Bitter rivals turned friends, Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard are cornerstones of a golden era of boxing.
Along with Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns, Duran and Leonard formed the “Four Kings” who reigned over boxing’s welterweight and middleweight divisions throughout much of the 1980s.
For many boxing fans, it is an era that will never be equalled, a period where the world’s best fighters eagerly sought each other out for a series of epic battles that have passed into boxing folklore.
Nearly 40 years after their first meeting, the bruising “Brawl in Montreal” in June 1980, Duran and Leonard sit-by-side as close friends, united by the bonds forged during three contests in the ring.
Their two fights in 1980 are the focal points of a new documentary “I Am Duran” which reflects on the wild life and times of Panama’s most famous sporting son.
“It’s always surreal when I see him because the first thing I want to do is this,” says Leonard, raising a fist in the direction of Duran. “But in all sincerity, I love this guy. This guy made me the fighter I am today.”
Duran stunned Leonard in their first fight, winning a punishing 15-rounder by unanimous decision to claim the world welterweight crown.
But five months later, Leonard turned the tables on Duran, reverting to silky boxing skills to humiliate his opponent to the point where he famously quit in the eighth round with the words “No Mas” (No More).
Duran, 67, blames his managers for scheduling the rematch with Leonard so quickly. Months of partying following his victory in the first fight had seen his weight balloon by 45 pounds (20 kilos).
“I don’t regret anything,” Duran said in an interview with AFP. “I just blame the managers. I wasn’t ready for that. I knew we were going to have a rematch at some point, but I didn’t think it would be so soon after the first.
“I’d put on so much weight. I weighed almost 190 pounds. So to lose all that weight so quickly, it was very difficult.
“When I stepped into the ring, I knew I wasn’t going to last 15 rounds. And when I realised that I couldn’t give my best, I decided to stop.”
Duran, who had turned professional at the age of 16 in 1968, would eventually retire from the ring in 2001, fighting for the last time at the age of 50 in a defeat to Hector Camacho.
For Leonard, Duran’s place in the pantheon of boxing’s greatest fighters is assured.
“Roberto doesn’t get the credit he should receive as a boxer,” Leonard said. “He’s looked upon as a slugger or a fighter. He’s very cerebral in that ring.
“People ask me that all the time ‘Who hit me the hardest?’. And I say Roberto Duran, because he hit me so hard, so many times, and in so many illegal places, that it felt like there was more than one person in the ring with me.
“Just an amazing champion.”
While Duran and Leonard are part of boxing’s golden age, both men have contrasting views about the quality spread across the sport today.
“We were born in the time period of the real fighters,” says Duran.
“If you compare today’s boxers with the guys from our time — the guys from today would never have won.”
Duran nevertheless harbours respect for Mexico’s middleweight king Saul Canelo Alvarez.
“I admire the Mexican kid, (Canelo),” he said. “I always feel like it’s the Americans who make money. But we have Canelo now and he’s doing very well, making a lot of money.”
Leonard meanwhile thinks while reports of boxing’s death are greatly exaggerated, too few champions are willing to seek out dangerous rivals for the fights fans want to see.
“Boxing’s not dead,” Leonard says. “But the sport has to fix itself. Don’t just say you’re the best — show the fans you’re the best by fighting the best.”
Leonard cites the uncertain state of the heavyweight division, where little progress has been made towards making a fight between WBC champion Deontay Wilder and WBA, IBF and WBO title-holder Anthony Joshua, as a case in point.
“The fight the fans want to see is Wilder v Joshua,” Leonard says. “Will that come to fruition? I’m an optimist, it’s going to happen, it has to happen.
“Champions have to fight champions, and contenders have to fight contenders. But there’s so many governing bodies that it dilutes the championships.” (Agence France-Presse)