Hagler-Duran: Caesar's Palace, November 11, 1983

By George Kimball


Hagler-Duran: Caesar's Palace, November 11, 1983

(another excerpt from FOUR KINGS: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran and the Last Great Era of Boxing)

By late 1982 Roberto Duran’s stock had tumbled even further than after the ‘No Mas’ fight. He had lost a decision to Wilfred Benitez in a challenge for the WBC junior middleweight title, and then, in Detroit, been solidly outpointed by Jamaican-born journeyman Kirkland Laing.

After the Laing fight, Don King had stormed into the loser’s dressing room to unleash an obscenity-laced, ten-minute tirade, at the conclusion of which he angrily told Duran he would never promote him again.

At 31, Manos de Piedra hadn’t even been placed on waivers. He had been handed boxing’s equivalent of his outright release.

Just as his entourage of once-faithful “friends” had all but abandoned him, virtually every associate who had shared his journey to the top had deserted the ship.

Freddie Brown had quit in a dispute over money after the No Mas fight. After washing his hands of Duran in New Orleans, Ray Arcel had relented and returned to work Cholo’s corner against Benitez, but had been so disappointed in the result that he subsequently sent Duran a heartfelt letter recommending that they both retire.

Carlos Eleta no longer even phoned, and appeared to have lost all interest. Only Plomo -- Nestor Quinones, Duran’s boyhood trainer -- remained from the old days.

Luis Spada was a courtly Argentine who had for years done business as a matchmaker in Panama. Years before he had told Duran that if he ever needed an extra spit-bucket carrier, he would be his man.

As he contemplated his future, Duran telephoned Spada.

“I don’t want you to carry the bucket,” he told him. “I want you to be my manager.”

Spada contacted Eleta, who confirmed that he had washed his hands of Duran and wished him luck.

In the fall of 1982, Duran presented himself at the offices of Top Rank.
“He was worthless, not worth a plugged quarter,” said Bob Arum, who was initially disinclined to take on the reclamation project, but did so at the urging of Teddy Brenner. The deposed president of Madison Square Garden boxing had, after an unsuccessful fling at promoting, resurfaced as Arum’s matchmaker.

During Brenner’s Garden tenure he had staged many of the Panamanian’s early fights. His argued that, at 30, Duran hadn’t absorbed a lot of physical punishment in the ring, and that if he could only rekindle the fire that had once made him the most feared man in boxing, might prove a profitable acquisition for Top Rank.

The first fight under the Top Rank banner, a lackluster decision over Briton Jimmy Batten on the Pryor-Arguello card in Miami that November, didn’t do much to enhance Duran’s image, but, fortunately for Cholo, there were few witnesses. The main event had ended chaotically, and the Batten fight was the walk-out bout of the evening. By the time it started I was in the process of filing my story from the football press box high above the Orange Bowl, so far from the ring that it was difficult to see what was taking place, but the boos and catcalls from what remained of the crowd spoke volumes.

But in January of 1983, on the eve of Super Bowl XXVII in Los Angeles, Duran scored a stunning knockout of Pipino Cuevas at the LA Sports Arena, dropping the former welterweight champion twice before stopping him for good in the fourth.

The Cuevas fight represented a giant leap forward in Duran’s comeback plans, but it nearly sparked a riot at the venue.  The boozy, mostly Mexican-American crowd had been solidly pro-Cuevas, and they were outraged over what they considered a poor effort. Eddie (The Animal) Lopez, a Chicano heavyweight from East Los Angeles, stood on the apron of the ring, cursing at Cuevas.

As the fighters and their entourages milled about in the ring, a network cameraman on hand to capture Duran’s post-fight interview was struck squarely in the back by an object heaved from the stands, and immediately felt warm moisture spreading across his back. He feared at first that it might be his own blood, but when he looked down to the canvas, he realized he had been hit by an East L.A. hand grenade – a makeshift water-balloon consisting of a condom filled with freshly-produced urine. It had presumably been intended for Pipino.

Arum had told Duran that if he could beat Cuevas he would arrange a shot at WBA light middleweight champion Davey Moore.  The promoter was able to make good on his promise sooner than expected. Tony Ayala, the unbeaten young Texas junior middleweight in line for a mandatory challenge to Moore, was arrested on rape charges and sentenced to 15 years in prison, clearing the way for Duran.

The fight against Moore was initially scheduled to take place at the Sun City Casino in the South African homeland of Bophuthatswana, in combination with a Ray Mancini-Kenny Bogner lightweight title match. Both bouts would be prelims to the piece de resistance of the evening, a concert by Frank Sinatra.

“Sinatra had agreed to perform because he was a big fan of Boom-Boom Mancini,” recalled Arum. “Then, a couple of weeks before we were to fly to South Africa, Mancini broke his collarbone. When that fight was canceled, Sinatra canceled too.

“We had to find a new site for the Moore-Duran fight and New York seemed a natural. Moore was a native New Yorker who’d won multiple Golden Gloves titles at the Garden. Duran always had a big following among the Hispanics of New York, so we rented Madison Square Garden and put the fight there.

“In retrospect,” added Arum, “it may have been the best thing that ever happened to Duran. If he fights Moore in South Africa I’m not even sure he wins.”

While Duran was preparing for the June 16 Moore fight, Marvelous Marvin Hagler was training in Provincetown, getting ready for a May 27 title defense against Wilford Scypion at the Providence Civic Center.

Under normal circumstances, once Hagler put himself “in jail” you couldn’t have gotten him out with a bomb, but he had agreed to break camp for a day a week before the fight to participate in a boxing skit with Sugar Ray Leonard as part of Bob Hope’s televised 80th Birthday Special at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

The appearance was meaningful to Hagler for a couple of reasons. Not only did the celebrity role with Hope represent the sort of recognition he felt was long overdue, but for one night, at least, it would put him on equal footing with Leonard, whom he continued to regard as his nemesis.

*   *   *
After defeating Thomas Hearns, Sugar Ray Leonard had made just one defense of the undisputed welterweight title, a third-round TKO of Bruce Finch in Reno in February of 1982. He was next to have met Roger Stafford in Buffalo that May, but a routine pre-fight physical revealed a detached retina in his left eye. The Stafford fight was canceled, and Leonard returned to Maryland, where he underwent surgery at the Johns Hopkins Institute Hospital in Baltimore.

A quarter century ago a detached retina was usually considered to be a career-ending injury, but laser techniques were just becoming available, and this was Sugar Ray Leonard.

Leonard had booked the Baltimore Civic Center for November 9, a week after his return from Italy, where he had gone as part of the HBO broadcast team for Hagler’s October 30 rematch against Obelmejias.

Ray had deliberately chosen the site of his pro debut for what he promised would be an “historic announcement.” Over ten thousand tickets had been sold to the public (the proceeds would be donated to the Boys Clubs of Baltimore), and another 2,000 “special guests” had received invitations. Among them were Guarino and Pasquale Petronelli and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

That night in San Remo Hagler finished Obelmejias off in five, belting him with a right hand that left the Venezuelan sprawled on the deck. Obelmejias was still struggling to regain his footing when referee Ernesto Magana counted him out.

“As soon as I hit him,” Hagler recalled afterward, “I knew he wouldn’t get up. Well, he’d have been a fool if he’d tried to.”

Among the first in the ring to congratulate Hagler was Leonard, who interviewed him for television. Once they had disposed of their recap of the fight itself, Marvin turned to Ray with a grin and teased him:

“Let’s go for the big one,” Hagler told Leonard. “The people want to see you, Lenny. They don’t want you to retire.”

“I’ll think about it,” replied Leonard with a laugh.

As he made his way out of the Teatro Ariston in San Remo that night, Pat Petronelli ran into Leonard.

“Pat,” he whispered, “I’m going to deny it, but there’ll be a fight.”

Not even Leonard’s closest associates were sure.

“I don’t know,” said Ollie Dunlap, “and to tell you the truth, I really don’t think Ray’s made up his mind either.”

The Hagler camp already had dollar signs dancing in their heads. Bob Arum supposed that he could sell Hagler-Leonard in Bophutatswana for “a trillion dollars.”

People were even discussing now to get around the nettlesome problem posed by Tony Sibson’s impending mandatory challenge, which, according to WBC rules, needed to be formalized within a week or two.

“If Jose Sulaiman tried to strip Hagler to prevent a Hagler-Leonard match, it would be a joke,” said Arum. “It would be the end of the WBC. No one would take them seriously.”

It seemed plain enough that Sibson himself was uneager to be in impediment to the proposed megafight.

“(Hagler) couldn’t turn that down,” said the Englishman. “As long as they got me a good payday on the undercard, I’d wait in line.”

Seemingly the only man whose opinion was not solicited in San Remo that night was Obelmejias. At three a.m., after we had filed our stories, Jim Fenton of the Brockton Enterprise and I walked out of the arena and into the deserted town square to come upon the beaten Venezuelan.

He was a forlorn figure. His face was puffy, and, still clad his fight robe, trunks, and socks, he wore shower clogs on his feet. His driver had apparently abandoned him, leaving the car locked and its formerly distinguished passenger stranded.  He quietly found a seat on a stoop before a deserted storefront. His wife eventually approached and tenderly stroked his head. Obelmejias began to sob.

A few miles away, at the Hotel Mediteranee, Hagler’s victory party was in full swing.  They waited until we got back, and then Arum directed the piano player to strike up the chords to “God Bless America.”

*   *   *
The boxing press, much of it en route to Miami for the Pryor-Arguello fight the following weekend, flocked to Baltimore in anticipation of Leonard’s announcement. Howard Cosell was brought in to serve as Master of Ceremonies. Angelo Dundee was also summoned, as were Muhammad Ali. Hagler and the Petronellis.  Every network in the country sent a film crew, and the event was promoted like a boxing match whose ringside guests ranged from boxing luminaries to Wayne Newton,  Orioles star Brooks Robinson, and Spiro Agnew’s successor as Baltimore County Executive.

Emanuel Steward was also on hand, as were the two reigning light-heavyweight champions, Matthew Saad Muhammad (the former Matthew Franklin) and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (nee Eddie Gregory).

“Whatever you decide, I’m behind you,” Matthew told Leonard.

When Eddie Mustafa followed Saad to the dais he echoed the sentiments of “my brother” in urging Leonard to retire.

The following morning’s Baltimore Sun reported that “Matthew Saad Muhammad and his brother Eddie” had supported Leonard’s decision.

One scribe who elected to boycott the proceedings, which he described as “a Barnum and Bailey side-show,” was Dick Young of the New York Post.

“If Sugar Ray Leonard says anything other than that he is through fighting, then the next test he should take is a psychiatric one,” wrote the crusty columnist. “If he fights again, he is insane, and I just can’t bring myself to believe that he is.”

The suspense was further prolonged by the reading of congratulatory telegrams from Donna Summer, Richard Pryor, and Gerald Ford.

When it came time for his address, Leonard assured the crowd that his eye had fully healed. He thanked Dr. Ron Michels, the Johns Hopkins surgeon who had allowed him to see again. He thanked his parents and his wife and his son, his trainer and his lawyer.

He then waxed poetic as he described a fight against Hagler as the matchup each man had wanted for his entire career, one that would not only make each of them rich beyond his wildest dreams, but establish once and for all the matter of supremacy in the sport of boxing. The smile on Hagler’s face seemed to broaden with each sentence, particularly when Leonard pointed his way and said “He’s the only man who could make it possible.”

Then Sugar Ray dropped the bombshell.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “It’s not going to happen.”
 Leonard went on to explain that after consultation with his family, friends, and business associates, he had decided to retire.

Hagler was crestfallen, the Petronellis furious at having been summoned under false pretenses.

“I’m surprised,” said Pat.

“I’m shocked,” said Goody.

“I’m disappointed,” said Marvin.

“Leonard had sent us a special invitation, and then he kept calling to make sure we’d be there,” said Goody. “We were sure it was to announce he was going to fight Marvin. Why else would he have wanted us to be there?”

Instead it had been a complete waste of time. They’d flown to Baltimore, only to be used as stage props in another Sugar Ray Leonard moment.

On his way out of the arena that day, Hagler’s attorney Steve Wainwright turned to me and made a prescient observation.

“Nothing,” said the Barrister, “is forever.”

Plans were almost immediately undertaken to revive the Sibson mandatory, which took place in Worcester the following February.

Now, six months after having been snubbed in Baltimore, Hagler found himself relishing the chance to share the ring with Leonard, even if it would only be in a puerile television skit with an 80 year-old comedian as the referee.
*  *   *

A few days before the scheduled appearance, Leonard was rushed to the hospital for an emergency appendectomy, and the boxing skit seemed imperiled. Arum suggested that the producers go ahead with the segment, with Duran replacing Leonard as Hagler’s “opponent.” (The third man in the ring, Hope, had in his youth boxed professionally under the name “Packy West.”)

Two nights earlier, Angie Carlino and I had been in Atlantic City to cover a fight between Sean Mannion and In-Chul Baek.  Mannion was a Boston-based 154-pounder from Ireland, Baek a Korean, and the winner would ostensibly become the WBA’s mandatory challenger for the Moore-Duran winner.

Mannion won, and the following morning we drove to Baltimore, where I had been assigned to cover Deputed Testamony’s win in that Saturday’s Preakness Stakes. Carlino took a train from Batlimore to Washington, where he hooked up with Hagler.

NBC had dispatched a private plane to fly Hagler and his wife, along with Goody and Pat Petronelli, to Washington. Duran, who had been training in New Jersey, arrived by train.

“Before he left camp somebody else had packed Duran’s equipment bag, and when he started to take his stuff out he had two right boxing boots,” remembered Carlino. “He held them out and stared at them, not saying a word.

“I wore the same size shoe as Duran, and I happened to have a new pair of sneakers I’d never even worn,” said Carlino. “I offered them to Duran, but he said No. Back then he had an endorsement contract with Viceroy. It said Viceroy on his trunks and on his shoes, and I guess he figured if he didn’t wear them he might not get paid. Somehow, he managed to stuff his left foot into the right boot, and he wore it that way throughout the skit. It must have been painful.”

Hagler and Duran shared a dressing room for the Hope show. As they rehearsed for the skit, Luis Spada noted to Arum “I don’t believe it. They’re almost the same size.”

Indeed, at 5’8 _”, Duran was just an inch shorter than Hagler and now weighed just a few pounds less. It occurred to both men that a matchup between the middleweight and the longtime lightweight champion might not be such a far-fetched notion after all.

Although Hagler was a week away from his fight against Scypion, Duran three from his encounter with Moore, the two by all accounts got on well.

“Duran was always Duran,” said Carlino. “They joked around together a lot. Once they were getting ready to fight each other things got a little snarly between them, but that weekend they were fine.”

Hagler and Duran were warmly embraced by the rest of the star-studded cast.

“Everybody you could think of was there,” said Angie Carlino. “George Burns, George C. Scott, Brooke Shields, Sheena Easton, Chery Tiegs. Reagan, the president, was there. They all wanted to meet Marvin.”

The Hagler-Duran-Hope skit, more slapstick than boxing, went well. Afterward, Duran took another train back to New Jersey, while Hagler and his party flew back to the Cape. Or tried to.

“We hit bad weather, and couldn’t land in Hyannis,” recounted Carlino. “The plane didn’t have instruments, so we couldn’t land in Boston or Providence, either. Finally they turned around and flew back to Washington.”

Their rooms in a downtown hotel were gone, but the party managed to rent three at a hotel near National Airport. The Petronellis took one, Bertha Hagler the other.

“Pat and Goody wouldn’t let Marvin sleep in the room with his wife a week before the fight, so Marvin had to bunk with me,” said Carlino.

*   *   *

Hagler got back to Provincetown on Sunday, and, six nights later, knocked out Scypion in five in Providence. The most significant aspect of an otherwise unremarkable evening came in the fact that it was the first title fight in history to be recognized by three sanctioning bodies.

In the wake of Mancini’s fatal beating of Duk-Koo Kim, the WBC had adopted a 12-round limit for its title matches. Hagler, who held both the WBC and WBA titles, still insisted on fighting 15 rounds, the time-honored championship limit.

By mutual agreement, the two organizations alternated the oversight role in Hagler’s defenses, and although the WBA still had a 15-round limit, it sided with its rival organization in this instance. Both threatened to strip Hagler if the bout were scheduled for the traditional distance.

Since disposing of Antuofermo in their 1981 rematch, Hagler had defended the middleweight title four more times. That October he had stopped Mustafa Hamsho in an 11-round bloodbath in Chicago. In March of 1982 he knocked out Emanuel Steward’s middleweight Cave Man Lee in the first round, and that fall in Italy he had stopped Obelmejias, the WBA’s top-rated challenger, in five. In February of ’83 in Worcester he demolished Sibson, the WBC’s No. 1, in six. Although none of them had lasted that long, all four bouts had been scheduled for 15 rounds.

At a WBA convention the previous winter New Jersey’s Bob Lee had been defeated in a bid for the presidency of the WBA, but he remained head of the United States Boxing Association. A few days before Hagler-Scypion, Lee announced the formation of a new world sanctioning body, and offered to oversee the 15-round middleweight fight as its first championship bout.

(At the time Lee’s hastily-formed group was called the “USBA-International,” but within days it would change its name to the International Boxing Federation.)

Fearing that they would be left in the lurch, the WBC and WBA reluctantly came on board and collected their sanctioning fees. Steve Wainwright distributed buttons describing Hagler-Scypion as “Boxing’s First Triple Crown.”

Having successfully defended his championship for the seventh time, Hagler turned up in New York a few weeks later to watch his sparring partner from the Bob Hope Special continue his comeback against Davey Moore.

*   *   *
Moore had won the WBA version of the 154-pound championship in February of 1982 when he knocked out Tadashi Mihara in Tokyo. The other half of the title by now belonged to Tommy Hearns.

Three months after his loss to Leonard in The Showdown, Hearns had initiated his campaign as light middleweight by outpointing veteran Ernie Singletary in the Bahamas, a bout that took place in a run-down baseball field outside Nassau on the undercard of what would be Ali’s final fight, a ten-round loss to Trevor Berbick.

For The Greatest, it had been a bizarre and bittersweet farewell. Since the amateurish promoters had neglected to provide a supply of extra boxing gloves for the card, cornermen were ordered not to cut off their fighters’ gloves, and the same two pairs were passed along from one bout to the next, meaning that Ali probably wore the same sweaty gloves in losing to Berbick that Hearns had used in beating Singletary several hours earlier.

And since no one had remembered to bring a bell, the Bahamians borrowed a fair approximation from a neighboring farm. The result was that the conclusion of Ali’s storied career was signaled by the tinkling of a cowbell.

In 1982 the Hit Man had knocked out the Mexican veteran Marcos Geraldo in the first round of a February bout in Las Vegas. There were two attempts to make a fight with Hagler fight, but a combination of legal problems and injuries had intervened and neither materialized. Hearns fought next in Detroit that July, where he KO’d an unbeaten middleweight named Jeff McCracken in eight.

Those fights set the stage for a December challenge to Wilfred Benitez (who had by then anglicized his given name by dropping the ‘o’) in New Orleans. Sharing the bill with another title fight on the Don King-promoted card – Wilfredo Gomez stopped Lupe Pintor in the 14th round of their WBC junior featherweight bout – Hearns scored a majority decision in becoming just the second man to defeat Benitez.

It was a win for which he paid dearly: In the eighth round he had rocked Benitez with a right hand. The punch landed with such force that it shattered several small bones in his wrist, and popped them through the linear muscles at the back of his hand.
He had fought the last seven rounds using only his left, but still won easily on two of the three scorecards. Dick Young (146-137) and Tony Castellano (144-139) favored Hearns by wide margins. The third judge, Lou Filippo, had it unaccountably close at 142-142.

*   *  *

Davey Moore had already made three defenses of the WBA title, winning all by knockout, and was a 4-1 favorite against Duran. In a newspaper survey of boxing writers in town to cover the fight, only four picked Cholo to win. (I was one of them.)

That the champion might be in for a long night was first suggested when he struggled on the scale, while Duran made weight with ease. Moore required an extra hour to lose two pounds.

Although Moore was a Bronx-born champion, the loyalties of the Garden crowd were divided, as a massive Hispanic contingent turned out to support Manos de Piedra on his return to the scene of some of his greatest triumphs – on his 32nd birthday. Over 20,000 – the largest Garden crowd since Ali-Frazier II – packed the Mecca of Boxing to watch Duran administer what turned out to be a brutal, one-sided ass-kicking.

Enacting a repertoire of his tricks of the trade, the old master humiliated Moore, bullying him around the ring, spinning him like a top, and hitting him with everything from punches to elbows to a well-placed thumb that caught Moore squarely in the right eye, which almost immediately closed.

It was such a rout that referee Ernesto Magana was widely criticized for not having stopped it earlier, and in the eighth round, after Duran flattened the champion with a straight right, Moore’s corner threw in the towel.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler was at ringside, and was among the first to congratulate Duran in the ring.

Hagler was also the center of attention at the post-fight press conference, where he shared the dais with Arum. The middleweight champion was in the midst of answering a question about his impression of the Duran-Moore fight when a clamor arose in the back of the interview room. A jubilant conga line, headed by Roberto Duran, snaked through the room and headed out the door for what promised to be another all-night party.

Duran paused just long enough to shout “Thank you, Teddy!” at Brenner.  He  also acknowledged Hagler with a wave of his hand, as if to say “and you, I’ll see later!”

*   *   *

As magical as the evening had been, it would be nearly as memorable for a disgraceful episode on the undercard as for Roberto Duran’s redemptive triumph.

The supporting acts included a ten-rounder between middleweights Billy Collins Jr. and Luis Resto. Collins, from Tennessee, was undefeated at 14-0, but largely untested, while Resto, a Puerto Rican from the Bronx, was 20-8-2. Collins had had several fights on ESPN; I’d seen Resto a couple of years earlier, when he’d come to Cleveland to spar with Duran before his fight against Nino Gonzales. Collins was favored, but I figured he was going to have a tough time beating Resto that night. I couldn’t have guessed how tough.

Resto just beat him from pillar to post from start to finish. Collins’ face was a mass of lumps and bruises, and he barely finished on his feet. After the fight, as he shook hands with the winner, Collins’ father/trainer Billy Sr. said, he “felt only knuckles.” Collins Sr. immediately alerted the New York Commission, and Resto’s gloves were impounded.

Once they were examined it became clear that Resto’s trainer, Carlos “Panama” Lewis, had surreptitiously removed the horsehair from his fighter’s gloves. Resto might as well have been hitting Collins with a pair of bricks that night.

Panama Lewis had always been a mysterious figure around the boxing netherworld. I’d first encountered him when he came to Boston with Vito Antuofermo before his second fight against Hagler in 1981. A year later he had famously worked Pryor’s corner against Arguello at the Orange Bowl. Between the 13th and 14th rounds, when an aide had handed him the water bottle, HBO’s cameras caught him saying “No, not that one! Give me the other bottle, the one I mixed!” Pryor revived and won the fight. The suspicious bottle was never found, and Pryor did not take a drug test after the bout.

This time Panama had been caught red-handed. Resto’s win was stricken from the books and changed to No Contest. Lewis and Resto stood trial on charges of assault, possession of a dangerous weapon and conspiracy to influence the outcome of a sporting event. Both were found guilty and banned from boxing for life. Lewis was sentenced to six years, but served only one. Resto spent two and a half years in prison.

Although prevented from working corners, Panama Lewis continues to pop up in gyms all over the world as an “advisor.” We still run into him from time to time.

Billy Collins wasn’t that lucky. His injuries included a fractured orbital bone and permanent eye damage that prevented him from ever boxing again. Two years later, after a night of drinking, he was killed when he drove his car off a cliff in what was widely believed to have been a suicide.

*   *    *

After a stopover in Miami, Roberto and Felicidad Duran, accompanied by Bob Arum and his then-wife Sybil, flew back to Panama. An crowd estimated to have been between 300,000 and 400,000 of his countrymen lined the parade route from the airport to Panama City.

“Colonel Paredes had sent his private plane to pick us up in Miami,” recalled Arum. “Remember, this was the first time Roberto had appeared in public in Panama since before the No Mas fight, so he wasn’t sure what to expect. The Pope had visited Panama just a few months earlier, and there were more people there to greet Duran than had come out for the Pope. After New Orleans these people had been ready to lynch Duran. He’d been an outcast in his own country. Now he was bigger than ever. It was an unbelievable turnaround.”

When, a month later, the Hagler-Duran fight was announced for that November, 1,500 spectators, most of them Duran supporters, turned out for the press conference in New York.

“Here’s a fight worth $50 million,” marveled Budd Schulberg, “that wouldn’t have been worth 50 cents six months ago.”

The New York announcement was followed by the then-obligatory press tour, with Hagler and Duran, each in a private jet, flying around the country to promote the fight. I couldn’t tell you what happened on Duran’s plane, but when Leigh Montville, Nick Charles, Rich Rose and I flew with Hagler and the Petronellis on the Caesars jet, the poker game commenced at dawn, an hour out of Hyannis, and ended in Los Angeles that night, with somewhat inconvenient interruptions for press conferences in Chicago, St. Louis, and Denver along the way.

Hagler-Duran was originally slated for the old Dunes hotel, but logistical problems moved it across the street to Caesars Palace. The Dunes remained a player in the promotion, and most of the press corps was assigned rooms there. Caesars needed every available room for the anticipated influx of high-rolling customers.

Hagler and Duran were guaranteed $5 million apiece, with the prospect of doubling that if Arum’s predictions of the largest closed-circuit sale in history proved accurate.

At 29, Hagler was at the top of his game and by then considered the most capable champion in the sport. Duran’s recent heroics notwithstanding, the oddsmakers established Marvelous Marvin as a 3-1 favorite, but there were those who disagreed.

When Sports Illustrated chased down Freddie Brown, Duran’s old trainer likened the upcoming fight to Hagler’s frustrating draw against Antuofermo in their first fight four years earlier. Freddie had worked the Mosquito’s corner that night.

“Vito got right on top of him, pressing him, facing him, making him fight,” Brown told the magazine. “Hagler doesn’t like that. That’s why Vito gave him all that trouble -- and Duran’s a better in-fighter than Vito. He’s as strong as Vito. Duran’s a harder puncher and not as easy to hit. I got to pick Duran.”

Hagler embarked upon his traditional Spartan existence in Provincetown, where he prepared for the fight with sparring partners Bob Patterson and John Ford. Duran, in keeping with his reclaimed celebrity status, trained in Palm Springs, where his principal sparring partner was a New Jersey southpaw named Charles Boston.  Each arrived in Las Vegas a week before fight night, and polished off his training at Caesars.

Shortly after the camps had relocated to Vegas, word emerged that Luis Spada had challenged Pat and Goody Petronelli to bet him $100,000 of their own money, even-up, on the outcome of the Hagler-Duran fight.

As preposterous as it was – had Spada actually been disposed to bet the fight, he could have walked over to the sports book and gotten nearly 4 to 1 on the same wager – it was reported in several newspapers, and the somewhat bewildered Brothers Petronelli called a press conference of their own to announce their acceptance of the bet.

They never collected. The ploy turned out to have been another misguided publicity stunt cooked up by Arum’s press agent Irving Rudd.

The biggest non-fight news of the week came when Caesars Palace announced that it had signed 87 year-old George Burns to a ten-year contract.

At his workouts Duran sparred wearing a new helmet-type headgear with slits for the eyes that made it look like one of Darth Vader’s discards. The headgear was a prototype, recently developed by Everlast. Duran, who had been badly cut in his fight against Nino Gonzales two years earlier, was only too happy to try it out.

One afternoon we watched Duran spar four rounds with Boston from beneath the Star Wars headgear, and filed this dispatch:

“Time and again Boston would leap of his feet and lunge as he aimed a right hook at Duran’s head, only to watch helplessly as Duran sidestepped and caught him coming in. It was an impressive performance, but a somewhat superficial one. If Marvin Hagler decides to fight off-balance all night on Thursday, then Duran will hit him, too, but one is fairly confident that Hagler’s footwork will be considerably nimbler than that of Charley Boston.”

Once Duran finished his workout that day, the headgear was lifted from his face and he noticed Steve Wainwright, seated next to Bo Derek, in the first row of spectators.

Hagler’s lawyer wasn’t exactly incognito, but when Duran spotted The Barrister he shouted “Spy!”

“You see that?” he demanded, in English. “Now go to Hagler and tell him!”

Five days before the fight, the two combatants were doing early-morning roadwork on the Dunes Golf Course when, somewhere near the 14th green, they nearly ran into each other. Hagler not only refused to acknowledge Duran, he shielded his eyes and averted his glance, an incident which – with some encouragement from Spada, who quickly spread the tale -- was misinterpreted by some as a sign that Duran had intimidated Hagler.

“Hagler and Duran have shared the stage at innumerable press conference over the past few months, including one in Los Angeles barely a week ago,” I wrote by way of explanation in the next morning’s Boston Herald. “They are staying at the same hotel, and, less than an hour apart, training at the same facility at the Caesars Sports Pavilion. Recently, Hagler in particular has taken to avoiding Thursday night’s adversary like a wary bridegroom on the day of the wedding: You wouldn’t necessarily call it superstitious, but then again you might.

“Since arriving in Las Vegas the middleweight champion has, save for two trips to the mountains to walk in solitude, closeted himself in his room, where he spends most of his time conjuring up malevolent thoughts about Roberto Duran. With the fight just four days away he has, for the most part, withdrawn into his customary pre-fight shell.”

Hagler and Duran weren’t the only fighters to avail themselves of the Dunes course that week. One morning our foursome teed off as the first group of the day. When we finished the 17th hole three and a half hours later, we found the 18th tee occupied by Juan Domingo Roldan, the Argentine middleweight who was fighting on the undercard. Roldan was throwing a medicine ball around with members of his entourage.

It was the WBA’s turn to administer Hagler’s title defense, and the organization had initially appointed a slate that included South Africa’s Stanley Christodoulou as referee and Guy Jutras of Canada, Ove Oveson of Denmark, and Yosuku Tachikawa of Japan.

A major contretemps ensued. The WBC was enforcing a ban against South African participation in its events, and although the organization wasn’t supposed to have any say in the administration of Hagler-Duran, Jose Suliaman was able to exert pressure on the Nevada State Athletic Commission to reject Christodoulou on anti-apartheid grounds.

The WBA’s second choice to be the referee was Isidro Rodriguez of Mexico, but the Petronellis objected on the grounds that Duran was half-Mexican. Rodriguez probably didn’t help his own cause when, shortly after he had checked into Caesars, the first phone call he made was to Duran’s room. He, too, was dismissed.

The alternatives were even more unpalatable. Jutras was, at least for a few days, moved from judge to referee, but a quick check of his track record revealed that he had been suspended by the WBA for a year after his abysmal performance as referee in a Eusebio Pedroza-Juan LaPorte featherweight title fight, in which he had overlooked 58 separate fouls, including several low blows, on the part of Pedroza.

Jutras’ work that night had been so egregious that the New Jersey commission had overturned the result, although the WBA allowed Pedroza to retain his title.

The other options weren’t much better. Oveson was regarded as even more inept than Jutras, and Yoshida was not certified as a referee at all. A simple solution might have been to use one of Nevada’s excellent referees, but the WBA rules precluded assigning a referee of the same nationality as one of the contestants to a world title fight.

“We want a referee who’ll be strong and in control of the fight,” said Goody Petronelli. “Duran has been known to do this job (Goody demonstrated by thumbing himself in the eye) and he’s been known to throw a couple down here, too. (This time Petronelli pointed to his family jewels.) If (Jutras) had warned Pedroza and penalized him right away, all that stuff might have stopped.”

“It’s difficult enough to prepare for Duran without worrying about the referee, too,” argued Hagler’s trainer. “You dan’t protect your groins and your head at the same time.”

Hagler seconded the notion that Duran’s tactics bore watching.

“Duran is a dirty fighter,” said Marvin, “and he’s gonna get more dirty when he finds himself in trouble. He’ll try to do anything he can to win. I just hope we’ll get a good referee who’ll watch him.”

“Dirty fighter?” Duran seemed wounded by the mere suggestion. “Hagler can no say anything. He use his head like it is a third hand. I am a cleaner fighter than Hagler.”

After several days of wrangling the issue was resolved. Christodoulou, it turned out, by dint of his ancestry could claim dual citizenship, and after his Greek passport was overnighted to Las Vegas, it was announced that the fight would be refereed by “Stanley Christodoulou, of Greece.”

The restoration of Stanley the Greek appeared to placate everyone concerned. Four years earlier, Christodoulou had worked Hagler’s fight against Norberto Cabrera in Monte Carlo, and had done an excellent job, at least in the eyes of everyone save Howard Cosell.

“When I think about that first Antuofermo fight,” said a relieved Petronelli, “I’d be even more worried if these were Nevada officials.”

“I’m not looking for an edge,” said Hagler. “I’m just looking for a fair shake.”

*   *  *

Hagler liked to say he put himself “in jail” to prepare for a fight, but his room overlooking the outdoor swimming pool at Caesars hardly resembled a cell. A full-length mirror overlooked the canopied four-poster bed, and you got the impression that an enterprising maid could probably retire after a year’s work just from the proceeds of the cocaine she swept off the floor.

It was a far cry from the Provincetown Inn. When I visited him at Caesars early that week, I took one look around and laughed.

“If this bed,” I told Hagler, “could only talk.”

For Hagler this was all a new experience. He’d fought in Vegas before, but not as the champion. He’d fought for million-dollar purses, but not for one that might approach ten million. He’d fought his share of formidable opponents, but this would be the first time he faced a bona fide legend, a sure-fire future Hall of Famer.

“You know,” he told me that day, “Duran is a very gutsy fighter. He’ll fight anybody, and I admire that. Guys like Hearns and Benitez and Leonard – if I hadn’t been the middleweight champion they all would have been up here. Instead, they’ve all been sitting on the fence like a bunch of vultures, waiting for me to get old or get beat or retire, and wondering who’s gonna be the fool to go against Marvin Hagler first. Whatever you say about Duran, at least he wasn’t afraid to fight me.”

As he prepared to go into battle Hagler traditionally tried to convince himself that he absolutely detested an opponent. Demonizing Roberto Duran, who was about to turn him into a multi-millionaire, was apparently a stretch.

“Well, he is a bad sport,” said Hagler. “You never see him give credit or congratulate an opponent after a fight.”

*  *   *

Two days before the fight Caesars hosted a press conference.  When Hagler and Duran posed for photographs they had to be pulled apart after Manos de Piedra waved a menacing fist under Hagler’s nose and grunted “We fight now?”

Duran then retreated to a safer distance, where he pantomimed winding up for a bolo punch. This might have been for the benefit of Ray Leonard, conspicuously seated in the audience a few feet in front of the dais.

Hagler seemed amused by Duran’s shenanigans.

“And I thought the man couldn’t speak English,” he said.

*   *    *
That Duran’s hangers-on, who had all but deserted him in the wake of the No Mas fight and the Benitez and Laing losses, had re-formed at full strength was evident at the weigh-in, where Caesars security guards and Las Vegas police found themselves overwhelmed once the snake-dancing procession reached the Sports Pavilion.

Duran checked in first, and weighed in at 156 _. Hagler was just a pound heavier at 157 _, but it was the lightest he’d been since the Hamsho fight in Chicago.

Spada had allowed Duran to bring his wife Felicidad along to training camp, and she had shared his quarters in Las Vegas. Bertha Hagler, on the other hand, almost didn’t make it to the fight.

Along with 180 other fight fans, Hagler’s wife and mother, Mae Lang, had been booked on a charter flight due to leave Boston’s Logan Airport at 8:10 that morning. When the passengers arrived, they were not allowed to board the aircraft. It seemed that the airline broker had failed to make a final payment to the charter company.

Eight hours and $50,000 later, the plane was allowed to depart, and the undercard was in full swing by the time the Brockton contingent arrived at Caesars.

Lest it prove a distraction, Hagler was not informed of the airline cockup.

“Marvin is a dedicated fighter,” Mae Lang told the Boston Herald’s Lynne Snierson. “We didn’t even let him know about this. We never tell him anything before a big fight, and we certainly didn’t want to give him anything to worry about this time.”

* *   *

In the undercard’s opening bout, Luis Santana, who would  a dozen years later win back-to-back disqualifications in WBC title fights against Terry Norris, knocked out Jesus Gonzalez in two.

Eddie Futch-trained Freddie Roach, who had won the New England featherweight title on another Hagler undercard (Obelmejias I, in Boston), fought undefeated New Mexican Louis Burke in a rematch, and was once again outpointed -- at least in the eyes of the judges.

Roach, who would go on to become a two-time Trainer of the Year once his fighting days were over, saw his record drop to 31-5 with the loss, and told the Herald’s Rich Thompson afterward “If I went out and lost that fight, maybe I might get out, but I didn’t lose the fight. I live in Las Vegas, but I’d get a better break if I fought him in Las Cruces.”

In other undercard bouts, Freddie’s bantamweight brother Joey Roach fought to a draw with Manny Cedeno, and an up-and-coming lightweight named Charlie (White Lightning) Brown won a decision over Oklahoman Frank (Rootin-Tootin) Newton.

The most noteworthy event to take place on the supporting bill came in Roldan’s bout against Frank (The Animal) Fletcher in the co-feature.

Roldan was a ruggedly-built middleweight who by 1982 had advanced to the No. 1 spot in the WBA rankings. He was little known outside his homeland, and Arum, aware that a Hagler-Roldan fight would be a tough sell, had repeatedly delayed his mandatory challenge by offering step-aside money and featured spots on four consecutive Hagler undercards.

Arum’s reasoning was two-fold. If he was lucky, Roldan might get beat. And if he didn’t, at least the exposure would render him more familiar to American audiences by the time Hager finally had to fight him. Roldan, who a year earlier had never fought outside Argentina, had since performed on Hagler bills in San Remo, Worcester, Providence, and, now, Las Vegas.

Roldan dominated the opening rounds of his fight against the Animal, and in the third he caught him with a picture-perfect left hook that sent Fletcher flying, his body parallel to the canvas, out of the ring and into the arms of a startled ringside cameraman. The referee, Carlos Padilla, ruled that Roldan had preceded the punch with a shove, and discounted the knockdown.

In the sixth, Roldan landed a left followed by a devastating right to the cheekbone that knocked Fletcher into oblivion. Padilla didn’t even bother to count.

When Frank the Animal finally opened his eyes several minutes later, the ringside physician asked him if he knew where he was.

“The Sands?” guessed Fletcher.

“Juan is the stronger man,” said Roldan’s manager/trainer Tito Lectore, who in the 1970s had handled both Carlos Monzon and Hugo Corro. “He could beat Hagler now.”

“If this hasn’t convinced them, then I don’t know what else I can do,” said Roldan. “They can’t escape me any more. I finally got my shot.”

(Four months later Roldan would indeed fight Hagler, at the Riviera in Las Vegas, and while he would be stopped in ten, he would be credited with the only knockdown incurred by Hagler in a 67-fight pro career.)

*   *   *

The 14,600 seats at the outdoor arena were packed to capacity. Ringside tickets had been priced at $600, those in the bleachers furthest from the ring $100, but the scalpers outside were getting two and three times that, and still doing a brisk business right up until the opening bell for the main event.

The ringside seats were occupied by the usual mixed bag of big-time gamblers, celebrities (Paul Anka, Susan Anton, David Brenner, John and Bo Derek, Red Foxx, and Red Buttons among them) and boxing luminaries, which on that night included heavyweight champion Larry Holmes, former light-heavyweight champs Bob Foster and Joey Maxim, erstwhile welterweight champions Tony DeMarco and Ray Leonard, and a couple of old middleweight champs, Gene Fullmer and Jake LaMotta. The latter was accompanied by his ex-wife Vicki.

The manner in which the fight would unfold had been unwittingly foreshadowed days earlier, when Hagler told me that he wasn’t going to allow Duran to turn it into a brawl. In retrospect, he probably should have done just that himself. Marvelous Marvin was a career-long middleweight, and while Duran had been a fearsome puncher as a lightweight, there was no indication that at 160 he possessed the sort of one-shot firepower that might have inspired caution.

Hagler and Duran appeared to sleepwalk through the first several rounds, as the champion, expecting Duran to take the fight to him, awaited his opportunity to counterpunch. Problem was, Duran was doing the same thing. The crowd was growing restive, and Goody Petronelli worried that Marvin might also be boring the judges.

In the early going Hagler was landing the odd jab, a punch he customarily threw with unusual authority, but Duran proved a wily target, sliding from side to side, slipping most of Hagler’s attack and smothering the ones that got through.

“This ain’t going to well,” Goody Petronelli finally told Hagler, advising Marvin to pressure Duran.

“I was a little tight at first,” Hagler conceded. “It took me a few rounds before I could really start putting my combinations together.”

“We never anticipated that he’d fight that kind of fight,” said Petronelli later. “We figured that Duran would be Duran, lean his head against Marvin’s chest and try to move him around. Instead, he laid back and tried to counter, and sometimes when you get two counterpunchers, it makes for a stinking fight. Finally, I had to send him in.”

In the sixth, the inner beast Hagler described as “The Monster” made its first appearance.

Switching back and forth between southpaw to orthodox, Hagler rocked Duran on several occasions. A rapid-fire triple jab snapped Duran’s head back, and a left-right combination drove him to the ropes.

Duran would later say that Hagler’s switch in gears wasn’t the only thing that had changed after five rounds. Late in the fifth, Cholo had landed a right that caught Hagler on the top of the head.

“I felt pain in my hand,” said Duran.

Duran’s damaged paw would be one factor as the night wore on. Another would come late in the seventh when Duran landed a right and – shades of the Davey Moore fight – the thumb of his glove caught Hagler in the left eye. The wound would continue to swell throughout the rest of the night.

The crowd, oblivious to either infirmity, came to life in the eighth, and the stadium alternately rocked to chants of “Doo-ran! Doo-ran!” from the Latinos and “Mah-vin! Mah-vin!” from the New Englanders.

Hagler appeared to have seized control in the middle rounds, but in the tenth, the bout took yet another turn. Now Duran was in the center of the ring, Hagler circling warily around him.

“I wanted to show him some boxing, and maybe catch him coming in the way he’d sometimes been catching me,” Hagler would later explain. But in almost the same breath he admitted that the rapidly-swelling eye had also become a cause for concern.

Duran being Duran, there were several borderline low blows as the fight wore on, none of them of the lethal variety, and while Christodoulou cautioned Duran on several occasions, the referee was able to maintain control without turning himself into a schoolmaster.

By the 12th round Duran had become cognizant of the injury, and attacked with a fury, zeroing in on the purplish target. Panamanian flags seemed to have sprung up all over the arena as his supporters urged Manos de Piedra to go for the kill.

“But after the ninth my hands were tired,” Duran recalled the interlude afterward. “I was a little too tired to finish him in the 12th.

The sixth, when Hagler looked to be on the verge of taking Duran out, and the 12th, when Duran appeared to have Hagler on the run, had been the only points in which either man was in trouble, but in the 13th Hagler’s and Duran’s heads collided, and the champion came away with blood pouring from two new cuts.

In the Hagler corner the bout had taken on a new sense of urgency. Petronelli realized that the fight might be close, but he could not have imagined just how close.

After 13 rounds, both Yoshida and Oveson had Duran ahead by a point, while Jutras had it even. Had Roberto Duran been able to win just one of the final two rounds he would have become the middleweight champion of the world.

In the 14th the hematoma below Hagler’s eye finally burst, and the blood came spurting out, but, heeding Petronelli’s advice, Hagler fought the final six minutes in a controlled fury. Casting off the cloak of caution that had characterized his performance up until then, he closed the show by battering Duran around the ring.

“I had to give up my plans for a knockout, but I felt like if I’d had one more round I could have put this man away,” Hagler would say afterward.

Had Hagler gone on the attack earlier, most ringsiders concluded, he might have made what proved to be his most difficult title defense an easy one.

When the final bell rang, Duran wheeled, glared in Hagler’s direction, and spat as if to say “You didn’t hurt me,” but the Panamanian didn’t seem surprised by the decision -- close, but unanimously in Hagler’s favor.

When the final scorecards were tallied, Hagler had won on all three cards. Jutras had him up 144-142, Ovesen 144-143, and Yoshida 146-145. The Japanese official had scored more rounds even (six in all) than he awarded to either man.

Scoring at ringside, we had Hagler up 146-140, a margin more in line with most non-WBA judges who watched the fight that night.

Hagler didn’t need to look in a mirror to know he’d been in a fight. It had been the first time he’d had to go the distance in defense of his title, and the cut below his eye reminded him that the old lion named Duran still had some teeth.

“I didn’t expect to come out of this one looking pretty anyway,” shrugged Hagler. “The only thing that counts is that I’m taking these back home,” he added as he held his championship belts above his head.

(Although the 15-round distance had probably saved him on this night, the WBC would shortly move to vacate its title, citing Hagler’s refusal to abide by its 12-round limit and the presence of a referee from an outlaw nation. Only after Wainwright filed a lawsuit on behalf of Hagler was the WBC portion of his undisputed title restored.)

“The better man won,” conceded Duran through an interpreter that night. “But I wasn’t disappointed. Hagler didn’t do anything special. He’s just a strong fighter.”

Still, Duran had landed more punches, and inflicted more damage, than Hagler had absorbed in his previous seven defenses put together.

“He caught me a few times with that lead right,” said Hagler. “But it didn’t really bother me. About the 12th, I was concerned when the eye swelled up, but my guys took good care of it. After that, I knew he was going to have to hit me with the ringpost to knock me out.”

At the post-fight press conference Hagler wore sunglasses to mask the damage wrought during the fight, and reiterated his belief (borne out by the films) that the injury had been caused when Duran thumbed him.

Roberto Duran was learning to speak English.

“He win. I lose. He complaining,” he said with a laugh.

Someone asked Hagler that night whether Duran had been the most cunning boxer he’d ever faced. Marvin pondered the question for a moment before replying:

“I’d call him ‘experienced,’ said Hagler. “He’s a crafty fighter, all right, but he was a legend, and I beat him. Give me some credit for beating him.”

Although Duran lost the fight, it was Hagler’s reputation that took a beating that night. By allowing the fight to turn into a cautious chess match he had, at least temporarily, diluted the image of the fearsome destroyer he had so carefully cultivated.

Budd Schulberg suggested that Hagler might want to go back to court to have his name legally changed again, this time to “Semi-Marvelous.” Sports Illustrated’s Bill Nack complained that night that “he didn’t just fight cautiously, he fought timidly. A blown-up lightweight was still there at the end.”

By the time his story appeared several days later Nack had tempered his criticism: “Hagler proved himself the best middleweight on the block, while Duran showed that he is a fighter for the ages and should again be the object of celebration.”

The criticism would be more than offset by Hagler’s career-high payday of nearly $10 million.

“Fighting all those years for peanuts finally paid off,” said Hagler. “I finally got the big one.”

Duran, who earned over $5 million, was also well-compensated. When we ran into Cholo the next morning he revealed that he was headed to the hospital to have his right hand X-rayed.

“I put in salts and water all night, and again today,” he said, wincing as he shook his paw. “Is no good.

“But,” he added with a grin, “is good for holding money.”


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