They say three is the magic number and a trilogy of fights in boxing usually guarantees entertainment.
Think Ali and Frazier of the sepia-tinted heavyweight era or Gatti and Ward in more recent memories; trilogies are almost always spectacular.
But perhaps no rivalry has ever been as fascinating or as controversial as the three fights shared between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard.
Leonard and Duran gave the world one of the greatest welterweight title fights in history in 1980 in Montreal
Before the two men ever shared a ring with one another, controversy was evident. WBC welterweight champion Leonard was expected to meet Mexican champion Jose Isidro Ceuvas after defending his title in England against Davey ‘Boy’ Green in 1980.
He was boxing’s longest-reigning world champion at the time, with ten defences of his WBA title since 1976 and a unification bout with Leonard seemed on.
WBC president Jose Sulaiman implored his compatriot to step aside and let Duran fight for the title instead. Meanwhile, the WBA offices were based in Panama (Duran’s home country), with the military government pressuring them to change their mind about Leonard’s next opponent.
Colonel Ruben Parades of the National Guard of Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos also paid a personal visit to the offices of WBA president Rodrigo Sanchez.
Known as ‘Hands of Stone’, Duran became a legend on that night in Montreal
With bitter rivals Bob Arum and Don King reuniting once again after putting on Ali-Frazier III in Manila, the bout between the boxing purist and the brawler was set for Montreal on June 20.
The 29-year-old Panamanian was in peak condition and, after proving himself to be the best lightweight on the planet, had moved up to welterweight and set about intimidating his man straight away.
A press conference was held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria and Duran made sure to eat anything put in front of him (including a steak) with his bare hands to convince the press he was an animal.
It worked on the 24-year-old Leonard who, despite winning a gold medal in Montreal four years prior, was also rattled.
Leonard is a five-weight world champion and a boxing great, but was beaten by Duran in Montreal
Working in the Catskill mountains under the tutelage of Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, Duran was hitting peak form and bullying sparring partners – including Mike Tyson’s future trainer Kevin Rooney.
In 1979, Duran starred in Rocky II as a sparring partner for the titular character and was untouchable even for the great Sylvester Stallone. Now, fiction was becoming fact.
As the fight drew closer, both men began to taper off their training and crossed the Canadian border, living just a few metres apart and making chance encounters a regular occurrence.
Leonard’s legendary trainer Angelo Dundee would later tell Dave Anderson of the New York Times that the mind games broke his man and forced him to fight Duran’s fight.
Angelo Dundee helped Sugar Ray after he turned professional having also once trained Muhammad Ali
“Duran abused Ray and Ray couldn’t handle it,” he admitted. “Duran would see Ray walking with his wife in the streets in Montreal and he’d yell ‘I keel your husband. I keel your husband!’”
The fight itself was exactly how Duran wanted it to be; an all-out war where both men planted their feet and traded.
Despite positive moments later in the enthralling and breathtaking contest, the rope burns on Leonard’s back told the story of the fight.
As the final bell tolled, Duran ignored Leonard’s outstretched glove of thanks and instead point to his own crotch and shout a torrent in Spanish.
Duran collects his $2,000 bonus from Don King after the victory
Author of ‘Four Kings’ George Kimball recalls in his book how he asked former light-heavyweight Jose Torres to translate. As it transpires he had shouted ‘c***’ in Spanish.
Kimball writes: “Leonard Gardner seemed to think that Duran was addressing the remarks to Wilfredo Benitez [former welterweight champion], while my own impression was that he had been looking right at Sugar Ray when he did it.
“As it turned out, we were both wrong. Cholo’s invective was directed towards Roger Leonard.”
Sugar Ray’s brother ran straight at ‘Manos de Piedra’ in a murderous rage, but was halted rather briefly with a single punch which knocked him out cold.
Leonard left the Stade Olympique and began to plot his revenge
“Duran just nailed him,” Leonard remarked many years later. “There was so much confusion in the ring that not a lot of people even saw it happen.”
Just five months after a fight many consider to be the greatest welterweight fight of all time, the newly crowned WBC, Ring Magazine and Lineal 147lb champion of the world was back in action after endless parties and celebrations in his home country of Panama.
Tyson Fury tells talkSPORT how he is coping mentally with being in lockdown
The infamous ‘No Mas’ fight in New Orleans will forever be remembered for the sheer controversy of Duran throwing up his hands in defeat and allegedly telling referee Octavio Meyran he did not want to fight.
As the inquest began as to why the most dangerous pound-for-pound boxer in the world (who once knocked out a horse) had quit, Duran put his fists up again. But it was not to carry on, he had simply seen Roger Leonard race into the ring once again and thought round two was on the cards.