All right, calm down. It's been six-plus weeks now since the night of the big bellyache, also known as the Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran rematch, and most of the reports are in. It is now time to set straight who did what to whom. It seems to me that too much has been said about Leonard's matchless boxing skills. Not that he's not terrific; indeed, the kid may be the best boxer since the year of the blue snow. But in this case—in just this one case—that's beside the point.
This is an article from the Jan. 19, 1981 issue
The point is that it wasn't Leonard's savage blows or lightning jabs that beat Duran last Nov. 25. It was anybody's fight going into the eighth round, and anyone who had Sugar Ray as a shoo-in at that point just wasn't paying attention. What beat Duran was the fact that Leonard humiliated him in Round 7. Leonard sneered and made wickedly knowing impish faces at him; he swaggered and did a bit of Ali shuffling and, the worst insult of all, he wound up a pretend-bolo and then sucker-punched Duran in what was maybe 1980's most embarrassing moment in sports.
That contemptuous flicker of a move carried a shock to the pride so devastating that anyone who has ever been outfoxed or out-hustled at something he ordinarily does well must have felt a momentary stab of kinship with Duran.
Everybody is subject to this humiliating psych-out. You. Me. Your old Aunt Hattie and all psychiatrists—who have a scientific name for it. Psychologically, this reaction can be called the I-could-have-beaten-you-but-I've-just-this-minute-had-a-heart-attack syndrome. There is nothing new about it. I have seen it happen to world-class track stars: about to be beaten in their own event, they suddenly step off the track with what seems to be a painfully pulled something or other—their version of Duran's stomach. It has happened to downhill and slalom ski racers, suddenly stricken with a seized calf or locked kneecap just as a rival puts up a heck of a time. At the 1979 world gymnastics championships in Texas, the entire U.S. women's gymnastics team did a Duran.
All of which makes any talk of a rematch ludicrous, and don't you listen to it. Duran is still steely, of course. Even now, he could go bare knuckles with a water buffalo and win—but he'll never beat Leonard again. I promise you, they would meet in the ring for the referee's instructions; Sugar Ray would sneer knowingly—and there Roberto's stomach would go again.
It was a sad occasion in sport, that such a cruel fate should befall my favorite fighter, the lightweight champ for seven years, with a 71-1 record, including 56 knockouts. I feel somehow diminished that it ended this way. Leonard didn't pound Duran into submission, he didn't knock him silly or even a little gaga. He didn't wobble him or floor him, nor did he daze him. Leonard merely embarrassed Duran right out of the world welterweight title.
Ah, well. Being good at something doesn't necessarily mean you have to be smart at it, as they say, and Duran has surely shown us that. Sugar Ray has shown us that he has both an intuitive grasp of the basic psych-out, as well as splendid boxing abilities, and we'll see what else he has when, and if, he fights Tommy Hearns. Meanwhile, thanks for all those good times, ol' Roberto. Sic transit gloria tummy.