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A classic rivalry between two different boxing styles and personalities.
Duran who was stepping up to welterweight had been the lightweight champion for 6 years between 1972 and 1978. Leonard was a 1976 Olympic Gold medallist and had won the WBC welterweight championship from Wilfred Benitez in a classic boxing match with a 15th round knockout in November 1979.
Leonard was making the second defence of his crown when he stepped into the ring with Duran and was also unbeaten as a professional. Duran had only been beaten once in 72 fights against Esteban DeJesus and he had avenged that twice.
The bout would take place on June 20th 1980 and was billed as “The Brawl in Montreal” and there was certainly no love lost between the fighters.
To the amazement of everyone Leonard abandoned his slick boxing style and elected to go toe to toe with Duran. In the second round Leonard was staggered by a left hook and almost went down. The fight went back and forth and after fifteen torrid rounds Duran was awarded a points decision. A rematch was a natural.
The return bout was held on November 25th 1980 and was one of the strangest fights ever. The Superdome in New Orleans was the venue and Leonard boxed a lot more with Duran playing the role of stalker. Leonard then amazed the crowd in Round 7 by taunting and goading the champion. Leonard continued to toy and humiliate Duran even throwing a windmill punch with his left and striking with his right
Then the unthinkable happened and one of the most curious sights ever, In Round 8 Duran turned his back and uttered the immortal words “No Mas, No Mas”. Leonard was once again the WBC welterweight champion.
Many thought that this was the end for Duran. In 1982 he challenged Wilfred Benitez for the light middleweight crown and was outpointed. He was also defeated by Kirkland Laing that year. Leonard meanwhile moved up to light middleweight in 1981 and defeated Ayub Kalule and then defeated rival welterweight champion Thomas Hearns in 14 scintillating rounds in Las Vegas to unify the welterweight championship. Leonard then announced the first of his retirements after a routine defence against Bruce Finch with a detached retina.
Duran however was far from finished and 1983 saw a renaissance in the career of “Hands of Stone” He opened his 1983 campaign with a 4 round win over former welterweight champion Pipino Cuevas and then in amazing upset defeated light middleweight champion Davey Moore in 8 rounds in front of a partisan New York crowd. This victory secured Duran a shot at middleweight king Marvin Hagler in November 1983 and Duran gave a great performance before dropping a close but unanimous decision to the marvellous one.
Meanwhile Leonard announced the first of his comebacks and in May 1984 fought Kevin Howard. Leonard was dropped in the fourth round but eventually went onto win in the 9th. The knockdown however persuaded Leonard to retire once again but 2 years later Sugar Ray announced yet another comeback and shocked the boxing world by outpointing Marvin Hagler in April 1987 in Las Vegas. Duran appeared to be on another downside of his career being blown away in 2 rounds by Thomas Hearns in 1984 and losing a decision to Robbie Sims in 1986.
Duran then worked his way back into title contention by defeating a string of opponents to earn a shot at WBC middleweight king Iran Barkley in February 1989. Duran was an underdog going into this bout but rolled back the years knocking Barkley down in the 9th en route to an exciting split points decision victory. This victory earned a rubber match with Ray Leonard who after retiring again after the Hagler bout came back to defeat Donny Lalonde to win the WBC versions of the super middleweight and light heavyweight crown. After a disputed drawn rematch with Thomas Hearns in June 1989 Leonard signed to defend his WBC 168 pound crown at the new Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas. Leonard discarded the light heavyweight crown.
The 3rd bout between Leonard and Duran took place on Dec 7th 1989 and to be honest it was disappointing bout with Leonard boxing cautiously and keeping his distance. Duran seemed to have no idea how to catch Leonard although he cut Sugar Ray badly in the 11th round before dropping a wide 12 round decision.
Although it was a trilogy it was the first 2 fights in 1980 when both were in their prime that summed up the rivalry.
By Lee Bellfield
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