The Oral History of Roberto Durán vs. Sugar Ray Leonard

Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Durán, and those closest to them remember the triumph and heartbreak of their classic WBC Championship bouts.

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Roberto Durán and Sugar Ray Leonard fought twice in a span of five months in 1980, resulting in two of the most memorable matches in boxing history. Durán, a Panamanian hero who, at 29-years-old, had fought mostly as a lightweight, came into their first welterweight bout a heavy underdog. He shocked the world when he dethroned the 24-year-old undefeated American boxing icon Leonard via unanimous decision. The second fight was memorable too—more infamous perhaps—for Leonard exacting the sweetest form of revenge on Durán by making him give up and utter the words “No más” (no more) in the eighth round. The phrase remains part of our vernacular today and a significant piece of both Durán’s legacy and boxing history.  

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DURÁN VS. LEONARD I (The Brawl in Montreal): JUNE 20, 1980.

Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.​ Sugar Ray Leonard stages the second defense of his WBC Welterweight Championship. He comes in as a 9-5 favorite.

Bob Arum, Leonard’s promoter: Ray was the big American hero, and [then] there was Durán. Here was this Latino who nobody could make much out of, except he was a real force of nature. But it really was the American hero against this strange Latino guy.

Roberto Durán: My manager Carlos Eleta told me one day, “Durán, do you know there is a boxer who is a sensation among the gringos? He is a star and a tremendous boxer. Do you want to fight him for a world title?” “Why not? Of course,” I told him. “He is very fast,” Eleta said. “Screw that he’s fast. Blah,” I told him. And that’s how the fight got done.

Sugar Ray Leonard: He wasn’t even on my radar screen. I never thought about fighting Durán because he was a lightweight and there was such a weight deficit.

Bob Arum: One of the doctors detected a heart murmur after examining Roberto in Montreal. The Durán crew immediately assumed that Leonard was backing out of the fight and this was a contrived thing, so Eleta flew up a heart specialist from Panama. I remember being at the hospital where they examined Durán and gave him a clean bill of health, and [remember] the doctor running down the hall yelling, “Hay pelea! Hay pelea! There is a fight!”

“Durán would... follow [Leonard's wife] around and say crazy things like, ‘Your husband is no good. After I beat him, I f*ck you.’ Crazy sh*t. Leonard became totally enraged.” —Bob Arum

Bob Arum: I remember Durán would send out a spy every time Leonard’s wife went shopping in Montreal. Durán would get in the car [himself too] and follow her around and say crazy things like, “Your husband is no good. After I beat him, I f*ck you.” Crazy sh*t. Leonard became totally enraged. 

Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s trainer (in an interview with ABC Sports): I tried to explain that. But you know, once it's in your craw that you want to kick this guy's butt because he abused you in front of his wife, how do you get that out of there?

Sugar Ray Leonard: This guy challenged my manhood. That was the biggest thing. You know what man, in the press conference, I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t want to deal with him, his attitude.

Fula Durán, Durán’s wife: General Torrijos of Panama gave us state security to take care of us. Roberto trained like he never had before in his life. He arrived three weeks before and he won over the people. I thought since Leonard was American they would love him more over there, but to my surprise, the love was with Roberto.

Sugar Ray Leonard: The things that I encountered with him were so unusual to me. No one had ever approached me that way. But looking back on it, it was an amazing transformation that he made. He got into my head. 

Joe Frazier, former world heavyweight champion (to New York Times columnist Dave Anderson): He reminds me of Charles Manson (in reference to Durán's ring entrance).

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Sugar Ray Leonard: I didn’t know he could hit that hard. That son of a b*tch can hit. He hit me so friggin’ hard for 15 rounds. I wanted to pay him back for being so rude, but because I am so stubborn, I thought I could fight him at his own game and beat him. Not a good move.

Roberto Durán (to William Nack of Sports Illustrated): Before the fight I asked myself, “Why can't I beat him?” I wondered, “Maybe he's a phantom and you can't beat him. Maybe they thought I was going to stand in the ring and let him beat on me like I had my hands tied. That's the only way he can beat me. I would have to be tied to a tree with my hands behind my back. He would have to break me down a thousand times.” He was strong, but he did not hurt me. My rage was very big. When I get into the ring to fight, I always give my best.

Sugar Ray Leonard: It was a close fight, but it was a brutal fight. I remember the doctor coming to my hotel room. He had these hypodermic needles and he was drawing blood out of my ears before they cauliflowered. I told him, “I don’t need this.”

Roberto Durán (to reporters after the fight): 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.

Durán vs. Leonard II (No Más Fight): Nov. 25, 1980

Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana. Roberto Durán stages the first defense of his WBC Welterweight Championship in a rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard.

Roberto Durán: I beat the idol of the United States and instead of going to Panama, I went to New York and started to drink, eat, and party with my friends who are millionaires.

Sugar Ray Leonard: I took my wife Juanita to Hawaii with the thought of staying two weeks. I was running on the beach, and every 100 yards someone is saying, “Hey, you could have beat Durán if you fought your fight.” I got back to the hotel. I called my attorney Mike Trainer and said, “Mike, get Durán for me. ASAP.”

Robin Durán, one of Durán’s sons: I recently saw one of those big fight documentaries about Manny Pacquiao running with about 20 people. It reminded me so much of when my dad was in his prime. There were a lot of hangers-on: One carried the bag, one carried his music box, and one did his laundry. They would fight amongst themselves to see who could get closest to Durán.

Chavo Durán, Durán’s eldest son: After that fight, my father became the king of New York. He went everywhere.

Roberto Durán: I stayed in New York almost a month. Then I get a call from Eleta saying, “Cholo, you have to come down to Panama because we’ve signed the rematch. You have a month to get ready.” I was like, “Are you crazy? I weigh 180 pounds. I can’t drop all that weight in a month!”

"i got back to the hotel. i called my attorney mike trainer and said, "mike, get durán for me. asap." - Sugar Ray leonard

Fula Durán: I wasn’t able to supervise him the day of the fight for some reason, and he took advantage of it. He ate a bunch of things he wasn’t supposed to. At about 6 p.m. he says, “Gorda, my stomach hurts. I don’t feel so good.” 

Roberto Durán: Puta (b*tch). A baby could have punched me and it would have felt like a heavyweight. That’s how drained I was. I would leave training drained. I was sh*t. Rotten.

Durán vs. Leonard II

Sugar Ray Leonard: That night I knew I was going to beat Durán. I could have beaten Mike Tyson. I get in the ring and all of a sudden, I see this guy. [It’s] Ray Charles, my namesake. I look at Durán’s eyes when Ray Charles starts singing “America The Beautiful.” His eyes were like puppy dog eyes. It was so clear it was not his night. He knew.

Fula Durán: I noticed while they were taping his hands he was grimacing, having issues with gas. “I’m not liking this,” I thought to myself. And of course it turned out to be a disastrous fight.

Sugar Ray Leonard: That night I looked at Durán and I said, “I’m going to kick his a**.” The bell rings and I start moving. Right off the bat it’s a different fight. He couldn’t catch me because now I’m not a stationary target. That fight, technically speaking, was more superior. It was about ringmanship. It was about the sweet science of boxing.

Roberto Durán: I simply couldn’t do anything. I didn’t have the strength. I didn’t have the energy. I had nothing. And he took advantage of it.

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Sugar Ray Leonard: When he threw his hands up, it was like [he was saying], “F*ck it.” He says he didn’t say “no más,” but what does this mean, waving your hands? That says, “No more.”​

Angelo Dundee: I felt bad for Durán. Here's a living legend. There's no quit in a fighter. I think what happened to him is that he didn't want to get knocked out because he felt he was going to get knocked out. It would have been an embarrassment.

Bob Arum: I was at some boxing convention and watched it on the big screen. It was obvious Durán couldn’t handle Ray’s speed, and when he quit everyone was stunned. But it seemed to us watching the fight that the final result was inevitable. 

"that night I knew I was going to beat Durán. I could Have beaten mike tyson." - sugar ray leonard

Sugar Ray Leonard (in Sports Illustrated, December, 8, 1980): I proved to him what I could do. I made him quit. To make a man quit—to make Roberto Durán quit—that was better than knocking him out. 

Ray Arcel, Durán’s trainer (to reporters after the fight): They have performed all the physical examinations on [Durán]. Maybe what they ought to do is have a mental examination.

Durán’sco-trainer Freddie Brown (to reporters after the fight): I been with the guy nine years and I can't answer it. The guy's supposed to be an animal, right? And he quit. You'd think that an animal would fight right up to the end.

Sugar Ray Leonard (to reporters after the fight): I think Roberto Durán looked like an amateur and people can’t accept it. I beat this so-called living legend and now they find excuses. I beat Roberto Durán.

Roberto Durán: Everyone left. My promoter Don King left. Eleta left. He didn’t even leave me money for the flight home. A friend of mine had a van and we drove with the family to Miami.

Durán vs. Leonard Resized

Ray Arcel: He was like my son. I don’t think he let me down. I don’t blame Durán. Durán was never a quitter. Durán brought glory to boxing and glory to Panama. Durán was a victim of his friends. His friends took advantage of him. 

Sugar Ray Leonard: People were laughing. People were laughing at me sticking my chin out. He was being humiliated and frustrated. It’s like a suicide victim. He jumps from a bridge and halfway down he says, “Goddamnit. I could have gone to therapy.”

Don King, Durán’s promoter (to reporters after the fight): The next time I promote a Leonard-Durán fight, it will be on the planet Pluto.

George Diaz is a columnist with the 'Orlando Sentinel' and the ghostwriter for 'I Am Durán,' the authorized autobiography of Roberto Durán set for release in September by Macmillan. 

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