The fight that he had called the greatest of his life was a day behind him, and as Roberto Duran sat at the bar of a New York restaurant last Saturday, the transformation process had already begun. A scotch and ginger ale sat before him on the bar. He watched the tape of the bout on TV and drained the glass. "Pow! Pow! Pow!" he said excitedly. Then he nodded at the woman behind the bar and pointed to his empty glass. "Una màs, "he said, "una màs."
Duran, who has often gained 40 pounds between bouts, was getting ready for a future no one believed he had, until he won a ferocious 12-round bout with Iran Barkley for the WBC middleweight title. Until the stunning split decision was announced in the Atlantic City Convention Center last Friday night, the only thing that seemed to lie before the 37-year-old Duran was his paunch. Now there is a very good chance that before the year is out he will get a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard.
That fight would provide Duran with the big payday he has been looking for since he came back from an 18-month retirement. It has long been rumored that his former manager, Carlos Eleta, left Duran relatively penniless when the two split seven years ago. "He has my money," Duran said in the bar, "but he doesn't have what I have today. He can't rob me of this feeling."
Perhaps the most astonishing thing was not that he defeated Barkley, but that the win came almost 22 years after his pro career began. In a career that has spanned three decades, Duran has won the lightweight title (1972), the welterweight championship (1980) in his first fight against Leonard, and the WBA junior middleweight belt (1983). As a pro, he has lasted longer on the world stage than Muhammad Ali, and Duran—who is 85-7 with 61 knockouts—gives no appearance of being finished. "If Ray has nine lives," says Leonard's adviser, Mike Trainer, "Roberto has 12."
As a 135-pounder in the early '70s, Duran may have been the best lightweight of all time, with those legendary hands of stone. But since then he has often weighed as much as 200 pounds, and he seemed to have lost both the hands and the heart that had made him a great fighter. In 1980 he turned away from Leonard in the eighth round of their second fight, told the referee, "No màs, no màs," and started his long decline.
Before that day Duran had been an almost godlike figure in his native Panama, but he quickly became something of a national disgrace. His career appeared nearly over when Wilfred Benitez defeated him in 1982, and a 15-round loss to Marvin Hagler a year later seemed surely to be the end. By 1984 Duran had become an embarrassment to himself, pummeled to the canvas by Thomas Hearns in two rounds.
After losing a decision to Hagler's half-brother Robbie Sims 2½ years ago, Duran put together a string of five consecutive victories against the likes of Ricky Stackhouse and Paul Thorn. His last fight was in October, after which he swelled to 190 pounds. But given his first chance at a title in nearly five years, Duran started training seriously for Barkley four months ago in Miami.
Duran made the 160-pound weight limit two weeks before the fight and was a lean 156¼ pounds at the weigh-in. Barkley stepped on the scale at the Trump Plaza Theater—and nearly fainted dead away when it registered 164 pounds. "I thought it was all over," said Barkley, who had weighed 160 pounds earlier that morning. If the heavier reading had been correct, Barkley would have had to forfeit his title right there. He stepped off the scale, then stepped back on it—and now it read 159 pounds. Evidently a jokester in Duran's entourage had put his foot on the scale.
Nasty, wintry weather paralyzed the boardwalk on Friday, but Duran was red hot. "The first round was very important because I had to come back at him when he hit me," Duran said later. With Barkley boring in on Duran's midsection, a target the champion may have expected to find softer than it was, Duran stayed in front of him, deftly slipping most blows.
Barkley found Duran's head in the seventh round and stunned him with a whistling hook. As the bell sounded, the two stood and glared at each other for a moment. In the eighth, Barkley appeared to score again with a left hook, which caused Duran to dance a pirouette to keep his feet. "It threw me off balance because he hit me in the neck," Duran said. "But he never hurt me."
Barkley was holding his left hand low, and Duran kept throwing right hands at his head. By the ninth round Barkley's left eye was closing. Seeing that, Duran summoned up a final charge. When Barkley waded into him in the 11th, Duran hit him with three howitzer combinations. "Barkley was paying for everything he threw," Duran said. "He had to take a punch to throw one, so I put more power into my punches." The third combination sent Barkley to the deck. He survived the round, but after the bell rang, he wandered around the ring for a moment, looking for his corner. He was lost, and though he struggled through one more round, so was his title.
"It was his heart," Barkley said after the decision was announced. "It just wouldn't go." By beating Barkley, Duran became the first Latin fighter to win titles in four weight divisions. "I am like a bottle of wine," Duran said. "The older I get, the better."
Duran is still the only fighter to have defeated Leonard, and assuming that Sugar Ray can hang on to his WBC super middleweight championship when he faces Hearns in June in Las Vegas, it is almost certain there will be one final meeting to settle their old score. Una màs.