To explain how Ray Leonard came to greatness here the other night, let's start a month ago with a pair of shoes and wind it up with a secret workout last week.
Rummaging in an old locker last month, Ray Leonard found some shoes. Old boxing shoes. Black shoes. Shoes made in Mexico maybe a lifetime ago. oThey were low cut, rising barely above the ankles. They were gloriously ugly, and Ray Leonard, gazing upon them, said, "These are for Duran."
Leonard loves pretty things. He always came to the ring in high-rising white shoes with red tassels flouncing at his every move. An Olympic champoin, he came to work in wardrobes of red, white and blue. His every entrance, moving from his dressing room to the ring, was accompanied by his personal disco theme song, "Hey, hey Sugar Ray."
No theme song this time. No television monitor in his dressing room on fight night. No show biz.No red, white and blue.
He came all in black.
In his dressing room two hours before he would see Roberto Duran in front of him, Leonard put on the ugly black Mexican shoes.He put them on over black socks. He pulled on black trunks, and put on a black robe with the simple gold legend on the back: "Leonard." None of this "Sugar" sweetness. No show biz.
"How do I look?" Leonard said to his attorney, Mike Trainer.
Trainer smiled. "You look like a mix of the Grim Reaper and an assassin."
Leonard said, "Good."
Silly, you say, to talk this much about shoes. If shoes made the fighter, somebody named Florsheim would be the heavyweight champ. These ugly old shoes moved only where Leonard took them and my, my, he took them marvelous places in wondrous ways -- but they are important as symbols of a mood, signals that Leonard came to this fight as a warrior iln black, Darth Vader in ugly old shoes.
He was, perhaps for the first time, content to be a fighter, nothing more but nothing less. He was cold and dark as coal. Always before the fights had been so easy that he could waltz in to his theme song, shake his tassels and dazzle-destroy any opponent. Not this time. Not with Duran. No show biz this time.
The secret workout: Tuesday a week before the fight, the lawyer Trainer suggested to Angelo Dundee, the manager, and Janks Morton, the trainer, that they close a workout to the public and get in the ring to give Leonard precise instructions on how to handle Duran's bullying style.
"I wanted it closed," Trainer said, "because if there's a crowd, Ray always plays to the people and tries to win every round. I wanted it to be more like a classroom than a theater. It was facinating. It was, really, unbelievable what Angelo and Janks accomplished with Ray."
Dundee has trained eight world champions in the last 30 years, including Muhammad Ali. Never had he stepped into the ring when his fighters were sparring. But Trainer, who didn't know (and really didn't care) that it is boxing tradition for the handlers to stay outside the ropes, wanted to see Dundee and Morton stop workouts even in progress to teach Leonard the moves he would need.
It was football coaching brought to boxing.
"We wanted to show the kid how to negate Duran's thing, which is based on getting a guy trapped on the ropes," Dundee said. "In Duran's attack, the pivotal punch is his head. He throws two punches and then his head comes into play."
If Duran's head came against Leonartd's left shoulder, Leonard was to shove Duran away with his right hand and throw a left hook. If Duran came to the right side, Leonard was to shove him with the left while throwing a right.
Other advice for Leonard from the secret workout: Spin off the ropes as soon as he felt the bottom strand touch his calf; not waiting to be forced fullbody into them . . . If yet trapped on the ropes, keep his feet set in balance, one slightly ahead of the other, not spread-eagled and thus immobilized . . . Frustrate Duran by jabbing and moving away, because Duran's instinct is to charge when hit . . . Counterpunch with a chopping right when Duran throws his typically awkward right lead.
"We had fun," Dundee said. "I told Ray one time that if Duran got too close, just put one arm under the guy's crotch, lift him up and body-sham him, the way wrestlers do."
Save for the body slam, all this Leonard did beautifully.
It was no contest.
It was a great fighter, who nearly won at the other guy's game five months ago, now winning easily at his own game. So easily that in the seventh round Leonard did three minutes of Ali's vulgar schtick: the freeze-frame moment when he offers his wide-eyed face as a stationary target . . . the jab while windmilling with his right arm . . . the shimmy of the hips . . . even the Ali shuffle (which Ali stole, by the way, from Sugar Ray Robinson).
It was no coincidence that Duran quit in the next round.
Roberto Duran quit, it says here, out of disgust.
The cramps, if cramps there were, provided an excuse. Fighting is war to Duran, dirty war with small arms and bayonets. When Leonard threw his bombs from distant and invisible silos . . . not only that, but laughed at Duran, taunted him, demeaned him . . . then Duran simply walked away from this fool Leonard's war.
Duran won his kind of war in Montreal. He had his $10 million this time, he was being ridiculed, he couldn't find Leonard, let alone stick a bayonet in him -- and then came the convenient cramps. Anger had always been his ally, but this time seven rounds of anger did him no good. Now in the eighth round, with no higher emotional level to reach, having passed anger, Duran did the only thing left open to him.
Rather than take a beating in the kind of war he thought was for sissies, Duran took a walk.