The anger came out in a couple of short bursts. Roberto Duràn was waiting beside the ring to do a television interview, his hair still ruffled and perspiration still rolling down his face from 12 rounds of frustration. One thousand one. One thousand two. He waited and he steamed and he said nothing, but when he heard a happy voice calling from amid the celebration in the ring, the voice of Vinny Pazienza, he snarled.
"Roberto, good job," Pazienza said.
"You're lucky, man," Duràn shouted back in English. "You're——lucky," he quickly amended.
January 23, 1995
He gave Pazienza a look—the look that he has given to other boxers for 28 years, that malevolent stare that would send any sensible grown man home to change the locks and upgrade the security system—and there was no doubt that he was thinking about what he would have done, could have done, 10 years or 20 years ago. Do you see this right hand? Do you know how many times I would have hit you with it? He would have done it last Saturday night too, done it in a moment. If he could have.
He was trapped, instead, inside the 43-year-old body that he dragged around the ring as if it were some ungainly dancing partner. Twelve rounds, and the body wouldn't do what he told it to do. Twelve rounds, and Pazienza kept bounding away from him, mugging for the crowd of 10,382 at the Atlantic City Convention Center. Twelve rounds, and this last best shot at another title—even though it was a shot at a bogus super middleweight title sanctioned by the bogus International Boxing Council—was gone. Unanimous decision for Pazienza.
"I wanted to move my head a lot more," Duràn said through his manager and interpreter, Luis DeCubas. "I wanted to move my waist a lot more. I just couldn't do it. I wanted to punch down low and then come up with combinations. I couldn't do it. My arms got real heavy. My punches had no snap, no sting."
His mind was young, but his body was old. End of story. A body of stone had been grafted to his famous hands of stone. The nights against Ken Buchanan and Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, the big paydays and the stop-the-clock melodramas, now seemed as if they had happened in another century. Even the first fight against Pazienza, seven months ago, in which Duràn knocked down his opponent before losing a 12-round decision, seemed long, long ago. He simply could not move. He could not do half the things he once did.
"His speed is gone, nothing," Pazienza's trainer, Kevin Rooney, said. "His reflexes aren't dead and he still can punch, but he can't move. To me, it's kind of tragic to see him like this. Boxing's a sport filled with tragedies, guys like Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson fighting way past when they should have because they needed the money, and I guess this is another one of them. Here's a guy, might have been the greatest lightweight who ever lived—though I would have put Henry Armstrong against him. He shouldn't have to be doing this."
"I could have fought so he didn't hit me with a punch," Pazienza said afterward. "But that isn't my style. The people wanted a show, and I gave them one."
Duràn's plan was to attack in a fury. He had forecast an early end to the fight, with Pazienza and his smart mouth stretched across the canvas. "I am a book of a thousand pages, and Pazienza has only seen three," said Duràn. The fury never materialized. The book this time never went past the first few paragraphs. Pazienza was in control all the way. Duràn took a lot of shots to the head.
"He really trained for this fight," DeCubas said. "There were days in the gym, you would look at him and say, 'Yes, there is the old Roberto Duràn.' But I guess it is easy to see what you want to see. There are always people around telling him he is the greatest, still as good as he ever was, and I suppose until tonight I was one of those people too."
DeCubas would like to see Duràn hang 'em up, but that probably will not happen soon. The first question at the postfight press conference was about retirement, and Duràn rejected the idea immediately. He saw this as "a bad night." Doesn't everyone have a bad night now and then? He will go back to smaller purses, free-TV shows from casino barges and Midwestern gymnasiums against rising stars. DeCubas will be with him.
"If I stay, at least I can control who he fights," DeCubas said. "If I leave, I guarantee someone else will be calling with some fight, and Roberto will go. Here's how he thinks: He sees George Foreman get his ass kicked by Tommy Morrison, and then come back and knock out Michael Moorer for the title. Roberto thinks that can happen with him, too. I'll stay with him. If I don't, some clown like Don King will call and get him drilled by some young guy out to make a reputation. I'm not going to let him get drilled."
The 32-year-old Pazienza is heading toward a possible match with IBF super middleweight champion Roy Jones Jr. The plans have already begun for the movie of Pazienza's life—the Providence puncher says that Marky Mark wants to play him but that maybe Keanu Reeves will take the role—and a fight with Jones would be a fine closing scene for the story of a comeback from a 1991 car accident that left Pazienza with a broken neck and the possibility that he might never walk again, much less fight. He has now won nine straight bouts after a year of rehabilitation. He said he would like to beat Jones, "the best fighter around today," then take a year off and challenge for the light heavyweight title.
Duràn was skeptical.
"Vinny Pazienza will not beat any of those young guys," he said. "I don't respect him as a fighter. Why should I respect him? He jumps around in there like he's on dope or something. I never fought anyone like him. He never hurt me tonight. Look. Nothing happened. Why should I think about retiring? Nothing happened."
Jones, a spectator at the fight, stood in the back of the press conference as Duràn talked. He listened as Duràn finished with the empty and hopeful words, "another day, the rooster sings another song."
"What did you learn tonight?" a reporter asked the 25-year-old Jones.
"Nothing," he said.
"No, I learned one thing," he quickly added. "I learned not to fight when you're old."