SI Vault
William Nack
August 17, 1981
Returning to the ring for the first time since disgracing himself in New Orleans, Roberto Duran narrowly defeated young Nino Gonzalez
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August 17, 1981

Back, But Still A Long Way To Go

Returning to the ring for the first time since disgracing himself in New Orleans, Roberto Duran narrowly defeated young Nino Gonzalez

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Roberto Duran, cut slightly near his left eye and with a bruise under the right eye, stepped out of the ring at Cleveland Public Auditorium late Sunday afternoon and stopped for a moment, looking down at the crowd, before he descended the stairs. A chant went up: "�Cholo! �Cholo! �Cholo!" It is the nickname by which Duran is known in his native Panama. He smiled and raised his arms in salutation and triumph.

It had been a long time since Duran had heard cries of adulation at a prizefight. It had been more than a year, in fact, since he took the welterweight title from Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal and bounded about the ring as hundreds of Panamanian flags waved. Duran heard only boos and howls, of course, when, in the eighth round of his rematch against Leonard in New Orleans last Nov. 25, he astonished every witness—except, apparently, himself—by turning his back on Leonard and declaring, "No m�s, no m�s. No more box." But now he was back, in his first fight since then. As he left the ring in Cleveland to a standing O, he heard what he had come to hear.

"And now Leonard," someone shouted to him outside his dressing room.

"Yes, Leonard," Duran said.

Fighting as a junior middleweight he had just won a unanimous 10-round decision over Mike (Nino) Gonzalez, ranked 10th by the WBC, and the superficial wounds about Duran's face showed that he had had to work for the victory. Referee Jack Keough scored the bout 48-44, and judges Ed Maguire and Vito Mazeo had it 47-43 and 48-45, respectively. It was, unmistakably, one heck of a fight, far more competitive than many had reckoned it would be.

Duran started slowly, and Gonzalez got the better of the early exchanges. But Duran took over in the third round, as if finding the rhythms of his opponent, and won the middle rounds with hard shots to the body and an overhand right that puffed up the left side of Gonzalez's face. As he had in the first Leonard fight, Duran often bowled his opponent into the ropes, working the body as he drove him back. Whenever Gonzalez scored sharply, Duran merely smiled. The crowd favored Gonzalez, chanting "Nino! Nino!" when he connected, but in the end Duran's strength and ring savvy saved him from permanent retirement.

Afterward, Gonzalez said he thought he had won. He had indeed fought well, taking Duran's best shots and delivering many stinging blows of his own. Duran, too, did extremely well, considering his long layoff. "I was happy with the way I fought," he said, "but I haven't been fighting for nine months. I have to take my time. I could not pressure him too much."

That Duran pressured him at all came as a surprise to many. Shortly after the second Leonard fight, Duran announced that he was through fighting. Returning to Panama, he took into retirement one of the greatest records in ring history—72 wins in 74 fights, 55 by knockout—and one of the most baffling and ignominious defeats.

Exactly why he quit became the subject of endless speculation. Leonard was winning the fight. In the seventh round he had made a fool of Duran, dancing around him and mocking him, sticking out his chin and daring him to hit it. Many who saw the fight believe that Duran resigned his title because he couldn't handle Leonard and deal with such humiliation. There also was speculation that Duran was on drugs and that he went into the tank. He denies all that.

Duran had had difficulty making the weight, and on the day of the fight, following the weigh-in, he ate and drank prodigiously. Carlos Eleta, Duran's manager, now says that Duran had been taking diuretics to eliminate water, and the fighter's physician, Dr. Alfredo Molto, says the drugs could have caused an imbalance of minerals in the system, ultimately causing stomach cramps. "I was about to faint," Duran says. "The pain was so intense it bothered my breathing. I was weak. I was not worried about Leonard. I was fighting pain. All these things happened to me in that ring."

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