Sugar Ray Leonard was in the ring face to face with Roberto Duran in Panama recently for the filming of the ESPN documentary, “No Mas.” I asked Leonard if he was tempted to take a shot at Duran.
“Just a slap, Ray, and you’ve got Leonard-Duran IV,” I said, joking.
“No,” Leonard answered. “I had a lot of comebacks but when I hit 50 I knew it was over.”
Actually, at that moment — the point in the documentary, now airing on ESPN, where Leonard, 57, confronts Duran, 61, and asks him for the truth about why Duran quit in the ring in the eighth round in their November 1980 rematch in New Orleans — Ray Leonard felt sympathy for his arch-rival.
You can see in Duran’s eyes that he was ashamed of being face to face with Leonard, with the scene being recorded for all to see, being asked to explain why the ultimate ring warrior retreated that night. It was painful for him.
Leonard saw that. He saw that Duran was in more pain from that moment than Leonard was.
“I wanted him to say, ‘You made me quit,’” Leonard said. “But then, at that moment, I saw him as a brother, a friend. He was struggling to think of what he could say, but nothing he could say could change what happened. I looked in his eyes. He was almost in tears. It was powerful stuff.”
Leonard had gone there looking for answers. The Palmer Park, Md., native remained angry and frustrated that Duran had robbed Leonard of the glory of the rematch victory, after the two men fought a brutal 15-round war six months earlier in Montreal that Duran won, taking the welterweight title from Leonard and handing him his first professional loss.
It was a deeply personal loss for Leonard. Duran had gotten into Leonard’s head before that first fight, ferociously confronting Leonard whenever he could.
“On the whole press tour, whenever they met each other, Duran always had this, ‘I hate you’ look,” said Ollie Dunlap, one of Leonard’s aides. “It really got bad in Montreal. Duran got into Leonard’s head. He disrespected his wife, and then we were on our way to an appearance at a mall in Montreal when we saw Duran and he spit on the ground towards Ray. All those things were to get into Ray’s head.”
After the loss, Leonard was so beaten and battered that he decided to retire. But after a vacation to Hawaii, Leonard changed his mind and called his business manager, Mike Trainer, asking him to make a rematch as soon as possible.
Leonard wanted his revenge, and he appeared to be on his way to getting it in the rematch at the Superdome. He was boxing Duran and frustrating him, winning the fight, when Duran waved his glove at the referee and, the story goes, said, “No mas” — no more — though Duran denies every saying those words.
Leonard was declared the winner. “But the headlines the next day were ‘Duran quits,’ not ‘Leonard won,’” he said.
They both moved on in their careers, with Leonard having a career-defining win over Thomas Hearns, stopping him in 14 rounds in December 1981, and then, after more than three years away from the ring, coming back to win a disputed controversial decision over middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in April 1987. Duran, remarkably, would salvage his reputation by coming back to win the junior middleweight crown from Davey Moore in 1983, fighting Hagler in a close decision loss later that year, and six years later, upsetting middleweight champion Iran Barkley.
Leonard and Duran fought a third time in a forgettable fight in 1989 that Leonard won easily in a 12-round decision. But “No Mas” still hangs over both of them.
There have been stories about Duran suffering cramps in the ring. He had gained significant weight in between their fights, and his condition was called into question.
You won’t find the truth in the documentary “No Mas.” But you will see that these two men shared something that none of us can understand — what happens in the ring between two men who fight while the world watches. “We have a bond,” Leonard said.
Leonard said he has that same feeling toward Hearns. They remains friends. But Hagler?
“Marvin still holds on to the rage,” Leonard said. “I understand that. The fight was close. But that is gone. I would like to do something like this with him.”
Hagler might be tempted to take a shot at Leonard if that would come to pass.