Sugar Ray Leonard: The Road To No Mas
By Jose Muradas: It’s hard to forget the smile, the commercials, the magazine covers.Ray Charles Leonard (36-3-1,25KO’s) was everywhere; he was boxing’s original golden boy. The press and the public wanted to know his every move, they couldn’t get enough of the kid from Palmer Park, Maryland. What most of us never expected was that Leonard was more than just a pretty face.
Leonard showcased his skills to the world at the 76′ Olympics. He dazzled the opposition with lighting-quick hands, and superior footwork. The final, would pit Leonard against Cuban light -welterweight standout Andres Aldama, the only one who stood between Leonard and the gold medal. In the end, it was Leonard who had the gold medal draped around him. He defeated the powerful Cuban by a perfect 5-0 score. Leonard left the 76′ games having shutout the light-welterweight field, no one touched the ghost.
Upon returning home, he announced to the press that he was done with boxing, and he was going to school. It seemed that life had a different plan for Leonard; The young man with the big smile was looking for Madison Avenue to come calling. The endorsements after winning a gold medal never came. The press found out that Leonard was a father to be, and that a paternity suit was filed by his then girlfriend Juanita Wilkerson. He also was dealing with the poor health of both of his parents. There was no choice but to step back into the arena that had brought him early success.
In 1979, the 23 year-old Sugar Ray Leonard was (25-0), and was ready to challenge for a world title. The champion was 21 year-old WBC welterweight Wilfred Benitez (53-8-1, 31 KO’s). The fight was nothing short of spectacular, both men fought at a furious pace for fifteen rounds. Leonard put Benitez down in the third round, and in the fifteenth, which led to a TKO victory. Leonard had faced a formidable champion who tested Leonard’s technical skills, and his stamina. Angelo Dundee had already molded Leonard after his former pupil,Muhammad Ali. Leonard like Ali would learn the valued use of the jab, and the necessity of superior footwork. It all came down to you can’t hit what’s not there. Leonard had arrived, but the fight that would test him on every level was still on the horizon.
If there was one time in Leonard’s career where fear and uncertainty creeped inside his mind, it was against Roberto Duran(103-16,70KO’s). In 1980,Ray Leonard would return to Montreal,site of his medal triumph in 76′ to fight Duran. The animosity directed from Duran to Leonard was real. Duran was (71-1) leading up to the fight, and he was already considered one of the greatest lightweights of all-time. He felt that Leonard was getting too much attention, and praise. Duran felt disrespected, the fact that he was the underdog incensed him to no end. He started a psychological war with Leonard by looking for any chance to discredit and offend him. Leonard was confused, but he also started see that Duran was serious in his pursuit to topple the young champion.
It was called “The Brawl In Montreal”, on June 20th, 1980 both men would meet to decide the WBC welterweight champion. Leonard was the favorite,the stylish boxer built in the Ali mold. Duran was not built in any mold, he simply came to overwhelm you, and unleash the fury that carried him out of the slums of El Chorillo, in Panama. The legend has it that he knocked out a horse. He also fought american servicemen for money as a kid. In the early rounds Leonard seemed like one of those servicemen. It was a lesson in brutality,Duran pounded Leonard viciously to the body and upstairs. Ray Leonard was learning quickly that he was in the ring with a madman. Angelo Dundee urged Leonard to box,stay on the outside. Leonard decided against it, he went flat-footed and traded blows with Duran. The fight went the distance, the scoring was fairly close, but Duran won the war of attrition. Ray was battered,but he proved that he was more than just a pure boxer.
To say Leonard was done with boxing was an understatement. He wanted to retire, it’s what he wanted to do after the olympics. A call from long -time manager Mike Trainer about a rematch with Duran, and time to reflect, changed his mind. Leonard was ready, he wanted to prove to himself that he could beat Duran. When a loss just eats at you, the only solace you have, is to take back what you believe is yours. Leonard trained with that purpose. He was going to jab, move, and confound Duran. He had fought Duran’s way, now it was time to fight Leonard’s way.
The second fight between Leonard and Duran was held on November 30th.1980 in the Louisiana Superdome. The rematch was suppose to be a carry over from the first fight. Leonard stunned Duran by staying on the outside, and flicking his jab like a wet gym towel. Duran who looked lethargic due to his poor training, was trying to cut off the ring, but Leonard was moving too fast. He continued to sting Duran with the jab, and unload combinations. Duran would score in close quarters, but not enough to hurt Leonard.
In the seventh, Leonard frustrated Duran with feints, and taunted him as he peppered him with jab after jab. In the eight round, the course of two great careers would divert into one of the most bizarre in incidents in ring history. Duran turned to referee Octavio Meyran, and said “No Mas” (No More). Meyran, asked him again, and again Duran mouthed those infamous words. In the days that followed the press asked Duran every question possible that might provide a valid reason as to why he quit. He mentioned stomach cramps, diuretics to lose weight, etc. In all this, Leonard’s victory was ignored, and Ray started to believe that by Duran quitting he could never validate his victory.
ESPN has released a documentary entitled “No Mas” for their 30 for 30 series. It is well done, and gives a lot of insight as it attempts to answer why “No Mas” happened. There is also a movie coming out in 2014 on Duran’s life titled “Hands Of Stone” which also claims to have answers on why Duran quit. It’s safe to say both men seem to have let go from the burden of “No Mas”, but even though we are talking about to legends there is always something in life you wish was done differently.