"I do not know what I will do the night of the fight in Montreal. I am to be at ringside. But I do not want to be there. I will be there because Roberto is my friend and he wants me to be there. I have seen only one of his fights, and I did not like it. The possibility of Roberto getting hurt is what I do not like. I will be at ringside, but my eyes, they will look at the ground." -- Rubin Blades, a friend of Roberto Duran, June 5.
The day of the fight is the longest day.
The fighter waits.
He waits in his room.
The day of the fight is the end of the work, the months of training, the weeks of talk.
It is time, on the day of the fight, to wait.
Ray Leonard will wait in his room on the 21st floor of the Hyatt Regency hotel here.
His brothers, Kenny and Roger, will be with him, as will his friend and confidant, Janks Morton, and his father, Cicero. They will wait with the fighter. No one else will be in the room.Some people will move in and out, but on fight day, the circle is drawn tight.
They'll watch television some. Mostly, they'll talk. Not about the fight. Anything except the fight with Roberto Duran, anything but how important this welterweight championship fight is. They'll talk about what they'll do after the fight. Kenny is getting married June 28. They'll talk about that.
"Serious, everything is serious," Kenny Leonard said. "Be no playing of any kind on fight day. We'll be in the hotel room, looking at four walls. Be in there all day. Room service all day. Ray won't eat.Can't eat much. A cantaloupe, maybe."
The fighter waits for the time to fight.
He waits in his room with the people he knows. No false friends on fight day. No bandwagon people. Just the ones he can trust, the ones that believe in him, the one he draws strength from.
Will he be good enough in the fight? Brave enough? Strong enough? Short of war, prize fighting asks more of a man than anything else. It asks unique athletic skills, extraordinary stamina and strength, and unbending courage. It is individual combat with no place for the fighter to hide weakness of flesh or will
And he waits for the time of the test.
Dempsey was a caged lion, prowling and angry. Louis couldn't sit still. Marciano, an aberration, slept. Ali sat in the dark and watched films of fighters. He talked on fight day in soft tones.
Roberto Duran will play dominoes with Rubin Blades. "I want Rubin in the room," said Freddie Brown, the fighter's trainer. "Rubin loves him, and he loves Rubin. No false friends on fight day. False friends, they only hang around if you win. Rubin didn't want to come, but I told him, 'Rubin, he wants you, he needs you, he needs his friends.'"
They'll have Duran's door open for Panamanian dignitaries, too. Omar Torrijos is supposed to drop by. A big-shot colonel in Panama's army already is here. Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel, Duran's manager, like to have the big shots drop by. "Roberto looks up to them," Arcel said, "and he'll tolerate them coming by. He needs them coming by, too, because it breaks up the monotony. He starts getting cranky."
Leonard sits in his room, waiting.
Duran stalks the room.
"Dempsey was a nervous wreck," said Arcel, 80, in boxing since 1917 and the handler of 18 world champions, including Benny Leonard, Jack Dempsey and Roberto Duran. "Dempsey wanted out of the cage, and this guy, Duran, is like that. After he paces around a while, I say, 'All right, sit down and rest now.'"
It is not fear that moved Dempsey, moves Duran.
Not physical fear.
"This is a fearless individual," said Arcel, an Olivier look-alike with a touch of the actor's rhetoric in him. "Why should he fear an opponent when he doesn't even know one opponent from another? He doesn't care who the other man is. He doesn't have an ounce of fear for his person it is a fear of anxiety, the fear any actor has of getting out there and performing properly.
"Consider the average actor. He doesn't know if he's coming or going the last half-hour before the curtain goes up. It is the same with a fighter. tIt is my job to get him ready for that last half-hour when he cannot get himself ready."
This will be an open-air fight in the Olympic Stadium. Arcel is worried about the chill in the night air at 10:40, fight time. How to dress his fighter? Will they play the Canadian, American and Panamanian national anthems while the fighters wait in the ring? How far is the walk from the dressing room to the ring? Is the walk across ground likely to be damp? Must he, as he has, put rubbers over his fighter's shoes?
"The tension has been building for months and months," Arcel said. "All the training, all the talking. Now comes the fight, now is the moment of anxiety, now the fighter is in the ring. And what if he has to wait through three national anthems? For Christ's sake, he's waiting and waiting and waiting -- and he's out there naked!"
Waiting and waiting in the hotel room, the fighter changes.
"His mood is all right," said Freddie Brown of Duran two weeks ago, "and it'll get worse as it goes along."
Duran is a sweetheart.
Until fight day.
In the room, he will get cranky. They'll leave him alone a while. He'll lie down on a bed. When he gets up, he'll be better. He'll play some dominoes. Hit his bongo drums.Think of Leonard. He'll think of what Leonard said.
The day the fight was announced, Leonard said he didn't want only to beat Duran, he wanted to kill him. In those words: kill him. Leonard since has said he spoke only in Duran's frame of reference, that Duran is always using the word "kill" and so he used it against Duran, just to help sell tickets.
"It shocked me to hear Leonard say 'kill him,'" Arcel said. "I was disappointed in him personally. Look, you shouldn't say that to a guy like Duran."
Duran ended his first championship fight with a low blow that left Ken Buchanan writhing on the canvas. The low blow was delivered after the bell. It was neither the first nor the last of the unseemly devices Duran perfected in the street fights of his ghetto orphan's life.
"If Leonard said that to Duran on the street," Arcel said, "he would not live to see the next moment. Leonard is said to be an intelligent man, but to say that he is asking for trouble. You don't go up to Duran with venom in your soul and say 'kill him.'
"Duran will carry that into the ring. What happened was not that Leonard offended Duran he just added inspiration for Duran to really annihilate Sugar Ray Leonard -- and if he can, he will. While he is waiting all day for the time, Duran will remember 'kill him.'
Duran will remember, too, Arcel's fight strategy. The old master isn't saying what the strategy is. It should be no surprise, though, if Duran, ever the raging bull, charges and presses Leonard unmercifully.
Leonard is ready. He won't look at any more film of Duran. None of that in the waiting room Friday. He knows what to expect. "Duran won't suddenly grow to 6-foot tall with four arms," said trainer Angelo Dundee. "We know what the other guy will do. If he zigs, we know to zag."
Kenny Leonard will be watching his brother's eyes.
"He changes," Kenny said.
In the ring, Ray Leonard is not sugar.
"His eyes," Kenny said. "Look at his eyes. He looks really serious. Everything changes."
Leonard and Duran, testing each other, will stand face to face at about 10:40 Friday night. "If Duran spits in Ray's face, like they say he will, Ray will spit back," Dundee said, and Ray Arcel said of that possibility, "Then it would be the damndest thing you've ever seen in the middle of a ring. "Nobody is going to make a fool of Duran. He is a tough son of a bitch in every sense of the word."
When the ring is cleared, leaving only the fighters between the ropes, Dundee will speak to Leonard, saying, "Face the guy, look at him, see what he's going to do."
And arcel will speak to Duran, saying, "Just remember everything we've talked about."
The waiting then will end.