The only way Roberto Duran could have looked at his raw steak any more voraciously was if it were still on the hoof, so he could have the pleasure of killing it as well as eating it.
Duran is hungry, always hungry. The mission in life of trainer Freddy Brown, whose head looks like a half-eaten cauliflower, is to keep a constant eye on Duran to make sure he doesn't munch the furniture or the drapes.
So far, for breakfast, Duran had inhaled dry toast and tea, paying no attention to the tasteless stuff. He stabbed his spoon into the tea as though he were trying to crush tiny animals at the bottom of the cup. His face and hands consumed by nervous energy, life force, really, Duran waited for the steak, waited with the same furious, irritable impatience that consumes him when he thinks of Sugar Ray Leonard, the pretty fighter who fascinates him like so much raw meat.
As soon as the breakfast steak hit his plate this morning, Duran, the fork encircled by his fist and held backhand like a death instrument, impaled the meat as though it might try to wriggle away. Once center-shot and speared, the steak was never allowed to leave the fork as Duran Simply picked up the slab and gnawed around the fork, tearing the meat off with a twist of his head. Anybody can have good manners; only Duran, in his leather jacket, wool stocking cap, diamond earring, collar-length black mane, piratical beard and white neckerchief, can make eating seem so carnal that it ought to be X-rated. This is boxing's ignoble savage.
Just one more day and Duran's plate will be full. Before him Tuesday at 10 p.m., contesting for the World Boxing Council welterweight title, will be 147 pounds of Sugar Ray Leonard -- a feast well worth the wait. Duran wants to finish the job, you see, to complete what he started barely five months ago in Montreal when he tenderized then champion Leonard for 15 rounds on a night when Duran swears he had a bad cold. This Duran Camp -- all the sycophants of Manos de Piedra -- say the same thing, taking their cue from from Duran: Leonard is terrified every time he thinks of The Fight II.
Tales of fear are a daily staple from the Panamanian's entourage.
"I had a fighter once who was getting clobbered and he begged me to throw in the towel," said Duran's handler, 82-year-old Ray Arcel. "The first time he comes past our corner, he says, 'Ray, the towel.' The next time around, he yells louder, 'Ray, throw in the towel!' The third time he comes by me, he screans, 'Ray, pleeeeease, throw in the towel. . . I won't be around again.'"
It is, of course, Leonard who Duran believes will not be around again. Duran was offended that Leonard remained erect for 15 rounds of toe-to-toe brawling in Montreal. In his view, it was a contradiction of the natural order of things. "I was sick that night," he says with a snarl. So, in his mind, it is important that, Tuesday night in the Superdome, something of a permanent nature be done to Leonard -- something that will bring an end to Leonard's ring career. Duran knows that their last fight gave Leonard doubts about whether he wished to continue in this profession. Leonard spent 10 days in Hawaii letting his swellings go down and didn't positively decide on a rematch for a month.
Most of boxing's company of thieves believe that Leonard conquered fear in Montreal; Duran believes he learned about it for the first time. So, the champion's only psychological ploy here is to remind Leonard constantly that he, Duran, was not hurt one iota in Montreal while Leonard need only consult his memory to find out what is in store for him in Louisiana.
When Duran met Leonard's sister here, he called her a "bitch" to her face. Leonard is extremely aware of the incident. Every time the fighters pass here at the Hyatt Regency or in the bowels of the Superdome, Duran flashes a finger at Leonard and yells in English, "Four more days. . . Three more days."
Usually, however, Duran either computes wrong or translates wrong, so that his countdown is incorrect. "Duran can't even count to five," said Leonard's manager Angelo Dundee. "Except with his middle finger. He can count to one."
When Duran was told this, his black agate eyes bored into his questioner and he said levelly, "Just so the referee can count to 10."
Usually in boxing, second fights between great opponents are a bit more tentative, more tactical. If the "Super Fight" here is not more vicious than its eminently beastly predecessor, it will be a surprise. Oddly, both fighters seem most concerned with angering the other sufficiently to insure a slugfest. Duran doesn't want Leonard to dance and jab and circle and be cute; he likes his steak securely on his fork. Leonard wants to make sure that Duran, who is capable of craftiness, conducts a one dimensional, straight-ahead bullish fight, just as he did last time, so that all Leonard's plans for a side-stepping, countering attack can be mobilized.
Beneath all the stratagems remains the fact that these men are antithetical and hate each other.
"I've never felt about anybody the way I feel about Duran," said Leonard, whose face looks as though it has yet to learn the baser emotions. "It's no one thing, I just dislike everything about him: the way he walks, the look on his face, the way he disrespects people he doesn't even know, flipping the finger at nice people on the street, all because he knows what he is and can't respect himself. He wants everybody to kneel down to him. That's not right."
When they are old, will they, like so many bitter boxing enemies of the past, see each other clearly and whole and finally become friends? Will Leonard acknowledge in Duran that streak of generosity toward the poor and open handedness toward every countryman that seems so anomalous in this savage of the ring?
Leonard is silent for several seconds; at 24, he finally has learned how to consult himself before he speaks, as befits an adult. Don't know . . . don't think so," he says, then adds a quip so the moment will not seem so depressingly honest:
"Even if we were in wheelchairs, I think we'd go at each other."
Perhaps the real secret of this fight is locked deep within the first fight.
Only the men inside the ring truly know what went on there, what balance of respect and fear was reached inside their square of pain. The judges, always a poor source of boxing insight, thought the fight very close, scoring it unanimously but narrowly for Duran: 146-144, 145-144, 148-147. No number of replays -- and they are constant here at fight headquarters -- can give a consensus. Sensible people can see a close Duran win or a huge Duran intimidation. A few can even see a dead-even fight or a hairsbreadth Leonard win. Boxing decisions are the most inexact phoney science in sports. Everybody sees what they want to see. Only blood and knockdowns are indisputable and the maul in Montreal had none. So, only Duran and Leonard know the truth.
If that first bout was as close as the cards claim, then, obviously, there are any number of ways that Leonard, with a change of tactics, better mental performance, can win back his crown. The public, which has made Leonard the betting favorite, believes Leonard when he says, "I got five years of boxing education in 15 rounds. The only good preparation for fighting Duran is to have fought him once already. He never changes. I can learn."
Certainly, Leonard is a far more sentimental favorite than in the first fight when Duran, his greatness long overlooked, was an underdog pick of the largely French-Canadian crowd over the polished and glib media-darling Leonard. Leonard, young, rich, handsome and almost untested, was as hard to like from afar as he is impossible to dislike up close.
"A lot of people didn't mind seeing Sugar Ray lose," says Leonard's lawyer, Mike Trainer. "People are naturally jealous of third-generation money and first-generation talent. We all love to see the spoiled grandson squander the family fortune. We say, 'He couldn't invest in treasury bills.' So, people looked at Ray getting so much so fast and they said, 'Let him experience life like the rest of us.' That may not be fair, but that's how it is.
"Now, the tables have turned. Duran had people in the palms of his hands after he won, and he slapped them in the face. He had to be the most ungracious winner you could imagine. People have found out who Roberto Duran really is and he's not some romantic antihero like Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or any of that crud. You could almost feel a revulsion in people who rooted for Duran the first time, as though they said, 'How could I have pulled for that guy?'"
Public mood, the whole atmosphere that surrounds a fight, can have a bearing on its outcome. Fighters must train their minds as well as their bodies and the conversation that surrounds them nourishes or starves their psyches as much as food feeds their muscles. Leonard now hears constantly that he has courage, that he is a bona fide fighter, that he has taken the best punches Duran can offer. Now, the boxing world, judges included, is conditioned to believing that Leonard is a capable tough guy as well as boxer, and that, in the mean fighting, he is not necessarily getting the worst of the action.
Also, the Leonard camp has played some nice tricks here. Dundee has made everyone conscious of Duran's foul tactics while glossing over Leonard's constant holding. Leonard has worn a false beard to mock Duran, and has sparred with clumsy bulls, throwing them around the ring, to show how he can fight as dirty as anybody.
"I'll do almost anything in the ring," said sparring mate Dale Staley, who twice has been disqualified for chasing recalcitrant cutesy boxers and deliberately biting them to get them angry enough to brawl with them. "I thought I was pretty dirty, but Leonard is learning fast."
In many of boxing's little cosmetic edges, Leonard seems to have an advantage here: bigger ring, home country fans, added experience, new tactics, plus the unmeasurable knowledge in the air that a Leonard victory would set up a third payday that would be worth tens of millions of dollars. Also, Leonard's people have done a good job in the prefight war of words.
On the eve of the fight, Duran is relaxed and as close to happy as he is capable of being, as contrasted with his mood of perpetual menace in Montreal. cLeonard, who was a salesman in Canada, is in the most somber and introspective mood of his career. Athletes like Leonard, who know their careers may end, or be seriously damaged by a one-sided loss, are traditionally hard to beat. Those who feel that they must win always seem to have an advantage over those who merely want to win.
When a ravenous Roberto Duran and a desperately determined Sugar Ray Leonard meet here Tuesday night, their war should gross far more than the $24 million that was the price of the Louisiana Purchase. And it well may be an equally good investment.