Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto (Stone Hands) Duran finally came face to face today, but in the opulence of a Woldorf-Astoria ballroom instead of the resinous ring of truth where they will meet June 20.
These welterweights, perhaps the two best fighters in the world at any weight at this moment, and nearly the richest, were summoned together this morning for the ancient purpose of hyping a world-championship fight.
Nevertheless, this boxing ritual bristled with undercurrents -- both between Leonard and Duran, and between their camps who were represented most conspicuously today by those two rich and virulent foes: promoters Bob Arum and Don King.
"They tell me that Duran has dangerous eyes, but his eyes don't do no punchin'," said the 5-foot-9 Leonard, dressed in a plain blue suit and no jewelry as he glared down at the 5-foot-7 Duran.
"I never said this before about anyone," said Leonard, "but I don't just want to fight Duran; I want to kill him.
"You were a great lightweight champ," said Leonard, who has a 27-0 record, addressing Duran (69-1) across the dais, "but now you've moved up to welterweight and that's where I'm the champ (of the WBC). I'm going to destroy you the way you've destroyed so many others."
"I fight.He talks," said Duran. "I come to New York to train, not to be a clown. It is Leonard who talks grbage. I laugh at him. His days are counted. He can talk and he can run, but he cannot climb out of the ring."
It is this sort of eminently marketable hate, plus the possibility that a genuine enmity lies behind the predictable words, that makes those around this fight dream about the richest profits in boxing history.
"My good friend, Don King, and I," said Arum sarcastically, "believe this fight, if handled properly, can gross over $30 million. The previous highest is less than $20 million.
"The biggest take by one fighter in history was Muhammad Ali against Ken Norton (in '76) in Yankee Stadium -- $6.5 million. If Ray Leonard doesn't make more than $6.5 million out of this fight then King and I aren't doing our job right."
No site has yet been named for this battle, which will only be shown in America on closed-circuit theater TV, but Arum said that the field had been narrowed to "the Astrodome in Houston, the Superdome in New Orleans, the Olympic Stadium in Montreal or possibly a temporary pavilion in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace."
Wherever they fight, this match will be a triumph for the Leonard camp and particularly Leonard's manager, Mike Trainer, who has battled the King-duran camp for months in an attempt to call the basic shots behind this bout.
"This is a big day for us," said Trainer today. "We got the fight we wanted at the price we wanted and without compromising. We never moved off the dime. We made 'em come to us.
"We got two promoters (Arum and King) for the price of one. We made our deal with Arum, then he brought in King for a slice of his (Arum's) action. The only thing that could bring these guys together was Sugar Ray Leonard and a mountain of money so high that they couldn't turn their backs on it.
"For months, we couldn't get Duran's people to talk. We had to use the THREAT OF A FIGHT AGAINST (WBA welter-weight champ) Jose Cuevas to make 'em get off dead center.
"They threatened to strip Ray of his (WBC) title. They threatened that if we didn't fight Duran on their terms that they'd make sure we couldn't get sanctioning for a WBA Leonard-Cuevas fight.
"Well, the key was selling the Leonar-Cuevas fight to network TV without sanctioning -- just as a big fight between two big names. That's what scared the Duran people and King. They saw we could make a million without them and make Duran wait another year.
"Now," said Trainer, "I think our problems are behind us. With both Arum and King promoting this, they won't put on rival shows against each other to kill interest.
"I wouldn't want to say that we used Cuevas to get Duran, but that's the way it's worked out."
Arum and King maintained today that neither fighter has been given a guarantee -- that both are on straight percentages.
But, said a source in the Leonard camp, "Ray is guaranteed close to $5 million before the first ticket is sold."
Arum estimates a "reasonable price" for purchase of the site as $4 1/2 million. Leonard, as champ, gets all the site profits. He also gets the rights to delayed TV broadcasts, plus percentages of both foreign TV and closed circuit.
"We have no guarantee in the sense ofa letter of credit," pointed out Trainer, "but only because we can get a lot more the way we're doing it."
Duran appeared today in a beige satin suit, pointed-toed boots, long black hair, the wispy mustache of a desperado out of "A Fistful of Dollars" and a stubble of beard. Around his neck was a gold and diamond-studded medallion as big as a fist, with the letter "R" on it. On several fingers were diamond rings as big as table-tennis balls and in each ear was your simple basic diamond earring. Duran was beautiful.
Duran's entrance at the press conference was greeted by cheers -- from a dozen Waldorf maintenance men and bellhops who had found a sidedoor entrance. Duran immediately sought them out and signed autographs.
Only then did his tiny marble eyes show the least softness or any emotion other than wary defiance. At no time could Duran keep still or suppress his energy.
"Pssst, pass the word," said an observer in a beret. "Tell Roberto that there's someone at the door to see him."
The someone, of course, was Leonard.
As 50 photographers mobbed them, both put on one phony boxing glove about the size of a portable TV set. Duran broke the comic mood by smashing his bare hand into the pillow-like glove with an explosive noise -- doing it time and again just inches from Leonard's face.
It was hype, but electric hype. Leonard's face changed, an animal look crossing it. From that moment, he could not wait to get to the podium to have his say. Duran had made his challenge, had bored into Leonard with his killer's eyes.
Some people joked, but Leonard waited his chance. Then, with Duran beside him, but beneath him, Leonard rose. Duran had already called him a clown and "a nobody." A man whose days were numbered.
Leonard looked out at the mob of media, but he might as well have been looking at the millions who have wanted this fight since '76, when Leonard won the Olympics. "You all finally got what you wanted," he said with the famous boyish Leonard grin.
"And you," he said looking straight down at Duran, "I'm going to kill you."
Maybe, and maybe not.
The real killing had already been made -- in the back rooms where Arum, King and Trainer have wrestled over a multimillion dollar pot for months. All that remains now is the division of the spoils.