Roberto Duran swears he never uttered the words "no mas" when he quit in the eighth round of his infamous rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard on Nov. 25, 1980, at the New Orleans Superdome.
That is the one certainty revealed by Duran in director Eric Drath's documentary "No Mas" that airs Tuesday night at 8 on ESPN as part of its acclaimed "30 for 30" film series.
Boxing fans seeking a definitive answer as to why Duran quit won't hear it, but as Leonard concluded, the journey to revisit the first two Leonard-Duran fights is a rich tapestry that examines every angle sufficiently to satisfy any lingering doubts.
As one who sat ringside for the brawl in Montreal on June 20, 1980, that Duran won by a narrow but unanimous decision and for the stunning reversal in New Orleans, I've always held to my own convictions about what happened. Watching a screening of "No Mas" last week in Manhattan and listening to the fighters discuss it afterward deepened my appreciation for two all-time greats and reaffirmed my view.
The film begins with the shocking end to the rematch when Leonard is dancing circles around Duran to the point of humiliation before the Panamanian throws up his hands, effectively signaling to referee Octavio Meyran that he no longer wishes to fight. Broadcaster Howard Cosell exclaims, "That's the most inexplicable thing I have ever seen in the ring!"
From there, it's a fascinating trip back to the first bout in Montreal, when Leonard admits to being intimidated by Duran's undisguised disdain and rage. Footage of Duran's triumphant return to Panama is priceless, and he says his celebration continued in New York.
Knowing Duran's partying reputation, Leonard demanded an immediate rematch. The film chronicles Duran's struggle to make weight the morning of the rematch, in part through the use of diuretics that weakened him.
Duran's excuse at the time for quitting was stomach cramps, and it certainly is possible given his intake of fluids and food after the weigh-in. When Leonard makes his pilgrimage to Panama during the making of "No Mas" to discuss what really happened, Duran's answer doesn't deviate much. "I beat you," Duran says of the first bout. "I felt like the king of New York. I got fat and drank."
In the film, Duran says he never said, "No mas." But only after watching the documentary for the first time last week does Duran realize it was referee Meyran who claimed Duran verbalized his decision.
"I just waved my hands," Duran told viewers attending the preview. "This is the first time I heard the referee say that I actually said, 'No mas.' "
Using his son Robin as an interpreter, Duran added, "One thing I want to get off my chest once and for all . . . I just want everybody to fully understand that I did get stomach cramps. But he beat me, he beat me fair and square."
When the formal discussion after the screening ended, I approached Duran to ask if the way Leonard mocked him in the seventh round contributed to his decision.
"There's two styles," Duran said. "One is running, and the other is boxing standing still."
And did he want Leonard to fight like a man? "Yes," Duran answered.
From my perspective, it was Duran's embarrassment at being humiliated in the ring that caused him to snap, and Leonard agreed.
"It was the opposite of the first fight, when I was a stationary target," Leonard said. "This fight I was very mobile and very animated. People were laughing. It was a short-circuit [by Duran] without realizing the ramifications. It happens."
Looking back on the first bout, Leonard knew his decision to go toe-to-toe was irrational. "But this guy really introduced me to the world of psychological warfare," Leonard said. "He got into my head big-time."
So Leonard flipped the script in New Orleans by luring an out-of-shape Duran into a quick rematch. But Leonard's mocking gestures were unplanned.
"Those kinds of things happen extemporaneously," Leonard said. "You don't train to do that. But I was in such a mode that night that those things were working. He had no answer."
Well, Duran may not have mouthed the words, but his actions answered in a way that haunts him still: "No mas."