Roberto Duran scored a fierce triumph for fighting barbarism over boxing art tonight as he blasted the WBC welterweight title away from Sugar Ray Leonard in a 15-minute unanimous decision tonight.
The verdict was first announced as majority, with Italian judge Angelo Poletti calling it a draw. Later, it was learned he had made an error in addition and actually had Duran winning, 148-147, in agreement with Britain's Harry Gibbs, 145-144, and France's Ramon Balderyrou, 146-144.
The Panamanian pounded every available inch of the brave Leonard from the first bell to the last in a battle of constant vicious action, toe-to-toe bludgeoning and far more in-fighting then finesse.
"I win easy and convincing," said Duran, who becomes only the third man in history to have held both the lightweight and welterweight titles. Barney Ross, and Henry Armstrong were the others. Armstrong having moved down from welterweight to lightweight.
"The difference was here," snarled Duran, placing his hand over his heart, "and then here," he added, tapping his head.
The difference tonight -- and it was a tiny one, both in the three judges' eyes and in the eyes of nearly 50,000 spectators -- came from deep inside Duran's brawling guts.
The man with the "hands of stone" attacked without surcrease for the first five rounds, building a large lead in points and beginning an ugly restructuring of Leonard's handsome face.
For a few fleeting rounds, Leonard rediscovered the middle of the ring and fought a tactical long-range style that led to many a ringing blow to Duran's head.
But, in the 11th round, these 147-pounders had their moment of truth. For three minutes, they went at each other with a hail of head-hunting hooks and uppercut body shots.
When that firestorm had ended, both warriors were standing, but only Duran had the stamina left to carry the fight -- and win a crown -- in those last four rounds.
Leonard, the 24-year-old from Palmer Park, Md., who, some say, became a champion without ever suffering a bruise, looked like a pugilist in the most brutal sense after his evening as Duran's heavy bag of hate.
"I proved tonight that I can take a really big punch," said Leonard ruefully and ironically, his arm protectively around his stunned wife Juanita. "I didn't want to take it, but I had no other alternative.
"He threw his best. I threw my best. The best man came out on top," said Leonard generously. "I can only go along with what the judges say."
Whether Poletti's addition is bad, or whether he fudged his card after the fact, the unanimous decision was proper to anyone who saw the two fighters' swelling faces -- both marbled with mounting pain -- after the fight. Duran had a black eye, but Leonard was halfway to a Frankenstein visage, his mug full of lumps and swellings.
"Duran was what I expected," Leonard said. "Very, very rough."
The mood of this crowd of 46,317 swung with the emotion of the fight. At the onset, they were ravenous for Duran, the underdog -- being paid a mere $2 million to Leonard's probable $8 million -- to tip up the wealthy American showboat.
This province of Quebec has a strong third world flavor, a distinct anti-American strain. Leonard speaks English and no French: two strikes against him. Duran has learned to speak one sentence of French, and definantly refused to learn even that much English. Here, that makes him a hero.
Nevertheless, by the middle round, Leonard had so palpably shown his courage -- and had reached Duran's head with overhand righthand leads and every conceivable angle of hook -- that the crowd rooted for him as he mounted swarms in the sixth and seventh that backed Duran against the ropes.
But in the final rounds, as Leonard's crown slipped from his brow, despite Dundee screaming in his face, "You can do it, Ray. You can do it," the crowd was back with Duran, rooting for the upset, pulling for the small clenched man with the heart of stone to win his second world championship and put the final signature on the mural of his greatness.
Leonard's corner will have to answer much second-guessing. Why did Leonard almost totally abandon his advantage in reach and speed by seldom throwing a jab? Why did he immediately accede to Duran's preference for an all-out brawl and a test of manhood? Why, after his mid-round successes, did he go back into the trenches with Duran, exhaust himself, and doom himself to four more final rounds with his shoulder blades pinned against the ropes?
"Was this a great fight?" asked Leonard's chief cornerman, Angelo Dundee, rhetorically. "No, it was a great wrestling match.
"Ray went into the ring a champion. And he came out looking like a champion," said Dundee, truthfully.
This fight was beautiful, primarily in its barbarous ugliness. Duran showed a sneering, snarling contempt for Leonard before, during and even after the final decision. He took every opportunity to be unsporting, to make it clear that this fight would be the crowning testament to his long, but underpraised career. The glamorous, unmarked Leonard was like a red cape symbol of everything he detests.
At the final bell, Duran leaped three feet in the air, clicked his heels and waved his arms. When Leonard offered a glove for a tap of mutual respect, Duran swatted it away and looked so furious that Leonard for the thousandth time flinched backward, his mothpiece covered with blood, as though he expected yet another attack from Duran.
"I gave it all I had," said Leonard with a calm, defiant pride. "I stood my ground. I hit Duran some tremendous shots with every kind of punch I have. I felt I left this fight with dignity."
With dignity, yes. With a reputation now for courage equal to his dexterity, yes. But with his gold belt, no.
"He is good fighter. I am better," said Duran, spitting an orange peel at his press conference. "I am slicker. People think I am only a heavy puncher.I'm also a boxer."
Mostly tonight, however, Duran was a primal force of nature, a wildman on the brink of control who was willing to accept any punch Leonard had to offer if only he could answer in kind.
This was not a bout of specific blows. There were no knockdowns. Both fighters were forced to cover up numerous times, but neither was every wobbly or in trouble.
Until the middle of the fifth round, Duran was in such complete intimidating control that Leonard's shoulder blades were raw and bleeding from being bulled and butted into the ropes. Duran's blows were not the crisp knockout kind, but the corrosive body blows and swatting hooks that inflict pain rather than unconsciousness and sap the will.
Only from the fifth through 10th rounds did Leonard control the tempo, dictate the ring strategy and appear to worry Duran. Twice, Duran shook cobwebs from his brain and waved to his fans to tell them he was all right, just as Leonard had done in the early going.
The climax of this epic -- le face a face historique -- was the 11th round. Some deep psychic decision was made that both men -- their defenses now sluggish and lowered -- would trade blows to the brain until someone dropped.
To the astonishment of both, neither did.
It was then that both men had to reach to the bottom of the well of will. Perhaps it was Duran the boy -- a fatherless street urchin stealing to keep his sibling fed -- who came to the rescue of Duran the man. That Panamanian boy swan two or three miles each day to stealmangoes from a rich man's land. That return swim, carrying his harvest of fruit, almost sank him many times. Duran always reached the shore.
In the final rounds tonight, like a swimmer who sees the land, the Duran legend, the Duran of glorious menace, kept coming off his stool fresher and fresher for every round.
By the 14th, the title was probably his. He beckoned Leonard to come and fight, a dark smile on his face.
After that 14th, a typically even and indeterminant round, Leonard saluted Duran, in an unmistakeable gesture of respect that he assumed was mutual. Duran curled his lip and waved away Leonard with the back of his hand.
This fight, which has now lived up to its billing, may gross $30 million -- the most in history. Yet the poential for a rematch, with all the inherent chances for altered strategy, might have a dollar figure that boxing has never even dreamed about.
"I leave the rematch to my manager," said Duran.
"Time will tell. Time will tell," said Leonard. "We have to put people back together. My wife is my main concern."
After their work this evening, both Duran and Leonard probably will find themselves more loved and more revered.