This time Sugar Ray wins.
In a few weeks, the seed of a hunch has grown into as firm a conviction as possible when the opponent is Roberto Duran, perhaps as strong-willed and primally gifted as anyone since men started trying to rearrange each other's minds for money.
Before their fight five months ago in Montreal, I thought Duran would win the WBC title from Ray Leonard. And he did, though my scorecard had Leonard ahead by one round. Tuesday night, Leonard enters the rematch the favorite here for reasons ranging from sentimental to cynical.
Duran is the man you'd pay to whip someone especially hated; Leonard is the man you'd pay simply to watch perform. Probably, he is colder and more greedy than we imagine. He surely has an assassin's instincts in the ring when his opponent is in trouble.
But he makes boxing seem almost an agreeable sport.
Leonard had several disadvantages before and during that first fight. Because what he earned was in direct proportion to how many people paid to watch, Leonard spent almost as much energy promoting the first fight as he did trainig for it.
He seemed staggered a bit by it, like any athlete taken out of his routine the first time in an event that intrigues most of the sporting world. And Duran seemed to want that fight more than Leonard. He had been bitterly frustrated at having his skills unnoticed by more than boxing devotees -- and Leonard epitomized almost everything he despised.
Relatively, Leonard had earned millions while learning his trade in the pros and Duran had earned pennies flailing through a nearly flawless career. At 29, he still could muster one more supreme effort, literally attack a man who symbolized so much of what he had been denied.
On the receiving end of all that fury, and no linebacker ever attacked a runner with better tackling form than Duran did early, Leonard learned a pivotal lesson. Duran is mortal after all. Hands of stone don't break my bones after all, Leonard realized.
Duran's hell-bent savagery won him the first five rounds by nearly everyone's estimation. What so many fail to consider is that Leonard not only failed to buckle under an almost-legendary fighter at his most wicked, he also won, or at least did not lose, most of the remaining 10 rounds.
One of two judges with the courage to make a decision, Raymond Baydelrou of France, had Leonard winning four of the last 10 rounds and Duran two; the other, Harry Gibbs of England, had Leonard winning five of the last 11 rounds and Duran three. The third judge, Angelo Potelli, fiercely neutral, had nine of the final 12 rounds even. When he made a decision after the third round, however, Leonard won two rounds and Duran one.
Before the fight, Leonard thought the selection of the referee was to his advantage. His camp was overjoyed at the selection of Carlos Padilla. As he was becoming a former champ, Leonard had increasingly less affection for Padilla, who allowed Duran to get away with the very inside punishment everyone had figured would be stopped.
All of this would seem much more plausible if the ghost of Dave Jacobs did not appear now and then and almost shout: "Ray can't beat this guy. Not now." Jacobs is alive, of course, but persona non grata around Leonard. Originally, he wanted Leonard to quit boxing after the first fight. When he argued that this rematch was too soon and that Leonard should fight a tuneup first, it was agreed to part company.
"One less check," Leonard said in a chilling reply to a question about whether it felt strange not to have Jacobs in his corner.
Who should know more about Leonard than the man who trained him for every bout, amateur and pro, of his career? Shouldn't we be cautious about Leonard, both as a man and as a fighter?
But then Leonard never has been obsessed with winning sainthood, only with becoming rich and more than a fleeting champion. He got rich from the first Duran fight. Financially, he does not need this one. He WANTS it. We will see Leonard at full will tonight.
The cynical reason for choosing Leonard involves a lower estimation of boxing than perhaps is fair. Because Duran won the first fight, Leonard should win the second fight to set up some sort of trillion-dollar third fight. Seemingly, this could be arranged. Without bribing a soul, judges favoring Leonard's style could be selected, as well as a referee with a firm hands-off policy in the clinches.
Wouldn't Leonard winning be in the best interest of boxing?
Mike Trainer thinks not and his opinion is worth a few more moments.
"It (a Duran victory) might not be in the interest of boxing," Leonard's lawyer said, "but it's in the best interest of the people who control boxing. Don King knows that if Ray Leonard wins he's not promoting the next one. (Jose) Sulaiman (head of the WBC) knows that if Ray wins it he can't control him.
"Ray Leonard is bigger than Sulaiman, bigger than Don King and bigger than a lot of boxing. He represents boxing to a lot of people in this country. They can name his name more than they can the lightweight champion, or the junior middleweight or whatever division it might be.
"So they're concerned about that. Forget the third fight or the fourth fight. That's a lot of crap. It's really not in their thinking. I doubt if there would have been a second fight had Ray won (the first). There's more likelihood for boxing if Ray doesn't win, because they figure: 'Well, at least we've got the title and if he (Leonard) wants to fight again he's at least got to come see us.'
"The fact is it works the other way. It (the scenario that the challenger wins the rematch to set up a fight-for-the-ages third bout) would be absolutely correct if we were in King's camp. One guy wins the first, the other one wins the second and we got 'em on a roll.
"But he (King) is deathly afraid. I mean, he's bringing me options now. The psychological thing (for Trainer and Leonard) is: 'I've got an option from Duran, don't you want to give me an option?' Now what does that tell you? Who do you think Mr. King would prefer to win the fight? Someone he has control over or someone he doesn't?
"I've told King we want to see how neutral he'll be: 'If I give you this (an option to another fight) going in, what assurances are there you'll be neutral anyway? I'm gonna wait till it's over, see if you holler Spanish during the fight, go lift Duran up, talk to the officials in advance. I'm gonna wait till it's all over. Because the last one left a sour taste in my mouth.'
"Now I'm doing that 'cause you always gotta hang something out."
Trainer is hopeful of the best and careful to insist that this not be taken as an alibi in advance. He is prepared for the worst. He knows that while Leonard was the champion before the first fight Duran was the legend. Now he is both, until Leonard knocks him around so often Tuesday night there are even very few reasonable doubts.