Updated: Aug 11, 2019
07th December 1989, Mirage Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas
WBC Super-Middleweight Title
Ray Leonard Vs Roberto Duran
Thomas Hearns' trainer, Emanuel Steward, expected Leonard-Hearns III to go ahead in the November at Caesars Palace, to settle the impasse produced from their second meeting. "We are tentatively set to go into training for that bout on 01st September," Steward was quoted as saying on 07th July 1989 in the New York Times. "But this time Thomas will have parity in the purses paid to the fighters."
However, team Hearns were left disappointed as on 16th July 1989 a press conference was held at the famous Roseland Ballroom in Manhattan, New York to officially announce Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran III. "Everybody who has a Thoams Hearns fight signed and sealed for the 02nd November at Caesars Palace is way ahead of the game," claimed Mike Trainer. "This is a better deal for Ray, because Hearns was seeking parity. He wanted as much money as Ray."
The announcement came exactly a month after Duran's thirty-eighth birthday and his advanced years was brought into debate. The ageing Panamanian laughed off the suggestions. "Age doesn't count. Personal fitness is what matters, being well prepared on the day of the fight. I have waited nine years for this fight, so I intend to do it right." Duran then passed comment on Leonard's performance against Hearns. "It was obvious in his last fight that Leonard was too slow. He's sure to try to correct this against me, but I intend to be faster too. I shall be ready to take him on his terms, whatever tactics he tries to employ in the fight."
This contest had a real 'Clash of the Titans' about it, which was even more attractive than 'The War' in Leonard's last outing. The publicity moguls labelled the bout as 'Uno Mas' (One More) in jest to the infamous 'No Mas' (No More) when he turned his back on Leonard and refused to carry on in their last meeting in New Orleans in November 1980.
It was announced that the fight would be set at 162 pounds (73.48 KG) and the decision caught Duran unawares and he openly questioned why the limit was six pounds (2.72 KG) inside the super-middleweight limit.
Leonard was set to bank $20 million with Duran receiving $8 million. Unfortunately for the Panamanian he owes millions of dollars to the IRS, who would be getting the lion's share of his purse, plus his handlers who made the fight possible.
Duran, who didn't box at all in 1985 after getting blown out by Thomas Hearns in two rounds in June 1984. He won his next two in January and April 1986, losing a ten rounder to Robbie Sims in the June. He won his next six, which included a twelve round split decision victory to claim Iran Barkley's WBC middleweight title in February 1989.
The press were told that no date or venue had been agreed and there were three possibilities; Caesars Palace, Las Vegas on 02nd November, Atlantic City's Trump Plaza on 30th November and The Mirage Hotel in the first week of December.
It was announced on 31st July that the rubber match would take place at The Mirage, Las Vegas' newly built hotel and casino in fifteen years. Steve Wynn, the hotel's owner, planned to open the new building on 26th December, but moved the date forward to 22nd November once he bagged the fight. "The money was about the same (both The Mirage and Trump Plaza offered site fees in excess of $8 million). It came down to intangibles," said Mike Trainer, co-promoter with Top Tank. "Ray liked the idea of opening this new hotel."
Leonard and Duran live in direct contrast to each other. Duran is the undisciplined fat guy between fights and is a man who has never taken care of his financial affairs Keeping up to date with his taxes are testament to that and he is nearly broke for it.
Leonard, the polar opposite, heads his multi-million dollar corporation, Sugar Ray Leonard Inc. He admits that he's motivated by money. Some could argue he's motivated by greed due to banking over $100 million from the ring alone, but he makes a good point: "With the risk involved I should get paid well for my services."
He also gets driven to his morning roadwork when he's training, where he initially scans the business pages. Leonard intensely peruses the news, seldom looking at the sports pages. He also monitors the Stock Market closely and his interests include many important social issues that affect the American youth. Drug abuse, teen pregnancy and illiteracy are some of the questions he addresses.
The answer to why is he's a father first and a fighter second. Duran on the other hand wasn't born to be well read or to gavel corporate boardroom meetings. No, 'Hands of Stone' was born to fight. Leonard-Duran III was the businessman versus the primitive street brawler; the financial wizard against the ghetto urchin. Leonard is a physical marvel, who stays close to fighting trim; Duran is a slob who balloons to 200 pounds (90.72 KG) plus between contests.
They're as different as night and day on the surface, but coursing through their veins is something that can't be manufactured or bought. They both have the blood of champions, a commodity few fighters possess.
At one time Leonard was the darling of boxing, but circa 1989, there were more people rooting for his demise. The obvious answer is envy; they're envious of the control he has over the sport; his calling the shots, having his cake and eating it. Together with his confident manner 'Sugar' Ray Leonard is in their firing line, all this before his controversial draw with Thomas Hearns last time out. Most fans believed that Hearns was burned and Leonard had lost 'The War'.
Duran may be thirty-eight, but his skills are that of a man much younger. Right after the Panamanian officially signed to face Leonard in the rubber match, he immediately phoned Freddie Martinez, his West Coast adviser and cried in happiness, showing his psyche is like that of a child's.
At 08.45 am on fight day, Duran was nervous for the weigh-in, as in July he weighed over 200 pounds (90.72 KG). His fight face returned as he watched Leonard scale in at 160 pounds (72.57 KG). 'Hands of Stone', tipped the scales at 158 pounds (71.67 KG).
Team Duran were also looking to put the WBC middleweight championship on the line. Bob Arum also got on the bandwagon, stating the fight would be for two titles. Arum's enthusiasm quickly dwindled when the World Boxing Council told him he must stump up the cash for two lots of sanctioning fees.
Before leaving the weigh-in area, Duran shows Leonard the same middle he showed his wife, Juanita, in 1980 whilst calling her a 'putah' (whore) when he verbally abused her. This is why Leonard hates his nemesis so much.
Both fighters return to their respected hotel suites as they wait for the time for combat to commence. Leonard tries to relax with his sons, Ray Junior, sixteen and four-year-old Jarrell. He paces the room like a caged tiger, watches some television and listens to music before he eats his fried chicken at 3 pm.
Duran was in his room securing tickets for his groupies and was on the phone to his friends, chatting to pass the time and making sure they were going to watch the fight. After his meal and short nap he starts to get restless and paces the room, throwing combinations.
The gladiators then arrive in trailers, used as their dressing rooms, situated at the back of The Mirage hotel. The boxers were delayed by thirty-minutes as all six contests on the undercard went the distance.
The challenger braved the cold 4℃ December night, wearing a white silk robe trimmed in gold as he made his way to the ring. He bobbed and weaved in the corner, but the cold black stare and scowl were left in the weigh-in area as Duran looked completely unfocused.
Meanwhile, Leonard looked like a ninja warrior as he wore a black skull cap and matching jacket with clasped pants, as he came out to Michael Jackson's 'Leave Me Alone'. "It's real cold outside dad. You better wear a blanket," Jarrell told him just before he left.
By the time the first bell rings all the perspiration on Duran's face has evaporated whilst Leonard is still glistening and the sellout crowd of 16,305 cheer in anticipation of a contest something close to the excitement of their previous meetings.
Unfortunately for the paying fans there wasn't much for them to get excited about in the first three minutes. Not only were the fighters a stark contrast to the other, their corners were too. Leonard was wrapped in the now famous Brothman blanket during the interval, whilst Duran's chief second, Nestor Quinnones, administered an ice pack to his charge's neck in the chilly night.
Not much happened in the way of action occurred in the next few rounds. Duran would come forward and try to force the issue as Leonard would back away and showboat. A clash of heads in round four caused the champion's lower lip to bleed, which would later require ten stitches.
Finally in the final minute of round six the crowd had something to get excited about. Leonard threw some caution to the win as he caught his old enemy with some good clean unanswered punches. The Panamanian wasn't fazed as he snarled through his gum-shield and Leonard knew he would have to go the full twelve rounds to beat this man.
Leonard's tactics of safety first were not only frustrating Duran, they were frustrating the crowd who had paid good money to see more action then they were getting. They booed and jeered and between rounds eight and nine Leonard told his corner "To hell with this crowd."
The champion was way in front on the scorecards and as round eleven was drawing to a close both gladiators traded rights, which slashed Leonard's left eye. There wasn't enough time for him to capitalise on the injury as the bell sounded to end the round.
The Duran of old would have jumped all over Leonard in the final round, looking to make that cut worse. Instead Duran let his old foe dictate the pace, as he did all night and was content to chase shadows. A left from the Panamanian sliced the champion's right eyelid, but it was too little too late as the bell rang to end a subdued third encounter.
All three judges scored the bout 120-110, 119-109 and 116-111 in favour of the WBC super-middleweight champion. "If this was the last time there will be no announcement," said the thirty-three-year-old victor. "But I didn't look as old as you felt I was."
Leonard pursued a third contest with Thomas Hearns, but the two fighters couldn't agree what weight they would fight at. Leonard wanted the same limit of 164 pounds (74.39 KG) like in their previous contest, but Hearns stated it was impossible to make that weight, so the rubber match never materialised. "Both of them were like-minded in one respect: they wanted to fight each other again," summed up Mike Trainer.
Leonard didn't box again until February 1991, when he went back down to the light-middleweight division to challenge Terry Norris for his WBC belt. The twenty-three-year-old Texan was too yound and fast for the ageing legend and widely outscored Leonard, who suffered two knockdowns in the process. The beaten challenger retired until March 1997, when aged forty he took on IBC middleweight champion Hector 'Macho' Camacho. After a bright start from the veteran, 'Macho' took charge, stopping Leonard in the fifth round. Finally Leonard retired for good and he left the sport with a record of 36-3-1 (25 KO's).
After losing to Leonard in 1989, Duran took 1990 off and returned in March 1991, losing to a shoulder injury to Pat Lawlor. He then won his next seven, before losing on points to Vinny Pazienza. Seven months later he lost the return match, again on points.
He won his next three, then lost on points to Hector Camacho. Duran finished 1996 with two more victories, but suffered another points defeat to ex WBA middleweight champion Jorge Castro. He gained revenge over the Argentinian four months later and carried on winning until August 1998, where he was outclassed by WBA middleweight champion William Joppy. It would prove to be his final world title fight.
With another defeat in March 1999 it very much looked as if the Panamanian had retired, but in June 2000 he gained revenge over Pat Lawlor. Two months later he outpointed Patrick Goosen and didn't climb through the ropes again until July 2001, where he lost a twelve round unanimous decision to Hector Camacho.
In October 2001 the fifty-year-old Duran was involved in a car accident in Argentina, where he suffered broken ribs and a collapsed lung. Due to his injuries he announced his retirement from boxing in January 2002, finishing with a record of 103-16 (70 KO's) and four weight world titles to his name. Duran would however be remembered as one of the best lightweights to have ever graced the squared circle.
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