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Duran Should Never Again Answer Why He Quit Leonard Rematch

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Having watched the ESPN 30 for 30 documentary “No Mas” I was disappointed that nothing new regarding the circumstances surrounding why Roberto Duran resigned during the eighth round of his rematch with Sugar Ray Leonard and relinquished his WBC welterweight title belt was exposed.

However, it was great to see during the show that Duran has lost weight and lives a very comfortable life with his legacy intact. Leonard has aged well and still has the charm and charisma that made him boxing’s biggest star during the 1980’s. And watching the “No Mas” special brought back memories of just how great and complete both Leonard and Duran were as fighters.

After beating the undefeated Leonard in June of 1980, it was highly publicized that Duran was partying, drinking and eating as if New Year’s eve were a three-month holiday. Having defeated the fighter who was the darling of the America media, Roberto was relishing the sweet taste of victory like he never had before. Duran’s tenacity during the first Leonard bout was incredible and only rivaled by “Smokin” Joe Frazier’s refusal to be denied during his first meeting with the superstar of the 1960’s and 1970’s, Muhammad Ali.

To Leonard’s credit he couldn’t handle being defeated and having Duran rub it in his face and sought a rematch as soon as possible. And as it was pointed out during the film, Duran was all about getting more money than Leonard in the rematch, and Ray’s money man, Mike Trainer, knew it. So they threw millions at Duran and scheduled the fight quickly knowing that there was no way he could get in phenomenal shape and gain the psychological advantage over Leonard he had the first time.

The rematch took place five months and five days after the first fight. Everybody saw from the onset of the second bout that Leonard wasn’t going to be lured into a street fight with Duran this time. He used his foot speed like he never had before and had Duran following and chasing him all over the ring. After seven rounds Leonard was leading on the scorecards 68-66 twice and 67-66. I had it 4-3 Leonard in rounds watching it live that Tuesday night as a 21 year old amateur middleweight golden glove champ fighting out of Philadelphia. It wasn’t as if Duran was being taken apart by Leonard after seven rounds and the fight was still yet to be decided. Leonard was having a good eighth round and landed some terrific body shots and counter rights to Roberto’s head, not to mention he was at his showboating best. Then with 15 seconds left in the round Duran turned his back and waved Leonard off with his right hand and resigned from the fight, thus handing Leonard an eighth round TKO victory.

The speculation as to why Duran quit during a round in which he didn’t appear to be hurt and wasn’t being beat up or punched around hasn’t quelled in the 33 years since the fight. Yes, immediately after the fight Duran said he had stomach cramps and felt weak. To Leonard’s surprise this is something he again endorsed during the documentary with both of them standing face to face in the middle of a ring in Panama. Leonard acted as if he took Duran at his word and later implied that he didn’t think Roberto was being truthful regarding why he quit during the fight. And you know what, nobody believed Duran on 11/26/80 and no one believes him today. And that’s why Roberto Duran should never again as long as he lives, answer the question why he quit during the second bout versus Sugar Ray Leonard.

Duran is in a no win predicament. There’s nothing he can say that anyone would believe. People and especially die-hard fans believe whatever they want to believe and oftentimes facts never cloud their judgment or beliefs. Depending on whom you were rooting for that night or who you are a bigger fan of, that determines what one deems plausible as to the reason for Duran withdrawing from the fight. Depending on what reason makes their man look better drives what many believe.

For instance….

If you’re a big fan of Leonard and were rooting for him to win, you want to believe that Ray was handling Roberto so thoroughly that Duran feared he was going to get knocked out and quit so he could deny Leonard a clean victory over him. If you’re a Leonard guy that fits your perfect world perfectly. However, if Duran came out and said he quit because he feared Leonard was going to stop him, you wouldn’t believe that either. You’d rationalize that by reminding yourself how fearless and tough Duran was and never backed down from anyone.

If you’re a big fan of Duran and were rooting for him to win, you rationalize his action due to the fact that Leonard wasn’t really fighting him. You tell yourself that Leonard was running around the ring, not boxing, and was more interested in mocking Roberto than actually beating him up. Then you’d justify that by telling yourself that after the first war they had, Leonard didn’t want any part of that again. And once Duran figured that out in the eighth round he said, “screw it, if you want to fight like a girl, you can have the title. I’ll taint Leonard’s victory and kick his ass in our third fight when I’m really in shape.” If you’re a Duran guy that fits your perfect world perfectly.

Then there’s the possibility alleged by a minority that Duran took a dive so there could be a third fight with Leonard. But what if Duran looked Leonard in the eye during the filming of the documentary and said, “Ray, I bet on you to win our second fight, but I couldn’t lay down and act as if I were being counted out with you standing over me defiantly looking down, that’s why I did what I did.” Who’d believe that? Nobody, other than maybe some rabid Duran fans.

The point is, there’s nothing that Duran can say, the truth, whatever it may be, or anything else that’ll satisfy boxing fans. People/fans will believe what they want to believe as long as it makes their guy look good. Nobody will ever take Duran at his word regardless of how plausible or crazy they think it is. The minds of boxing fans were made up the morning following the fight. They’ll never change regardless of what comes out or is said by either Roberto or Ray.

No, we’ll never be satisfied with the reason that Duran gives for his abrupt action on the night of November 25th, 1980, so why bother to answer the question again for the millionth time? And if forced to do so, he should say he bet on Leonard as he smiles and walks away. After giving fans over 30 years of the best boxing in most of our lifetimes, Duran doesn’t owe the public anything.

POSTSCRIPT: On the night that Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran met for the second time, I was pulling for Leonard to win heading into the bout. During the first seven rounds I felt Leonard had a slight lead in the fight, but was a little disappointed that he wasn’t engaging with Duran more. He damn near fought him to a stand still fighting Roberto’s fight the first time. Sure, I was glad that he was winning but inside I was a little disenchanted that Ray didn’t try to put some real hurt on Duran. My initial instinct when Duran turned his back and waved Leonard off was, Duran is disgusted that Leonard won’t fight him like the warrior he did the first time they fought. And if he’s going to hit and move away, he doesn’t want to fight, so can have the title.

In my opinion based on no inside knowledge, just my experience of partaking in ring combat, I believe Duran felt that Leonard was running and not trying to fight him. I think Roberto felt that Leonard was more intent on winning the show and making an ass out of him than he was proving he was the better and tougher fighter. Duran felt humiliated during the seventh and eighth rounds and fighters fear being embarrassed more than they do getting knocked out. I believe Duran sensed that with the tactics Leonard was employing, he was never going to pull the fight out and decided to resign instead being further humiliated by Leonard for another seven rounds. Being a fighter who saw himself as a 165 pound Ray Mancini, I almost rationalized at the time why Duran said the hell with it and walked away. It’s no fun chasing quick guys around the ring who are mocking you in the process while you can’t get a hold of them or hit them cleanly. Duran was frustrated that Leonard wouldn’t let him beat him up, not because Leonard was beating him up. So in what was a terrible impulsive reaction, Duran said screw it and bailed, figuring he’d kick Leonard’s ass in the rubber match. The problem was that due to Duran making a mockery out of the fight, he was blackballed from getting a third fight with Leonard for nine years.

I’m not sure there’s anything Duran could say or reveal that would change my mind. That’s why Duran should never address it again because I’m not the only one whose mind most likely can’t be changed.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Crawford Ends it Like a Champ

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This past weekend WBO welterweight titleholder Terence Crawford 34-0 (25) retained his title stopping Jose Benavidez 27-1 (18) in the 12th round. Crawford was cruising along dominating the fight from the sixth round on, then came out hard in the last round and went for the kill against a tiring Benavidez. It ended abruptly when Crawford jarred and dropped Benavidez with a right uppercut to the chin. Benavidez beat the count but was immediately overwhelmed by Crawford as soon as the fight resumed and it was halted.

Prior to the bout Crawford was considered the best pound for pound fighter in boxing by many. His performance against Benavidez more than likely further endorses that sentiment. Unless Benavidez being competitive during the first five rounds is enough to make some re-think their position? For those who weren’t aware, Benavidez was the fifth undefeated opponent Crawford has defeated in a title bout over three weight divisions and he’s now 12-0 (9) in world title bouts.

The Benavidez fight was Crawford’s first title defense since winning it from Jeff Horn this past June. And it started in typical Crawford fashion. For the first two rounds Crawford surveyed Benavidez (who may be the biggest and longest welterweight in the division) while Jose was looking to apply his physical advantages. Crawford fought from a conventional stance through the first round and then as it was winding down he reverted to fighting as a southpaw and stayed in that stance for the rest of the fight. In the second Crawford did a little of everything but was mostly trying to get a read on Benavidez’s long jab. He tried leading and countering both on the move and in flurries but wasn’t initially met with overwhelming success. Benavidez forced Crawford to work as Jose moved in from a slight crouch hoping to lure Crawford into going first, and he did. However, Crawford disrupted his plan by slamming him to the body.  In return, Jose also went to the body but the difference over the first five rounds was Crawford’s quicker hands and more imaginative offense.

By the time the sixth round rolled around, Benavidez, who initially showed up to win, was reduced to accepting that he can’t outfight Crawford. Thus, he was reduced to doing just enough to keep Crawford from brutalizing him and to save face. During the mid-rounds when Crawford was killing his body and then flurrying with right hooks to the head – the only thing Benavidez could offer back was a shrug of his shoulders. In other words Jose was trying to con the judges into thinking Crawford was fighting his rear off yet he couldn’t do any real damage. Muhammad Ali applied the same con job against Joe Frazier during their first fight, and like Frazier, Crawford ignored it and kept working the body and mixing things up.

By the eighth round, Benavidez was slowed to a walk and his punch output was reduced to just doing enough so Crawford couldn’t go at him with total impunity. However, that was about to change. Crawford raised the rent in the 10th round and started to plant more and forced Benavidez to retreat after whacking him with straight lefts and counter right hooks to both the head and body. The more Benavidez refused to engage and shrugged his shoulders trying to convince Terence he couldn’t hurt him – Crawford knew better and in turn stayed focused and kept going at Benavidez when he knew he really was done fighting and hoping to go the distance. The problem was the bad blood between them was something Crawford wouldn’t let go of nor was he about to show his thoroughly drained and beaten opponent any mercy….it’s not in Crawford’s DNA.

Finally, after a pretty spirited fight, and winning all but maybe two rounds going into the 12th, Crawford had Benavidez where he wanted him – and that was right in front of him, tired and defenseless with little punch or resistance left. It was obvious as the fight wore on Crawford wanted a stoppage victory and wouldn’t be happy until he separated himself from his lanky opponent and the only way to achieve that was by ending the fight inside the distance.

“It was coming,” Crawford said. “It was just a matter of time. He slowed down tremendously. He was tired. That’s when I seen my opportunity to take my uppercut shot. Every time I’ll feint, he would pull back. So I was like, ‘Now is not the time.’ But once he slowed down, I seen that I can catch him with it and then that’s what I did.”

Crawford met Benavidez, who attempted to stem the tide, at the start of the final round. Terence unloaded on Benavidez to the head and body, wasting few punches. Crawford worked with the intent to finish his younger and beaten opponent. Crawford landed a jarring right uppercut that had Benavidez go down, nearly in a half somersault. Once they resumed engaging, Crawford flurried and the bout was stopped with 18 seconds to go in the fight.

The showing was impressive on Crawford’s part because he was troubled early due to Benavidez’s size and somewhat unconventional style. Jose had his moments and found moderate success with his jab and a few right hands he landed when Crawford retreated sometimes moving back in a straight line with his hands low. But other than that the fight wasn’t close and the fact that Benavidez realized he couldn’t win by the fifth round, he did what he could to prevent Crawford from beating him up but not much else.

Due to the fight going almost the entire distance, some observers feel Crawford was underwhelming; I don’t. And the reason is, Benavidez is better than most thought and he is the bigger man and it was pronounced seeing them in the ring together. In beating his bigger foe Crawford emptied his toolbox. He boxed during the periods he was devising an attack strategy, he moved and forced Benavidez to use his legs and work…..and then countered when Jose tried to be assertive. Crawford’s body punching to both sides was impressive and truly paid dividends down the home stretch. And the right uppercut that dropped Benavidez shows that although Crawford isn’t a life-taker when it comes to power, he consistently lands clean shots that his opponents never see coming.

Crawford closed the fight like the champ he is and once again exhibited why he’s the most diverse and stylistically versatile fighter in boxing. He answered mostly all of Benavidez’s punches with his own which is a staple of his style. Terence showed he’s capable of fully concentrating while fighting mad and seems to have an answer for anything and everything he’s confronted with. Crawford has no real weakness other than him not being a big welterweight.

There isn’t one welterweight in the world on his level as a fighter and technician. For Errol Spence, Keith Thurman or Shawn Porter to beat him – they have only one option. They better hope and pray that their physicality along with the ability to apply it can be a game changer…because if they can’t overwhelm him physically, they’ll be picked apart and totally outfought and out-thought starting around the third or fourth round when they eventually meet.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Terence Crawford Has Conquered the World, and Now He’s Won Over Nebraska

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It was a day of even more anguish for Nebraskans, making for a night of even more exultation in a state where boxing – or, at least a particular boxer – is emerging as a hero and much-needed source of pride for citizens left wondering about the sorry state of the once-mighty Nebraska Cornhuskers.

Hours after those Cornhuskers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, blowing a 10-point lead in the final 5 minutes, 21 seconds to fall 34-31 in overtime at Northwestern and begin a college football season 0-6 for the first time in program history, WBO welterweight champion Terence “Bud” Crawford defended his title with panache and power, stopping previously undefeated challenger Jose Benavidez, Jr. in the 12th round to buttress his argument that he is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet. There are still pockets of resistance to his claim to that designation, of course, but none coming from the ESPN broadcast crew of Joe Tessitore, Timothy Bradley Jr. and Mark Kriegel, all of whom intermittently offered their opinion that the switch-hitting Omaha resident has now firmly established himself as best of the best.

The 31-year-old Crawford’s latest bravura performance was met with shouted hosannas of approval from the sellout crowd of 13,323 in Omaha’s CHI Health Center, a record for a boxing event in Nebraska, and a stark contrast to the burgeoning sense of panic among Cornhusker partisans, who have to be wondering who these impostors in the red-and-white uniforms are.

Crawford grew up in a poor section of Omaha as an avid Nebraska fan, and after his latest demonstration of nimble footwork, fast, accurate hands and surprising power you could hardly blame his fellow home-state citizens from wondering if he might be persuaded to enroll at NU and play quarterback for his floundering favorite team. The ability to finish strong, taking the fight even harder to Benavidez in the final round when the more prudent move might have been to simply run out the clock, stamps Crawford as the pugilistic equivalent of Tommie Frazier, the option master who led the Huskers to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and ’95. But even the legendary Frazier wasn’t perfect; he was 43-3 as a starter during his four-year college career. Crawford, now 34-0 with 25 wins inside the distance, has a vision of someday retiring undefeated, a goal that at this stage seems entirely reasonable.

Top Rank founder and CEO Bob Arum, Crawford’s promoter, cited the fighter’s 12th-round mugging of Benavidez, the key blow being a ripping right uppercut that he had hidden up his figurative sleeve like a card sharp’s ace, as proof that the three-division world champion is indeed separate and above the madding crowd.

“Most fighters today, in that position, having clearly won the fight, would back off in the 12th round, not take any chances and run out the clock,” Arum said. “Not him. He’s a performer. He wanted to close the show, and that’s what he did. That’s what makes him special. That is not the mindset most (other fighters) have. But Terence is a showman. He wants to make a statement.”

He especially wanted to make it, and as loudly as possible, against the mouthy Benavidez (27-1, 18 KOs), who has been talking smack about Crawford for months and gave him a hard shove at Friday’s weigh-in, which precipitated a retaliatory right hook from the champion. It missed, thankfully, but no matter. Crawford landed plenty of shots that did when it mattered, smoothly alternating, as always, from an orthodox stance to southpaw and back again.

“We just took our time today,” Crawford said, referring to himself in the plural rather than the singular, a nod toward his support team, most notably manager-trainer Brian McIntyre. “Everything that went on this week, he was trying to get in my head, wanting me to have a firefight with him. I knew if we got in a rhythm we could do whatever we wanted, and that’s what we did.

“He made me work in the early rounds. He was trying to counter me, working on my distance. I couldn’t figure it out at first. But once I got my distance, it was a rout from there.”

Maybe the rout evolved methodically and in a controlled fashion because that’s what Crawford, who had vowed to “punish” Benavidez for his impertinence, had in mind all along. He is a man of his word, and, also as he had vowed, he declined to touch gloves with Benavidez or to offer even a halfhearted hug after the final bell. No surprise there; like fellow Omaha native Bob Gibson, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Hall of Fame pitcher, he regards all opponents as the enemy and thus off-limits to fraternization of any kind.

What about that kept-in-reserve uppercut, which sent Benavidez tumbling awkwardly to the canvas and in obvious distress?

“I’d been seeing it rounds and rounds ahead of time,” said Crawford, who is now 5-0 in Omaha and 6-0 in  Nebraska, counting a sole appearance in Lincoln. “I seen him pulling back,but then he stopped pulling back so I started leaning more and more because I was touching him to the body. Then I threw the shot, and it landed.”

For those with a need to crunch numbers, official scorecards through 11 completed rounds all had the overwhelming wagering choice – Crawford went off at minus-3,000, or a 1-to-30 favorite – winning big on the scorecards tallied by judges Levi Martinez (110-99), Robert Hecko (108-101) and Glenn Feldman (107-102). Punch statistics furnished by CompuBox also were conclusive if not necessarily off-the-charts, with Crawford landing 186 of 579, a decent but not overly so 32.1 percent, to 92 of 501 (18.4 percent) for the outclassed but game Benavidez. But boxing is basically  an art form, not math, and like all artists Crawford is more about aesthetic impression than raw data.

For his part, Benavidez, who had promised to “shock the world” by “exposing” Crawford, figured he had done as well, if not better, than most of Bud’s previous victims.

“I gave him a hell of a fight,” Benavidez reasoned. “But I got tired. Boxing, you know. I was pretty impressive. I wanted to give the fans a fight that they paid to come watch. I know he didn’t think I would be that good.

“I take nothing from him. He’s the best of the best for a reason. He’s a good fighter, you know? But I’m a good fighter, too. I had that fight close.”

In the co-featured bout, 21-year-old featherweight Shakur Stevenson (9-0, 5 KOs), a silver medalist at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, was much more dynamic than he had been in scoring a relatively pedestrian eight-round unanimous decision over Carlos Ruiz on Aug. 18 in Atlantic City, blasting out Romanian veteran Viorel Simion (21-3, 9 KOs) in one round. The southpaw Stevenson’s weapon of choice was the right hook, which he used to telling effect to floor Simion three times, prompting referee Curtis Thrasher to wave the bout off after an elapsed time of three minutes.

Simion, a 36-year-old Romanian whose previous losses were to former world champions Lee Selby and Scott Quigg, was penciled last in as a replacement for the injured Duarn Vuc, had never been stopped in his 12-year pro career and he looked askance at Thrasher, as if disbelieving that he would not be given the opportunity to fight his way out of trouble in the scheduled  10-rounder.  But, his legs still wobbly, he was not pleading a winnable case.

“My power was here tonight, and my speed,” said Stevenson, who claimed the vacant WBC Continental Americas 126-pound title. “Ain’t too much more that I can work on, but I’m going to keep staying sharp and get right back in the gym.”

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Close Early, Then All Crawford

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Terence “Bud” Crawford stopped Jose Benavidez, Jr at 2:42 of the 12th round. Benavidez came in with an unblemished record of 27-0. That run of success came to a screeching halt tonight. For the first half of the bout, Benavidez didn’t fight like the 20/1 underdog that the odds reflected in gaming shops across the globe. He made a good accounting for himself during the first six rounds, however the same can’t be said for the remainder of the fight, as Crawford dominated from the midway point on. It was the beginning of the end with Crawford landing a picture perfect uppercut that found it’s mark late in the final stanza. While Benavidez deserves credit for getting back to his feet, he only managed to prolong the inevitable for a handful of seconds more. Crawford goes to 34-0, with 25 by KO.

Story to follow.

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