In the end, the Superdome was the setting for a super shock, a super surprise, from the third man in the ring all the way up to the $40 seats on high.
"I am stunned," said referee Octavio Meyran after Roberto Duran gave up in the eighth round of his WBC welterweight championship fight against Sugar Ray Leonard. "I had no idea it was coming, no idea at all. I am baffled."
Down in the eighth row of the $1,000 section up front, Jim Medico, an oil executive from Tulsa, and most of his friends had the same reaction.
"The guy didn't appear to be in any kind of trouble," Medico said. "Nobody believes it. I thought the guy had too much pride to quit, such a great fighter. But the thing that drives you crazy is nobody tells the people who pay the money what happens.
"There were some big-money guys sitting behind me betting on every round. When it stopped, they all said the guy took a dive. I don't believe that. But I don't know what to believe."
The crowd was estimated at 40,000, about as big a disappointment to the promoters as the abrupt and shocking finish was to the folks who paid to get in.
Still, one fellow was just happy to be in the building.
There were acres of room at the top at the Superdome, and that suited Pat Petty, a New Orleans tugboat crewman, just fine as he looked down from the highest seat in the house at the Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard fight.
This was nosebleed territory, a few thousand feet removed from heaven. More specifically, it was Section 617, Row 42, Seat No. 20. Down below, the ring looked postage-stamp puny, the fighters like flailing flies, and seaman Petty, 24 hours removed from a tiny boat in the Gulf of Mexico, forgot his field glasses.
The seat cost him $40, but, "I don't feel cheated at all. In fact, I was sitting about 20 rows down, but I'm not real crazy about having all those people looking over my shoulder. So here, nobody's behind me except concrete. pIt's a spectacle; I wouldn't miss it for anything. You just have to come to see a fight like this if you're in town, even if you can't see. I'm happy."
The same could not be said for the folks a lot closer, down in the high-roller spots on the Superdome floor. There were 36 rows in all, backed up from each side of the ring, scaled from $1,000 back to $200.
Brian Farley, a New Orleans pipe-fitter, was back in the 36th row, courtesy of a $200 seat his wife bought him for his birthday. And Farley, who says his wife spent more than a week's salary, clearly was not very happy.
"She probably thinks I'm with all the big-timers," he said, "and I'm sure not gonna tell her any different. But this seat flat stinks. I got the band right behind me, so I can't see a damned thing, and by the end, I'll be deaf, too. If I see Don King, I'll tell him, too. I'm a working man, and he's givin' me nothing. There's one legitimate fight on the whole card. The rest of these guys are bums, real bums. I've seen better fights in the (French) Quarter than I've seen tonight. But like I said, the wife thinks I'm happy. I won't tell her any different."
Up in the $1,000 area, W. B. Netterville, who described himself as a real estate adviser from Centerville, Miss., 150 miles away, was grousing, too. "First time in my life I ever been to somethin' like this," he said in the best good ol' boy accent heard since J. R. showed up alive last Friday night. "Why spend that much. Well, hell, son, why not? I like this here Roberto Duran, and I wanted to get the best seats available. I'm a little disappointed cause I thought for a thousand, I'd be right up there leanin' on the damned ring. But my lady friend here's happy, so I guess I'm happy."
Certainly, star gazing was quite a bit easier from floor level. Kris Kristofferson was in the front row. So was Richard Burton, who opens here this week in the road company production of Camelot. So that's what the simple folks do.
The slick folks, meanwhile, were in serious trouble on the outside of the Superdome. Scalpers were seen all day in the French Quarter trying to peddle expensive seats for face value or less, with little success.
"I just walked up to the ticket window, put up $100 and got my seat," said "Wild" Bill McFarland, who drove to town from Silver Spring, Md., this week to watch the fight. "I used to do a lot of fighting in D.C.," Wild Bill said. "People still remember me. Fought all the greats, Little Dynamite, Jimmy Cooper, guys like that. I can't resist a good fight, and this is the best you'll get for a lot of years. Wouldn't miss it for anything."
There was the usual large and vocal delegation from Panama, chanting "Duran, Campeon," from the moment the Superdome doors opened. And there was also a chanting group of demonstrators outside the main entrance, about 150 of them, protesting the shooting of three black men by New Orleans police earlier in the month. The demonstrators were surrounded by a dozen police, though they were allowed to pass out leaflets explaining their cause.
Back on the inside, spectators could buy Super beers at $2.50 a cup, mixed drinks at $2, a pop and cheesy nachos for $1.50. Souvenirs were slightly outrageous -- $7.50 for Super Fight T-shirts, $3.50 for posters and $2 for Duran or Leonard buttons that put gaping holes in scads of $300 suit lapels tonight.
Over in the $500 section, however, Art Nevius of Las Vegas was not complaining.He is a United Airlines supervisor, and he says his friend Larry Holmes got him a pair of tickets.
"I got the seats free, I get to fly here free as an employee, so all I'm paying for is this beer and some popcorn," Nevius said. "There's no way I'd ever pay $500 for a fight. I'm not sure I'd spend $20. But you can't beat this deal."