Roberto Duran sits in his hotel suite in the morning hours wearing only a towel around his waist. He is in a bad mood because, as always, the questions are the same.
What happened on that November night in New Orleans against Sugar Ray Leonard?
Why did you quit?
What happened to the old Roberto Duran?
No matter that he wants to start his comeback fresh with a victory here Sunday against Nino Gonzalez. People are more interested in Duran's past than his future. The memory of that night in New Orleans won't die.
"I was sick," Duran says through Luis Henriquez, his interpreter/manage. "That is why I stopped. How many timed do I have to tell you peope? Leonard did not beat me. It was my health."
Eight and a half months later, only the weight class has changes. Roberto Duran is a junior middleweight. It is no coincidence.
"That's what Leonard is, so that's what I am. I am returning to the ring only to fight Leonard again and to beat him. I will follow him everywhere. If he changes his division again, I will change, too."
For Duran, this is the first step toward what he hopes will be a third match against Leonard. It is being made against Gonzalez, whose reputation is below the level of his 2-4 record. Duran knows the bout is third in sporting stature here this weekend, behind baseball's All-Star Game and the Cleveland-Pittsburgh exhibition football game.
"It bothers me that I have to start here in this way," says Duran, 30. "Why does Leonard keep running from me?"
On Sept. 16 in Las Vegas Leonard will fight Thomas Hearns. Duran says Hearns will win.
He also care about him," says Duran. "I'm not interested in the title. If Hearns wins I still want to fight Leonard. It is pride. Leonard knows I can beat him. I'm just waiting for him to decide when we will fight. If he really thinks he beat me when we fought then why won't he give me a rematch? I gave him one."
It was in New Orleans last Nov. 25 that Duran -- who won the title from Leonard in Montreal five months earlier -- complained of cramps thoughout his body.He threw up his arms and he threw awawy his welterweight title. Leonard became the champ and Duran became miserable.
His record fell to 72-2. His only other loss had been in 1972 to Esteban deJesus, after which Duran fought deJesus two more times. He won both: two knockouts.
But the loss to Leonard -- because of all its publicity and perplexity -- was different. For so long his name had been prefaced by two gloriously significant words: world champion. Now two very different words were being placed before his name and in neon: no mas.
No more. That was Roberto Duran's response 2 minutes 44 seconds into the eighth round of that November loss to Leonard. Duran earned $8 million for that fight and people said he quit because the only ring he was thinking about was the one of his cash register.
"Many times people have treated me badly since then. They have called me things that I am not. I am more determined now than ever," says Duran.
Henriquez becomes nearly indignant when the last moments of his boxer's last fight are brough up. Henriquez has been with Duran since 1971, when he joined Carlos Eleta as one of Duran's sparring partner was ineffective with his punches. After each round, Duran would yell back at the teenager, who continued his verbal attack.
Finally, after the sparring session was done, Duran charged toward the heckler. Four men had to restrain Duran.
"That's the first time that happened in the weeks we've been here," said Henriquez.
It was not the first time Roberto Duran had been insulated since New Orleans. Sunday, he begins his quest for redemption.