Famous Ring Wars – Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard

By John F. McKenna (McJack): On June 20, 1980 a great fight dubbed “The Brawl in Montreal” took place between Panamanian Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard from the United States. Ray Leonard was a media darling, having won the Light Welterweight Olympic Gold Medal in the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, Canada. The fight with Duran was held in Olympic Stadium where Leonard had won his Gold Medal four years prior.

A crowd of 46,317 was in attendance to watch what would prove to be an epic battle between two fighters who were at the peak of their careers. Roberto Duran AKA “Hands of Stone”, had an incredible 71 and 1 record coming into the fight and resented all the adulation that Leonard received, he also resented that fact that he was going to receive only one fifth of the amount that Leonard received. Duran had vacated the Lightweight title with the intention of stepping up to challenge Leonard for the Welterweight title. Roberto had defeated former WBC champion Carlos Palomino and Zeferino Gonzales to set the stage for his challenge of Leonard. Duran cursed and insulted Leonard at a press conference hyping the fight in an effort to intimidate him.

There was always a lot of media hype surrounding any fight involving Sugar Ray Leonard. It was my perception at the time that Leonard was being groomed to fill the void that was left with Muhammad Ali out of the picture. The fight lived up to its advance billing and all the hype. Sugar Ray Leonard had brought in Angelo Dundee, who was Muhammad Ali’s trainer, to assist in training him. Angelo had counseled Leonard to box Duran and use lateral movement and above all, not to get trapped on the ropes. Leonard ignored Dundee’s advice saying he did not want to run from Duran. In his mind he thought he could go toe to toe with “Hands of Stone” and win the fight. As expected Duran, who also had a great trainer in Ray Arcel, came straight at Sugar Ray in an effort to inflict maximum damage and unleash the rage he felt for him. It was a fight that almost from the beginning belonged to Duran. He bulled Leonard into the ropes where it was impossible for Ray to get off his jabs and quick combinations. In effect, Duran nullified Leonard’s superior speed. It was a gift to Duran that Sugar Ray fought Duran’s fight. Again and again Duran pinned Leonard against the ropes, punishing his body. Duran cut off the ring in textbook fashion denying Leonard the space to fight his fight. It is a testimony to Sugar Ray’s heart that he was able to survive the early rounds. He eventually was able to get back into the fight and make it competitive. Part of Leonard’s problem was that in addition to Duran being a terrific slugger he was also a very good boxer with quick hands and good head movement. The entire fight was fought with great intensity, giving the paying customers more than their moneys worth.

Duran was awarded a unanimous decision, with Judge Angelo Poletti scoring it 148 to 147 for Duran, after he at first incorrectly tabulated it at 147 to 147. Judge Raymond Baldeyrou scored it 146 to 144 for Duran and Judge Harry Gibbs scored it 145 to 144 for Duran. The Associated Press had it 144 to 141 for Duran.

Although I was pulling for Sugar Ray in the fight, I had to concede that Duran deserved the decision. The fight lived up to the pre fight ballyhoo. Leonard had learned a valuable lesson in not listening to trainer Angelo Dundee. He became a better fighter because of the experience of not only going the distance with Roberto Duran, but making it a competitive fight. This after some very tough early rounds, where some thought he was not going to go the distance.

As a result of Duran’s victory, Sugar Ray went back to the drawing board with his brain trust to best figure out how to win a rematch.
Duran would go on a partying binge after the fight with Leonard causing his weight to balloon out of control.

After such a great fight, the stage was quickly set for a rematch to be held in November of 1980.


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