m finished; no more,’ and I knew. It happened twice; the referee stopped it and said, ‘Alright, that’s it.’ I was shocked. I was like everybody else in the world, like, ‘What the hell just happened here?’ I was like, ‘Wow.’”
The ironic thing is Duran never actually uttered those two (in)famous words, “No Mas.” But as Leonard points out, “His body language indicated, ‘I’m done.’”
Leonard, has aged gracefully and not just physically (it looks like he can still make welterweight) but also from a personal standpoint. He has talked openly of his past personal failings and you get the sense he is truly comfortable in his own skin and where he is in life. His past rivals are now his friends (well, OK, maybe not Marvin Hagler) but long ago, the hatchet was buried with Duran.
“When I agreed to fight him some 20 years later at the Mirage,” joked Leonard, speaking of their third meeting, which actually took place nine years later in 1989. “He hugged me when the fight was announced. He said, ‘Thank you, friend; thank you so much.’ He hugged me and I hugged him. I think we even kissed each other on the cheek. I think, at that time, Duran was having a few problems.”
So in other words, Leonard provided Duran with his own economic stimulus plan?
“Yeah, I think that’s what it was,” Leonard said, with a laugh, “but it was really cool. At the time, I was like, 35, 36 but I didn’t have the same mental stability because I had separated my wife and things were just not going great in my life and Roberto was only fighting for the finances.”
But their second fight will always be talked about the most.
“Look, we’re talking about this some 33 years later and we’re still trying to find out what exactly happened and only Roberto can express that.”
NO MAS FLURRIES
Octavio Meyran also was the third man in the ring when Buster Douglas faced Mike Tyson in Tokyo in 1990...Even though Gary Russell Jr. has been made the mandatory for WBO featherweight titlist Orlando Salido, the fine print says the fight has to take place within 180 days. So look for Vasyl Lomachenko to face Salido in January in New York…Here’s the latest episode of “The Next Round”: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/thenextround/2013/10/15/the-next-round-episode-453... Antonio Tarver returns on November 26th versus Mike Sheppard on Golden Boy Live on Fox Sports 1. You can insert your own punchline...I can be reached at email@example.com and I tweet at www.twitter.com/stevemaxboxing. We also have a Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/MaxBoxing, where you can discuss our content with Maxboxing readers as well as chime in via our fully interactive article comments sections.