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Boxing's Fab Four Part Two: Leonard Vs Duran

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

20th June 1980, Olympic Stadium, Motreal, Quebec, Canada

WBC Welterweight Title

Ray Leonard Vs Roberto Duran

The massive contrast in both men were evident; Leonard was the boxer who possessed lightning speed of hand and foot and in boxing circles was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, thanks to the big paydays he commanded from his pro debut until now. Duran, who came from great poverty, learning to fight on the streets of Panama was the raw slugger, who brawled his way to the WBA lightweight crown, fighting for peanuts compared to his opponent's considerable purses.

Roberto Duran raced through his opponents and finally after making his debut in 1968 as a bantamweight moved up to the lightweight division in 1971, knocking out Jose Acosta in round one. In February 1972 he took Ken Buchanan's WBA lightweight crown after thirteen rounds of ferocious fighting.

He lost his first bout to Esteban DeJesus nine months later. Unfortunately for DeJesus the WBA crown wasn't at stake as it was a non-title contest. The Puerto Rican had to wait until March 1974 to get a crack at Duran's title.

As in their first contest DeJesus put the Panamanian to the canvas in the opening round. This time around Duran got straight up and fought back immediately. In round seven it was the Puerto Rican who tasted the canvas and in round eleven the champion finished proceedings with DeJesus having nothing left.

Duran continued defending his crown until January 1978, where he met DeJesus, who was now WBC lightweight champion for a third and final time. It was a bruising encounter from start to finish, where 'Hands of Stone' suddenly ended the bout with a right hand in the twelfth round to become undisputed lightweight champion, making twelve successful defences in the process.

Roberto Duran then moved up to welterweight, skipping the light-welter division all together. He won eight contests, including a ten round unanimous decision over ex WBC welterweight king Carlos Palomino.

By the time Duran had made his debut at the welterweight division in April 1978, 'Sugar' Ray Leonard had ten fights under his belt. When he challenged Wilfred Benitez for the WBC welterweight championship in November 1979 he had amassed a record of 25-0 (16 KO's). After fourteen rounds of calculating boxing, both fighters went toe-to-toe in the final round, with Benitez paying the price as Leonard stopped his man with 6 seconds of the contest remaining. The new champion defended his belt against Britain's Dave 'Boy' Green. A devastating left hook relieved the challenger of his senses in the fourth round, to set up the super fight with Duran.

Duran's right was a constant threat

Leonard, being a natural welterweight had the advantages of size, age and height, being 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) taller. Duran, who celebrated his twenty-ninth birthday four days before the fight is five years older. Many viewed him as being past his sell by date, with Leonard being installed as a 9-5 betting favourite with the Vegas bookmakers. Tell that to his Panamanian fans who were parading around the city with their country's flags and wearing badges with 'Duran Campeon' emblazoned on them, claiming the title for their man before a punch has even been thrown.

Leonard opened the original press conference announcing the fight by jesting "I'll kill him." He later stated he said it to bring some life into such a boring presser, but Duran failed to see the funny side.

Both fighters had a distinct dislike for one another, with Duran shrugging off the comparison of their respected fight earnings. "I fight for nothing. I have no respect for Leonard. He talks too much." Duran taunted Leonard endlessly by questioning his masculinity and even insulted his wife to goad the champion into abandoning his boxing and fight on Duran's terms; brawling.

On the Wednesday before the contest at the unofficial weigh-in, Duran taunted the champion again. "Leonard, two days more, two days more. Remember."

Leonard's response was to blow a kiss in his opponent's direction, with the Panamanian getting into a rage. "I have never seen Duran as determined as he is for this fight," said his trainer Ray Arcel. "Not even for DeJesus."

Both corners had an abundance of knowledge and experience. Angelo Dundee, who guided Muhammad Ali to the heavyweight championship and beyond, knew how to get his man out of a sticky situation.

With Dundee in Leonard's corner, Duran also had Arcel and Freddie Brown, who between them had a century or so of boxing expertise. Brown, Duran's cutsman had worked with the likes of Floyd Paterson, Aaron Pryor, Rocky Marciano, Dick Tiger, Larry Holmes and Vito Antuofermo, where he was probably paid a lot of overtime money.

Ray Arcel, who was coaxed out of retirement to train the Panamanian had also trained Georges

Carpentier, Buddy and Max Baer, James J Braddock, Henry Armstrong and Tony Zale, to name but a few. The tactical match up between the two corners was just as intriguing as the fight itself.

So was Leonard's left

The 46,317 crowd gave both gladiators a rousing reception when they were introduced by the master of ceremonies. Joe Frazier, the former heavyweight champion of the world who had three epic battles with Muhammad Ali, was ringside and somebody asked him if Duran reminded him of anybody. "Yeah," he replied thinking of a mass murderer and not an old-time fighter. "Charles Manson."

Leonard weighed half a pound (0.23 KG) heavier than Duran's 145 pounds (65.77 KG), as the crowd waited for the first round bell to ring. The champion didn't come to dance around his man, he came to trade as he started out flat-footed. Duran, keeping his right glove high to stop the champion's left hook, stalked his opponent as they both looked to land hard shots. The intensity of the Panamanian was in full effect, but Leonard was more than happy to match him.

Leonard started round two taking the centre of the ring behind his jab, but Duran was intent on bulldozing his way in. The champion was still flat-footed as he looked to get power into his punches. Just past the midway point of the round Duran missed with a jab and right hand, but a left hook exploded on Leonard's jaw. The American was knocked off balance and visibly hurt as he went to the ropes as the Panamanian looked to finish.

Leonard had to hold on for dear life as the referee Carlos Padilla struggled to prize them apart. The WBC champion had no choice but to stand and trade as Duran took all that was thrown and land his own solid punches.

Leonard looked gun-shy in the third as every time Duran feinted a shot, the champion would flinch. 'Hands of Stone' bulldozed 'Sugar' to the ropes and a right hand had Leonard in trouble again. The challenger kept his man pinned on the ropes for most of frame, with the champion firing back when he could. Leonard's wife was in tears at the amount of punishment her husband had to take.

Both men boxed with caution at the start of round four and as usual Duran would initiate an attack that would force his opponent to the ropes. As Leonard looked to score, the challenger let fly with a lead right that found the target. The champion was in trouble again and had to fire back just to keep the advancing man in front of him away. Finally with about 30 seconds left Duran had his back on the ropes, the difference was he was able to fight off the ropes, forcing his man back there again, with both gladiators punching it out.

Duran forced Leonard to the ropes on numerous occasions

The Panamanian shipped a good left hook early in round five, but it didn't seem to faze him. There was a lot of mauling and in-fighting in what was looking like a quieter round. Suddenly Leonard let his hands go and rocked Duran to the ropes. He smiled as he was under some pressure, fighting back as both men missed with wild right hands as the bell sounded.

The champion caught his opponent early in the sixth round with a good left hook. Duran just shook his head and grinned as they mauled each other to the ropes. Leonard landed some flashy punches as he fought off the ropes and Duran was landing with some hurtful body blows, in what was another close round, with the flashier champion just about shading it.

Round seven was just punch for punch. Leonard had to fight off the ropes and actually punched the Panamanian to the ropes, but he didn't stay there for long as both men went at each other to the crowd's delight.

The pace dipped somewhat in the eighth, which suited the champion as he worked on the outside. He nailed Duran with two right uppercuts bang on the button. The challenger just shook his head snarling, as Leonard used his jab. As the round was coming to a close a lead right hand forced the champion to the ropes, he punched back but got nailed with another right. Leonard was proving he had a good chin, as many a lesser man would have been knocked out long before by now. Juanita Leonard who was in tears during round three actually passed out in her seat at the intensity and brutality of the contest.

Duran kept immense pressure on Leonard throughout round nine. The champion found it hard to 'get off' as the challenger let his hands go with ease. There was a good exchange of action at the round's end, but it wasn't enough for Leonard to have a say in the round. The champion was also cut over the right eyebrow, which could have been caused by the use of the Panamanian's head.

Duran bulled forward again in the tenth, but Leonard did land a crunching left hook on the jaw. The crowd thought it was a fight changing shot, but the challenger grinned and fired back with his own punches, notably his lead right and attacks to the body. Leonard was scoring well too, but his punches seemed ineffective. The champion did have a good exchange as they went toe-to-toe again at the bell.

Round eleven was the most ferocious yet. Both men traded and slugged it out. When one looked like getting on top, the other would steam right back. Both men were feeling the pace and the amount of punishment absorbed as it looked like it would go down to who wanted it most with four rounds remaining.

Duran started the twelfth by touching Leonard's gloves. Both men were happy to stand in the centre of the ring and trade jabs. The two gladiators could be forgiven taking their feet off the pedal after all the exertion they had applied. With about 90 seconds to go they started slugging again. The snap had definitely gone from 'Hands of Stone' but he was still pressing forwards.

Round thirteen started slowly until the challenger let go with a left hook. Leonard had to go to the ropes where he took another mighty left. Just as Duran wanted to take control, the champion fired back. Again the fighters just stood there throwing leather as each man took the other's best shot. Anyone before the contest who thought Leonard was just a pretty boxer were eating their words as the man from Maryland showed his heart and a granite jaw.

The penultimate round was another slug-fest. Both men took and gave big punches. Leonard probably landed the cleaner blows, as both men scored with with solid shots. Had this contest been at lightweight, then Duran would have won this long ago, as no lightweight in the world would have been able to stand in front of 'Hands of Stone' the way Leonard was doing.

Not many clean punches landed in the final round, but you could forgive them for that as the amount of leather thrown and landed in the previous fourteen rounds could have totalled to thirty rounds worth of punishment. Duran started to showboat as the clock ticked down, tapping his chin and inviting the champion to land his best shot.

The crowd went wild as the bell ended the contest. Duran celebrated as Leonard offered him his gloves, but Duran wasn't interested as he waved him away, raising his hands, then getting angry as he spotted Leonard doing the same. The Panamanian then clocked Wilfred Benitez at ringside and stormed over to the ring apron, grabbing his crotch and saying "I will take you out."

Leonard surprised everyone when he abandoned his  boxing and fought Duran's fight

The contest was breathtaking as both men flailed at each other for the entire match. It was close and the crowd waited for the scores to be announced. British judge Harry Gibbs had an extremely close score of 145-144. Raymond Baldeyrou of France had Duran up by two rounds with a card of 146-144. Angelo Poletti, the Italian judge had his scorecard wrongly announced as a draw with 147 a piece and Duran was announced as the new WBC welterweight champion by majority decision.

When the error was noticed it was announced as a unanimous decision at the post fight press conference as Poletti's scorecard was miscalculated and should have read 148-147. Leonard took his first defeat well. "I said I would fight Duran flat-footed and I did. I had no alternative. I wouldn't change if I had to do it all over again. People questioned whether I could take the big punch. I showed them. I have to give Duran a lot of credit. He was the toughest man I've ever fought."

Angelo Dundee wasn't happy with his man's tactics. "You never fight to a guy's strength. You try to offset it, and Ray didn't. He tried to out-strong the guy. Duran was being Duran, and Ray was going with him." Dundee then laid the blame of Leonard's defeat on Leonard himself. "It was his plan. He had it in his head that he was stronger than Duran."

"Leonard surprised me taking some of the punches he did," said Duran's veteran trainer Ray Arcel.

The new champion, who improved to 72-1 with fifty-six early became a two-weight champion, cementing his greatness as the man outside the heavyweight division. With all the contempt he was showing Leonard and his wife during the build-up he had nothing bit praise for his adversary. "He is the best I have fought. he hit me hard a couple of times, but I was never in bad shape. He was pretty good, but he had to be because he was fighting me."

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