Angelo Dundee keeps saying it: "My guy's a puncher. Case in fact: 15 rounds, (Wilfred) Benitez, bang, down. When a guy can nail a guy, hurt a guy, in the late stages, that's the mark of a banger."
Dundee's guy is Sugar Ray Leonard, in case you've been overwhelmed with Reaganomics and failed to notice that a fistfight expected to generate enough money to buy a decent-sized country -- or two NFL franchises -- is at hand. You get the Sugar-coated version of Leonard-Thomas Hearns here today. Like Dundee, I think Ray will have Hearns prone inside 10 rounds Wednesday night.
As Leonard was out of his element before the Montreal meeting with Roberto Duran, Hearns has not been prepared for all of the fight-of-the-century dizziness here. And anyone with two recent fights (Duran II and Ayub Kalule) that ended with opponents crying "no more" is a good deal more than a boxer.
"What we have in Sugar Ray," Dundee said, "is a kid who punches quicker (than Hearns), feints quicker, moves quicker. Quickness will win the fight. Sharpness of reflex. I think if ever you could pattern a guy, the perfect style for Ray to look tremendous, it's Tommy Hearns.
"Hearns is going to bring out the best in Sugar Ray. By that I mean Hearns in the past has made mistakes and never had to pay for it. He wasn't fightin' my guy. He's lookin' to throw home runs at you; he's a home-run hitter. He does that, and leaves himself open (when he misses), off balance.
"You say: 'Get inside.' But Ray's gotta work himself inside. And he will. He'll be able to outjab Hearns by a step, by his quickness. Hearns' reach is a phony barometer, because that's all according to how a guy stands. He takes away reach, because he stretches, seems like he's bending down to you.
"Ray'll go eyeball-to-eyeball with him, 'cause he's a legit 5-11." The tale-of-the-tape measure is an inch shorter, but Dundee said: "I did it myself. And I didn't add an inch."
Also overrated is Leonard's being too rich to be sufficiently motivitated, too comfortable with his millions, that he could not possibly spend all the money he already has earned in his lifetime without bringing baseball back to Washington.
Such a notion makes one wrong assumption: that Leonard is fighting strictly for money. He can be cold and calculating, a bottom-liner as perhaps few athletes ever. He entered the ring as a pro for money; he stays there because he wants history to speak grandly of him.
"A different kind of hunger," Dundee said of what drives Leonard. "He's the best guy out there, and Hearns is challenging him for that. This kid's dream is to win (the combined) welterweight, (the combined) junior middleweight and then fight (Marvin) Hagler.
"He's always wanted to fight Hagler."
Leonard wanted to fight Hearns three years ago, Dundee said.
"I'm the guy who turned down Hearns," he added. "When they called me about the match, Hearns was gettin' a big $7,500. Now he's getting?" Dundee's voice was stilled by the millions dancing through his mind. "But there was no reason for the match then.
"I didn't want it because it didn't make sense fightin' that caliber of fighter on the upgrade. Think we fought (Floyd) Mayweather instead (in Providence, Sept. 9, 1978)."
On the eve of being deeply involved in another fight that commands attention from much of the athletic world, Dundee often remembers how he got into boxing, his first fighter, his first fight.
"Bobby Williams, 1948, Fort Hamilton (N.Y.)," he said. Williams was from Scranton, Pa., and a welterweight. Dundee had taken a leave of absence from the government that was to become permanent, living in the office of his brother, Chris.
"I walked into the arena and Chickie Ferrara threw some tape at me and said: 'Wrap his hands.' " Here, Dundee recreates the flabbergasted look of a young man who had never wrapped a fighter's hands in his life. Then his expression becomes Ferrara's, the consummate pro saying: "I show you, kid."
"The sweet kick," Dundee said, "was he didn't break his hands, and he won the fight."
As Hearns recoils from the demands of press and public, Leonard often savors the attention. This morning, he and his advisers had breakfast in the vast Caesars Palace coffee shop. That was a routine enough scene for only a few sycophants to be drawn to his table. Some of Leonard's afternoon was to be spent driving with his parents.
Dundee has been plying his craft long enough to sometimes trust omens. For that reason, he will be the one wearing an unmarked white sweater in Leonard's corner.
"Don't believe in havin' writing on the back," he said. "I think it's the kiss of death. Happened to me twice. They made a special regalia for us once and we blew the title with (Emile) Griffith. And then Drew Brown wound up gettin' a bunch of smart-lookin' sweaters before Joe Frazier I. And we blow that.
"I retired both them sweaters."
Dundee is counting on more than the sweater factor against Hearns. And on a bit more than his and Leonard's skills. What, he was asked, if Hearns should happen to land one of those piston rights? What if he should reach back, put his every ounce of strength into a punch and find Leonard's jaw with it?
Won't that knock out every bit of strategy?
"Yeah," Dundee admitted, and then he quickly caught himself.
"You know what enters into this?" he said. "Little bit of luck. You need that."