What Sugar Ray Leonard began last time, he finished this time. He began a move toward greatness. Never had Roberto Duran been so good, never again will he be that good. We see two fighters for the ages, one rising as the other descends, and as surely as the first meeting was Duran's finest hour in a decade of combat, this time we will see Leonard dominate. Leonard by a knockout before the 11th.
Leonard is the taller man by three inches, is faster afoot, faster with his hands, just as strong and -- this is important -- just as cruel as his cruel game demands. The last time, only five months ago, Leonard showed over the last 11 rounds he was Duran's superior. Whatever Duran chose to deliver, Leonard took and returned in kind. Lord knows any reasonable person, seeing Duran in pursuit, would say, "Hey, I think I'll go to Hawaii and leave Roberto alone." But the 14th and 15th rounds were Leonard's.
He will go on from there. Having been in with Duran, not only surviving, but growing stronger, Leonard can only profit from the experience. Ray Arcel, Duran's trainer, has said Leonard will enter the ring Tuesday night convinced he cannot win, a conviction born (Arcel says) of the first fight. That is the purest balderdash. If anyone has anything to fear from the first fight, it is Duran, who must wonder if he can repeat his supreme effort against a younger man, more gifted and just as courageous.
"It's possible Duran can do it," said Cus D'Amato, the old boxing wizard, "because he is an extraordinary fellow. But I am inclined to doubt it."
Every time Leonard looks at the film of that first fight, he ought to draw inspiration. He left his jab at home, he never moved off the ropes, he allowed Duran to bully him without answer and he fought so defensively that Duran seemed the aggressor all night. In short, Leonard fought Duran's kind of fight.
And still Duran won only by the narrowest of margins, two points on one judge's scorecard and a single point on the others.
Now, three key points: Leonard's slow start the last time, "the Duran mystique," as identified by Angelo Dundee, and a series of public statements by Leonard this past week that shows he is a cold and angry fighter who believes he has seen Duran's best and has yet to show his own best stuff.
It is wrong to say Leonard was intimidated the first time. That suggests a fear where none exists. Better to say Leonard was wary and tentative in those early rounds. Remember that Leonard is a young fighter, only 24. Though undefeated in 27 pro fights, he knew, perhaps better than anyone, that his record paled against that of a warrior whose skill and savagery had been certified in 73 fights, 72 of them victories.
So Leonard fell quickly behind on all three judges' scorecards for the first four rounds. The final scoring was so close that Leonard would have won had he been given just one of five "even" rounds on one judge's card and only two of 10 "even" rounds on another card.
All of the silly noise that Angelo Dundee has made in the past week had a purpose. Leonard's guru has complained about the refereeing from the last fight, has squawked about Duran's alleged illegal tactics, has even demanded that Duran shave off his beard because it is scratchy -- scratchy and bad for the image of boxing. Dundee hopes to remind everyone within earshot that Duran barely won the first fight and is not to be given any edge by judges caught up in what he calls "the Duran mystique."
That mystique is built around evil. Duran's scraggly beard and dark visage are of a piece with eyes so hard they seem carved from coal. Someone went to Joe Frazier at the last fight and asked if Duran's relentless aggression and head-bobbing marches toward the enemy reminded the old champion of anyone.
"He reminds me," Frazier said, "of Charles Manson."
Because Duran is unconversant with the niceties of etiquette, which is to say he grew up in the gutter, and because he is preoccupied with projecting an aura of strength, which is to say (again) he grew up in the gutter, Duran is portrayed as animalistic.
So a lot of people think Duran is vulnerable only to a stake through the heart or, maybe, wolfsbane sprinkled in his soup. In fact, Duran never has been penalized for a foul. Never has he won by, say, biting a man in the neck. By all accounts, he is a generous and kind family man who values nothing more than loyalty.
In the other corner, we have the 7-Up smile of the sweetest Sugar man, the Olympic hero, America's dancing darling. As Duran is no devil, Leonard is no angel. The sweetest Sugar can be cruel, a barracuda of a finisher when an opponent is hurt, a cold businessman who can dismiss with the back of his hand the longtime trainer who first put gloves on him.
Don King, the fight promoter, stumbled upon truth the other day. "The difference between Sugar Ray and Roberto," King said, "is that if Ray stole some stuff, he would be called a kleptomaniac. If Roberto stole it, he is a thief. Sugar Ray has what you might call sophisticated insanity."
As for public pronouncements this past week, Leonard's most meaningful have been said most softly. He talks about Duran "acting the fool" and "not showing good character." But that is hype only. The important things, Leonard says, are "to set the pace myself," "to be more aggressive," "to use my jab this time," "to dish out to him the same stuff he dishes out to me."
But what, Sugar Ray, of Duran's fearsome hands of stone?
"Don't get me wrong," Leonard said. "He punches well. I grant him that. But I've been hit harder, hurt more other times. Duran, he punches hardest with his head. And I won't let him get away with all that butting this time."
Don't look for a dance. Leonard won't run. He will move much more than the first time, but mostly he will stand and fight, setting himself for a big right hand. A wonderful counterpuncher, Leonard will hurt Duran most when the champion, stung by a jab, comes rushing in.It will be, again, a classic.