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The ghost of Howard Cosell on ESPN’s 30-for-30 series about Duran & Leonard

By Zach Arnold | October 16, 2013

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Eric Drath & ESPN’s 30-for-30 series delivered another highly successful sports documentary. Too bad the mothership didn’t get off their ass and spend some time promoting the television program.

You knew that ESPN would eventually revisit the infamous “No Más!” incident between Roberto Duran & Sugar Ray Leonard. It was the angle that they choose to pursue that made the documentary intriguing. As enjoyable as the Frank & Ken Shamrock documentary on Spike TV last week but with a lot more talking heads & resources at the producer’s disposal.

The hook? After all these years, would Leonard be able to get an honest answer out of Duran as to why he quit in round 8 of their re-match in New Orleans on November 25th, 1980 at the Superdome? Their first encounter in Montreal, five months prior to the rematch, made what happened in New Orleans all the more shocking. Leonard decided to go to Panama once and for all to meet Duran and ask him what happened. Before the meeting, Duran stated that Leonard could approach him 100,000 times and that he would give Ray the same answer each time he was asked. Ray stated that he would hope Duran would tell him the truth and that the truth would set him free like it did when Leonard told the public that he was an alcoholic.

There were cameos from Sal Marchiano (veteran New York sportscaster), Steve Farhood (now of Broadway Boxing/SNY & Showtime), Mike Tyson, and Christie Brinkley. Photos of her with Duran before the New Orleans fight were shown in the documentary.

The real star of the documentary was, not surprisingly, the late Howard Cosell. It was like a Tony Kornheiser time warp to when the network heavies wanted to be on the big boxing telecasts. Kornheiser believes today’s boxing scene is happening on barges and broadcast on PPV. What can I say.

There was a round-by-round break down of the re-match in New Orleans. Comments from Farhood, Tyson, and trainer Ray Arcel’s widow were mixed in-between Cosell’s dramatic call of the fight. Duran was melting down before everyone’s eyes and Leonard was ratcheting up his jackassery in the ring by taunting him repeatedly.

Then Duran quit. The referee asked him a couple of times before stopping the fight. He was interviewed for the documentary and maintained his shock to this day about what happened.

Cosell went ballistic about what happened in the ring. Soon, it became apparent that Leonard’s masterful performance would be secondary to what Duran did in quitting. Leonard mentioned buying newspapers the day after the fight and finding out that the press wasn’t talking about the way he won. His post-fight comments about how he was the one who broke Duran down aired and yet the press wasn’t concerned with that.

In the words of Sal Marchiano, “Ray got more credit for fighting courageously in Montreal than cleverly in New Orleans.”

Footage of Duran sitting at a table with a translator was shown. This was the footage of Duran announcing his retirement and someone from the press throwing a rubber chicken at his table. Then came the litany of excuses. First it was stomach cramps, to which Ray Arcel’s widow (in 2013) called BS on. Second, it was issues regarding his weight and losing 10 pounds the day before weigh-ins. It was noted that a doctor had given Duran some Ex-lax and diuretics to try to get the weight off at the last minute. Footage of a Cosell interview with the doctor aired in which the doctor pulled out the Sammy Sosa “I don’t know your English” defense when Cosell asked him why Duran needed diuretics to lose the weight. Third, it was the spicy two steaks he ate.

No matter what the truth was regarding Duran quitting, the weight issue was very real for him heading into the fight. Brinkley noted just how much food Duran was consuming after the weigh-in and that he was eating out the whole restaurant. I felt like I was listening to a critique of Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. for a moment.

The documentary shifted to Roberto Duran’s current day life in Panama. Ray Leonard is in good physical shape. Duran, not so much right now. He’s busy playing pool, drinking, and watching Steve McQueen movies at his house on the projector. Leonard traveled to Panama to find out what really went down during their re-match in New Orleans.

The two met and did a photo-op for the local press. Then ESPN staged an encounter between the two men at “Arena Roberto Duran” in which the two men, introduced by the voice of Cosell, entered into a boxing ring. Leonard noted how the stare-down brought back scary memories of the past. As the two men talked, Ray asked him what happened.

“I had so much rage. I don’t know how to explain myself.”

Ray tried to bait an answer out of Duran. “What really happened in New Orleans? Only you know.” Duran kept his guard up.

“I didn’t say ‘No Más.’ Cosell made that up.”

Duran elaborated that he spent a lot of his time partying in New York and drank all the time. He claimed that his manager called him and told him to get to Panama to visit a doctor for some weight loss aids (injections/drugs). As Duran rambled, Leonard commented on what Duran was saying.

Ben Koo (Awful Announcing): Lack of closure hurts documentary & disappoints

“I wasn’t happy (with the response). Deep down inside, I was dying. … I backed off because I saw him struggle. I saw him searching for words and I felt almost like a sponsor trying to help him get by, get through this. I saw something in him that he still has not been able to totally deal with.”

Duran said that despite getting heckled on the streets of Panama with chants of ‘No Más’ that Panama loves Leonard and what he represented in boxing.

“I don’t regret anything.”

Leonard explained why he didn’t press Duran for the truth in their TV encounter in 2013.

“I felt that I wanted to protect him and let him know that as far as I’m concerned, it’s OK. There was nothing else I could do but let him go.”

Duran mainted his current stance.

“Up until this point, I’ve only said the truth.”

The comments from Farhood and Tyson about Duran trying to make up for what happened later in his career were great.

“What he did in return, he made up for everything,” exclaimed Tyson. He noted that when Duran quit that it personally got to him when he was watching the fight.

The show closed out with some quick highlights of the third Duran/Leonard encounter at the Mirage in Las Vegas many years after the New Orleans fight. Duran asked Leonard why he was acting like a jackass in their second fight. It was an Occam’s Razor moment. Leonard said that he was messing with Duran’s mind because he knew he could and it worked.

Despite Leonard stating that he would be the bigger man and let things go with Duran not fully opening up about what went down in New Orleans, there was no real happy ending to this documentary. Not to say that the ending to the Frank Shamrock documentary on Spike was super-happy or anything but there seemed to be some sort of resolution in that situation whereas there doesn’t seem to be a satisfying conclusion for Leonard in his visit with Duran.

Topics: Boxing, Media, Zach Arnold | 10 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

10 Responses to “The ghost of Howard Cosell on ESPN’s 30-for-30 series about Duran & Leonard”

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks. Looking forward to catching it.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    Glory did 381,000 viewers.

    It had a peak of 782,000. That peak came in the first quarter hour. And the lead-in to Glory was COPS which had 1,446,000 viewers.

    Which means as soon as people saw kickboxing on TV, they changed the channel. And then even more of those people left once they got a taste of it.

    Could Glory, Bellator, and TNA all be gone from SpikeTV in 2014? Glory will probably get one more show tops. Bellator is one bad PPV away from being axed. And TNA is having financial troubles. Not good times…

    • Chuck says:

      That sucks, considering that it was a great show. In all truthfulness, GLORY makes you forget about K-1. As great as the UFC usually is (barring some poor or mediocre/average cards, like the last one) it doesn’t make people forget about PRIDE FC.

      I’ve been WAY more impressed by the GLORY heavyweight division than the K-1 heavyweight division sans Ernesto Hoost (retired before the advent of It’s Showtime or Glory) and Andy Hug (died in 2000), amongst a few others. At least Glory (nor its predecessor, It’s Showtime) ever shoved the likes of Bob Sapp, Akebono, Musashi, pro wrestlers, etc. down our throats. Musashi was pretty decent, but he did win a lot of wonky decisions in K-1 so that a Japanese fighter (Musashi obviously) could get to the K-1 world Grand Prix finals (three fucking times no less!).

      • 45 Huddle says:

        It is entertaining, but it will never take off in America. It comes across as a very sloppy striking art compared to boxing. I know some people will say the same thing about MMA, but there is an entire grappling element to MMA which changes things up.

        This has nothing to do with the ratings… But having the best kick boxers in the world only doing 3 round fights is insane. I know it is the way it has been done for years… But if you look at boxing, champions have 36 minutes to show their craft. In MMA it is 25 Minutes. It is only 9 minutes in kickboxing. And many times they are forced to fight multiple opponents on one day. And it makes it come across more like tough man then an athletic contest.

        They are really talented athletes. Let them showcase their skills. When you have only 9 minutes, they swing for the fences and look bad…

        • Chuck says:

          Yeah, that’s true. Especially someone like Daniel Ghita, who is a great counter puncher, gets thrown into slugfests. Hence, the main reason he lost in the finals to Rico Voerhoven (who is a light striker).

          But the thing of it is is that… would think the higher volume of striking and shorter matches would appeal to mainstream America. Especially because of the (supposedly) higher levels of ADD and ADHD in people these days. Short and sweet. Main reason why boxing title fights went from fifteen rounds to twelve rounds (from before the 1920’s title fights were known to go upwards of forty rounds!).

          Remember, this is the country that Duck Dynasty gets 10 million viewers per episode…

        • The Gaijin says:

          “Main reason why boxing title fights went from fifteen rounds to twelve rounds (from before the 1920’s title fights were known to go upwards of forty rounds!).”

          I think the 15 rounds to 12 rounds was more of a fighter safety thing was it not? WBC and IBF changed their rules not too long after Kim died fighting Ray Mancini in a 15 rounder. I’m sure there were other considerations at play as well, but I don’t think it was audience ADD.

    • Zheroen says:

      cool story bro

  3. david m says:

    I have a Thai boxing background and used to really like K1 in the 90s and early 2000s. K1 had larger than life personalities and fighters: Hoost, Aerts, LeBanner, Sefo, Hunt, Hug, Filho, Remy, etc. The problem is that they never adequately replenished the talent pool once some of their guys started going to MMA. HW is the weakest division in all fight sports, and at this point kickboxing is much less lucrative than boxing or mma, so it doesn’t attract the best guys.

  4. Fluyid says:

    I have always assumed that, yes, Duran had a tummy ache, but he has used it as a convenient out. Over the years it has grown in his mind to be the sole reason that he had to stop. I believe that he was embarrassed and frustrated and made a snap decision in the middle of the ring, one that he probably would never make again in a thousand fights, but made that night.

    He probably did not feel great, given that he had to weigh in the day of the fight and then he went and pigged out. I’m equally sure that he has fought through much worse conditions and situations.

  5. bluerosekiller says:

    Spot on Fluyid.
    It was a brilliant move by Leonard’s people to push for an immediate rematch, as they were well aware of Duran’s post fight lifestyle & the likelihood that there was no way that he would be able to repeat the sort of preparedness that he had for the first fight that June in Montreal.


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