Fighting one of the most courageous and incredibly foolish fights in memory, Sugar Ray Leonard practically handed his welterweight title to rugged Roberto Duran in Friday's thriller in Montreal.
Duran, as was expected, came forward and Sugar Ray, for the most part of the evening, was content to wait, then counter off his chin while he rested against the ropes.
In boxing, one of the first strategies taught any fighter is not to lay on the ropes. The other man is leaning forward while the rope hugger can only swipe.
What few trainers ever teach a fighter, and Sugar Ray's no exception, is that when a man has you against the ropes you simply "take a walk."
By moving your own feet, the other man has to do the same thing. And since your opponent's feet must be firmly on the floor to punch properly, his advantage is negated when you force him to move them.
Willie Pep, regarded as the best boxer in modern history, would move and punch. When his frustrated opponent finally caught up with him in a corner, Pep would frustrate him further by "taking a walk."
Sugar Ray did turn Duran around a few times with great effectiveness. However, he was content for the most part to let Duran lead and punish him before he would do his own punching.
Nature gifted Sugar Ray with amazing reflexes. He refused to use them. A few times he moved from side to side and Duran had to wait until after Sugar Ray had taken the play from him.
Leonard's bandlers had said they did not want him moving backward against Duran since he had run over such types of fighters in the past. However, side-to-side movement, a factor few 29-year-old fighters can deal with, would have set up Duran for double hooks and right uppercuts. Instead, Leonard had to wait until the more aggressive Duran finished his flurry, then counter with overhand rights that Duran could "see," especially since he had trained with fast-handed fighters. Even the left hook follow-up by Leonard was late enough for Duran to see. All Sugar Ray needed to have done was take one step to the right and throw the uppercut. The step to the right takes him out of Duran's range and the left uppercut aims "up the middle," as they say in the gyms. There are maybe 10 fighters in modern history who could effectively move from side to side. Sugar Ray is one of them.
A rematch is certain. Leonard will have to go back to the drawing board and practice his moves. Friday's fight had him fighting like a club fighter, head to head, when he should have been making like a matador, from side to side. And when cornered, it would have taken only a few circular steps with him wrapped onto Duran to get out of the corner. Had Leonard "walked," Duran would have had to follow.
Leonard will learn. It is hard to believe that he could make the same mistake twice.
Duran fought his decreptively clever fight, as he always does, dropping his head whenever the opponent had taken off before he did. He can't fight any better than he did Friday.
Sugar Ray can.