Sugar Ray Leonard's bizarre technical knockout of former World Boxing Champion Roberto Duran in the eighth round of last night's championship fight left a bad taste in the mouths of many of the viewers of the closed circuit television at Capital Centre, especially those who were sure Leonard had been hypnotically intimidated by Duran and his mystique.
"Something stinks, something really stinks," Panamanian Lionel King screamed frantically as he watched his countryman quit in the middle of the ring. "I know Roberto. How can he just quit like that? He's a champion. How can he walk away in the middle of the fight?"
King was still screaming and fighting back tears as the people sitting around him taunted him with cheers for the new champion and Maryland's favorite son, the Sugar Man.
"I could understand him losing, but you just don't walk away like that. Something is not right. I know Roberto. He would not do this. Something stinks."
When Leonard mocked and taunted Duran in the seventh round, the Centre rocked with a noise unmatched at even the greatest Bullet game. When Duran walked away, because of upper body cramps and limited arm movement in the eighth, the roar hurt many ears. Many screamed, "It's fixed." Some believed the promoters were already setting up something bigger with Duran or Tommy Hearns.
But most screamed in joy, and in relief -- Leonard had dismissed their biggest fears by winning.
None seemed as relieved as Dave Jacobs, Leonard's trainer since childhood, fired by Leonard when he suggested Leonard take a tune-up fight before tangling with the Panamanian again.
"I'm happy for Ray," Jacobs said, his hazel eyes revealing how perplexed he was over one of the most unfulfilled endings of any championship fight. "I just sat there after he quit, wondering why. You take someone who's been in 75 fights, and is the world champ. . How does a person with all that going for him get frustrated with a certain style, if that's what happened? How do you just turn your back and walk away?
"I'm still wondering why. If Roberto intends on this being his last fight, it's a bad way to go out. I've seen fighters cramp before, but I didn't detect any cramping up until the time that he quit. He didn't take any body shots from Ray that would give him cramps bad enough to quit. Why?"
That was a question asked by many of those at Cap Centre, who said they felt left up in the air by Duran's quitting.
"All this does is set up a multitrillion dollar fight between Leonard and Tommy Hearns (World Boxing Association Champion)," said Ron Hawkins. "People are getting taken and all the promoters wanted to do with this one was set the stage for Hearns. If you're a promoter, you've got to be saying to yourself, 'Now I have to do something devastating to set up this next championship fight.' And they did."
But most of those in attendance were so surprised and happy that Leonard won. They didn't stop to question why. "Why did Duran quit?" repeated one Leonard supporter. "Because he frustrated Duran. Sugar was too sharp. Duran is a punk."
Angela Walker, like many people, said before the fight that she hoped Leonard won, but that she was scared of Duran, and Leonard probably was, too. "If Leonard wins, it will just be to set up a third fight, or a bout with Hearns," she said.
"It's so bizarre, so freaky," she said afterwards. "I think now, even more, it was a setup. This is the one thing that nobody expected to happen. What could possibly be next?"
Jacobs said Leonard's near future -- maybe his next fight -- will probably include a bout with Hearns. "You know, Angelo Dundee said Duran couldn't get up for a second fight, like he did for the first. He couldn't become obsessed with this one. At the time I recommended Ray fight a tuneup, I thought Duran could.
"Do I think he's ready for Hearns now? I don't know. It's too early to tell. But he fought masterfully tonight." Jacobs then said he would like to see Leonard quit, but that probably wouldn't be a realistic expectation.
"Looks like it will be Ray and Tommy," he said. "That's the one everybody will be talking about tomorrow."