It was a bold time.
It birthed the iconic, movie star-
like presidency of Ronald Reagan– just as we gave the USSR a stiff middle finger to its Olympic games.
John Lennon was gunned down, symbolically ending a cultural movement spawned in the sixties and seventies.
The year was 1980, and Mount St. Helens literally blew up- yet, nothing unfolding in the world of sport was as seismic on the richter scales as Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard I in Montreal on June 20.
Believing it was a must-see situation, I walked into AMC Lowes Lincoln Square 13 sporting a new Panama Fedora–an ode to the Panamanian all-time great and my beloved Bert Sugar. I just hoped the filmed handling of some of the life and times of the feared and revered pugilist/assassin Riberto Duran, “Hands Of Stone,” was decent.
The flick, released wide on August 26, wasn't “Raging Bull”- but Robert DeNiro is still an old one; even as Usher's stoically arrogant Sugar Ray was sweet.
Since it was made with a nostalgia intended for a younger audience, you could feel how huge boxing was then compared to now. The connection fans had to “their” fighters was a spectacle to witness.
I pulled up YouTube video of Duran/Leonard I and watched all the way through the previews (hopefully not irking patrons surrounding, lol).
The real footage of Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard – merely coming to the ring – kills the entire Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight by itself.
The OG hitters parted crowds and flowed through what seemed like a red sea, amid raucous chants reserved for Gods.
For different reasons, the 71-1 Duran made Mayweather's claim of “TBE” seem like he was referring to some sort of prowess on PlayStation. Roberto Duran ¨Hands of Stone¨ would have annihilated Floyd Mayweather.
Leonard, who considered himself the ring's black version of Achilles, would've savaged Manny Pacquiao in the same way he had Davey Boy Green just before facing Duran.
The people coming into the theater were a mixture of 20's urban street to 50's old-school wise– many of whom may not have known what kind of monster Duran truly was.
Roberto Duran featured a ring personality of Charles Manson, with the mentality of the revolutionary Che Guevara.
The fact that he looked like a hybrid of both- while reliant on a defiance against what he deemed an anti-Panamanian US government, meant that Sugar Ray, all-world 1976 Olympic gold medalist/WBC welterweight champion, and quite possibly, prime-for-prime the greatest all around fighter of all time, was on high alert against the greatest lightweight ever, a calculating pyschopath, with an innate gift for unleashing beautiful violence.
(Forget about “No Mas”, which occurred just five months after Duran mauled his way to a 15-round UD, the fact that it occured so soon after the first waltz was amazing, looking back.
Can you imagine Pacquiao and Mayweather actually fighting in say, May 2010 –and then, doing it again in Nov 2010?)
As we bounced from the theater, there were looks of positive reflection from the crowd. It made me think of who could have been a darker reincarnation of Duran: the departed menace Edwin Valero, perhaps. Had he not become a murderer in real life before taking his own, Valero had the type of fiery ice and aura in his soul that defines cold-blooded, and against Terence Crawford, that would've been the equivalent of Duran vs. Leonard. They were both Top Rank fighters.
End thought: Boxing needs a rivalry. This film, as a properly crafted nostalgic nod is able to pull off, informs or reminds us that in fact, at times, the “good old days” were often truly better by and large in some ways to our present.
John Gatling (aka Taz) is a southpaw from Plainfield, NJ, who was inspired by hometown heroes Harold “The Shadow” Knight and Glenwood “The Real Beast” Brown. Follow John on Twitter (@johngatling_) and Facebook (facebook.com/taznj)