Leonard’s jab gave Duran a nightmare. Photo from The Ring archive
It was one of boxing’s darkest days, and a day that will live in infamy for those who believe in machismo as an ethos. But the talent of the winner of the fight, as well as his wit and his determination to turn the page on the biggest and most humiliating defeat of his life, still shone brighter than ever before.
Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran had fought in one of the best welterweight championship fights of all time on June 20, 1980 in Montreal, where Leonard had hoped to conjure the mojo of his gold medal-winning effort in the 1976 Olympics to defeat the incumbent lightweight champion who was coming up in weight determined to make him another victim of his rage. It was the perfect matchup between boxer and brawler that can only be replicated elsewhere in a bullring.
On that fateful night, Leonard made the mistake of trying to become a bull himself and charged against Duran as if he had any chance of outpunching and out-macho-ing one of the toughest fighters in history. Duran’s rage against anyone standing across the ring from him was already legendary, and Leonard fell prey of his pre-fight antics (in which Duran disrespected everyone in Leonard’s family including his wife, and made ominous threats to Leonard’s health, to put it mildly). He was dragged right into Duran’s lair, and the result was a defeat in which Leonard lost much more than his welterweight title.
With a huge dent in his immense pride, Leonard went to work on the rematch on the very next morning after the fight, plotting a revenge that would make Duran feel just as humiliated as he felt after losing his belt.
Training like his life depended on it, Leonard forced an immediate rematch against Duran, who had gone back to Panama to devote himself to the second best thing he knew how to do besides making money in the ring: spending it with his buddies in week-long pool parties.
The result could have been just as devastating for Duran if the fight had ended with a final bell and a wide decision in Leonard’s favor. But midway through the eight round, the unthinkable happened.
Feeling drained by the effort of making weight in a hurry after ballooning up to 180 pounds between the two fights, looking unmotivated, and being humiliated by an opponent who danced around him and had him running around trying to connect a clean punch against an impossibly moving target, Duran gave up and, according to many, said the two words that have plagued him up to this day and which will torture him until his death: “no mas”.
To this day, no one can claim to have actually heard Duran utter the famous phrase that has come to characterize this fight. His gesture of throwing his arms up in the air as a sign of surrender, along with some writer’s basic knowledge of Spanish, have conspired to make those two words part of boxing lore forever. But the memory of the day in which Sugar Ray Leonard outfought, outsmarted, outwitted and out-psyched-out one of the psyche-out masters of all time remains as a testimony of Leonard’s talent just as much as it serves as a testimony of the fragility of Duran’s legendary macho personality.
Diego M. Morilla has written for The Ring since 2013. He has also written for HBO.com, ESPN.com and many other magazines, websites, newspapers and outlets since 1993. He is a full member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame. He has won two first-place awards in the BWAA’s annual writing contest, and he is the moderator of The Ring’s Women’s Ratings Panel. He served as copy editor for the second era of The Ring en Español (2018-2020) and is currently a writer and editor for RingTV.com.