A complete contrast of styles, their fights were the stuff of legend. This is the story of Panamanian street fighter Roberto Duran, his arch-rival ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and the now immortal words ‘No mas!’ BT Sport 1, Fri, May 17th 10.30pm
Boxing enjoyed something of a golden age in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Some of the biggest names in the history of the sport were plying their trade back then and every title fight captured the public imagination that few can manage today. It was a time of legends, with none greater than ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran who fought two of the best bouts of the era for the world welterweight title.
Two of the greatest fighters of all time, both men had endured tough times to make it to the top. Duran grew up in one of the roughest areas of Panama City and starting sparring at his local gym when he was just eight years-old. He was fearless, a true street fighter. Nicknamed ‘manos de piedra’ (hands of stone), he was one of the hardest punchers around. He made his professional debut at just 16 back in 1968 and had been World Lightweight Champion for over six years when he vacated the title to challenge Leonard for the WBC World Welterweight crown in June 1980.
North Carolina-born Leonard was a quiet, withdrawn child. His family moved around a lot before finally settling in Maryland where his older brother took him to their local gym one day and discovered that his 13-year-old sibling had a natural talent for boxing. He narrowly missed out in the trials for the 1972 Olympics, but represented the USA in Montreal in 1976 where he won gold in the light welterweight division.
That should have been the end of his boxing career as he planned to quit the ring and study for a business degree upon his return home. But his parents became ill and were unable to support his ambitions, forcing him to become a professional boxer instead. The rest, as they say, is history and within three years he was WBC World Welterweight champion.
Brawl in Montreal
Their first fight saw Leonard and Duran meet amid massive media hype in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal on June 20th 1980 in what became known as ‘The Brawl in Montreal’. It was one of the all-time classic bouts as the normally mobile Leonard opted to ignore the advice of his coach and go toe-to-toe with his opponent. But Duran dominated and took a unanimous decision after 15 rounds to hand the American his first ever defeat as a professional.
The fight made the Panamanian a superstar overnight and, after years of training and fighting, he found he wasn’t averse to the high life. He quickly gained a reputation for his hard partying lifestyle and when Leonard invoked a rematch clause for November the same year, Duran was far from fit.
The pair met again on November 25th in New Orleans. Leonard had clearly learned his lesson from the first fight and stayed away from his opponent this time, opting for a swift in-and-out counter-punching strategy which allowed him to score freely against the less mobile Duran. He taunted the Panamanian who was becoming increasingly frustrated at being unable to get close enough for his ‘manos de piedra’ to do their work.
With Leonard slightly ahead on all three judges’ cards but the outcome still in the balance, Duran turned his back on Leonard midway through the eighth and allegedly uttered the now infamous words “No mas”. It was a bizarre end to one of the biggest bouts in boxing history.
Directed by Eric Drath for ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, No Más tries to solve the mystery of why Duran, one of the hardest men in the business, quit so unexpectedly in mid-fight. It seemed so unlike someone who was renowned for their machismo, endurance and gritty determination. Drath had always been curious about the strange events of that New Orleans night and, after a chance meeting with Leonard in 2012 in which he too revealed that he was still baffled by the whole thing, the search for answers began.
No Mas revisits two of boxing’s greatest fights, beginning with the build-up to ‘The Brawl in Montreal’ where the pre-fight posturing got more than a little personal, with Duran saying of his opponent that he “wanted to break him into pieces” and flipping off his then-wife. Leonard, for his part, admits that he hated Duran and was determined to take his revenge after the first fight.
Duran’s decision to quit in mid-fight became the defining moment of his career. He became a pariah in his own country despite the fact that he went on to box for another 20 years, claiming the world light-middleweight and middleweight titles, until a serious car crash finally forced him to quit at the age of 50.
Despite all his achievements, however, those immortal words he allegedly uttered in New Orleans all those years ago are what he is still most remembered for. Rumours abounded about everything from a fix to a stomach problem caused by his dramatic weight loss leading up to the fight – he had to lose ten pounds in the last seven days to make the weight - but there has never been a satisfactory explanation for what happened.
The final minutes of the documentary are somewhat controversial as we see the two old rivals brought together for the first time since their third meeting, a unanimous points win for the American in Las Vegas in December 1989. Drath and Leonard are looking for answers, but Duran is still giving nothing away after all these years. And why should he? He has already paid a heavy price for his actions. It will remain one of sport’s great mysteries for a while longer yet.
There are plenty of great documentaries to watch out for on the eir sport pack every week. From football to golf, GAA, rugby, athletics and beyond, we’ve got something for everyone. Watch out next week for another fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the sporting world or go to eirsport.ie for more sports news and stories or eir.ie to find out more about how we're setting sport free.