To make small talk, someone said to Mike Trainer, "Oughta be a great fight."
A safe thing to say. Trainer is Sugar Ray Leonard's money man, the young lawyer who has turned Leonard's talent and charm into $3 million so far -- with another $5 million coming in for Friday night's championship fight against Roberto Duran here.
Leonard, the artist.
Duran, the brawler.
Leonard is undefeated in 27 fights in three years, 18 victories by knockouts.
Duran is once-beaten in 70 fights in 13 years, winning 55 times by knockout.
Oughta be a great Fight.
"I dunno," Trainer said.
He gnawed at his lower lip.
Was he worried? Afraid for his man?
"It won't be as good as you might think," Trainer said. "Ray's better than anybody thinks he is. And Duran --"
The lawyer thinks Roberto Duran is over the hill. He stopped before he said it this morning. But he said it once before, the night of Sept. 28, 1979.
That night Leonard Knocked out a good fighter named Andy Price in the first round.
On that same fight card in Caesars Palace at Las Vegas, Duran came in fat and sloppy at 156 pounds and won a 10-round decision over Zeferino Gonzalez. Duran was booed that night when the referee raised his hand in victory.
Leonard's championship fight against Willfred Benitez was still two months away, a fight he would win on a 15th-round knockout.
But even then Mike Trainer was making plans for a Leonard-Duran fight.
At a Leonard victory party that night, a party distinguished by music done in the rhythm and volume of a thousand jackhammers, Trainer shouted into a fellow's ear his judgment of the future.
"Duran's the money fight," Trainer said between Jackhammers. "But we have to get him while everybody still thinks he can fight. Did you see him tonight? Terrible. We have to get him while everybody still thinks he has 'hands of stone.' We have to get him inside a year."
Less than nine months later, Leonard-Duran will be a reality.
If Trainer's opinion of Duran is devalued by the lawyer's inexperience in the fight game -- Leonard is his first contact with boxing -- the lawyer's appraisal of Duran gains weight when you figure he is free to speak his mind, having no entangling alliances with boxing's sharks, and that he has formed his opinions after talking to Leonard's manager, Angelo Dundee.
Dundee only knows everything about fighting.
So confident is Mike Trainer that he already is talking about Leonard's next opponent. We'll get to that in a minute. First, an explanation from the lawyer on why he figures Friday night's fight could be less than the classic match most people expect.
He thinks Duran is in over his head physically. Moving up from the light-weight division, with its 135-pound limit, to the 147-pound welterweights will reveal those "hands of stone" to be ordinary fists, no better than those of, say, Armando Muniz, who lasted six rounds with Leonard.
"Duran was a big lightweight," Trainer said. "He was always coming down to 135 pounds from 150 or 160. The guys he was fighting, they were eating all day to get up to 135.
"And I don't think Duran ever really fought at 135. He'd gain four pounds in 15 minutes after the weight-in I saw him drink some kind of juice concoction once just as he came off scales. He was about to faint from making the weight."
Duran has fought eight times in two years as a welterweight. Though winning four times on 10-round decisions and four times by knockouts, Duran has not seemed to be the destroyer of old.
"Me no in shape," he said after the pathetic performance against Gonzalez in the same ring where Leonard had been lightning, dazzling all who would see.
"Next time me be in shape," Duran said. He was embarrassed that Leonard should have seen him so, a friend said, and Duran even considered not entering the ring that night. He hadn't known Leonard was on the card, the friend said.
There have been two "next times" since that night.
Duran knocked out Joszef Nsubaga in January, needing four rounds, and he knocked out Wellington Wheately the next month in six rounds.
"So he's knocked out the last two welterweights he's seen," someone said to Mike Trainer.
"Nugubusa, or whatever his name is -- they wouldn't even let Ray fight him," Trainer said. "They wouldn't let him fight Wheately, either."
"They," in this case, is the television network of your choice. Trainer said TV wouldn't pay Leonard-scale money for fights with people named Nsubaga and Wheately. So no fights. And Duran took on the rejects.
"We were worried Duran would lose to one of those guys," Trainer said. In which case bye-bye to $5 million.
"Duran is Ray's first fight with a name fighter who people think has a real chance to beat him," Trainer said. "But that's only because nobody relizes yet how good Ray is.
"Ray's been watching film of the Duran-Edwin Viruet fight (a Duran victory in 15 rounds three years ago). If Viruet could punch, he'd have won. vHe made Duran look awkward and frustrated. Duran couldn't hit him. Ray will frustrate him, too -- and Ray can punch."
After Leonard disposes of Duran according to the Trainer scenario, he likely will fight again this fall, perhaps as early as September.
Against Wilfred Benitez.
"It was a good fight the first time," Trainer said, "and the Benitez people are easy to work with. It'll be a prime-time TV show."