Remembering Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran I

Roberto Duran, left, defeated Sugar Ray Leonard by unanimous decision on June 20, 1980. AP Photo

On June 20, 1980, Roberto Duran won the WBC welterweight title by defeating Sugar Ray Leonard by unanimous decision in 15 hard-fought rounds.

The fight took place at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal.


1. Duran entered the bout 71-1 after a long career at the lightweight division. Duran moved up to the welterweight division after he vacated his WBC and WBA lightweight titles in 1978.

2. Leonard was undefeated at 27-0 and making the second defense of his WBC welterweight belt. It was Leonard’s first return to Montreal since he won Olympic gold in 1976.

3. According to CompuBox, Duran out-landed Leonard 315 to 273 in total punches. Leonard threw 50 punches per round while landing 18. Duran threw 60 per round, landed 21 and won by unanimous decision 145-144, 148-147, 146-144.

4. Duran and Leonard would meet two more times, in 1980 and 1989. Leonard avenged his first career loss with a TKO (No Mas) later that November and a unanimous decision nine years later.

The buildup

Known as “The Brawl in Montreal,” the fight garnered much hype. This was Leonard’s first fight back in Montreal since he won his Olympic gold medal in 1976. His flashy personality and marketability had already made him a household name. Leonard won his WBC title belt after knocking Wilfred Benitez out in November 1979, and he defended it against Dave Green with a fourth-round KO in March 1980.

Duran, nicknamed “Hands of Stone,” developed a reputation as a dynamic, knockout puncher at the lightweight division. He unified the WBA and WBC titles at the lightweight in 1978 after knocking out WBC champ Esteban De Jesús. Duran vacated the titles the next year to move up to welterweight.

During the pre-fight press conference, Duran repeatedly insulted Leonard to get under his skin. This prompted Leonard to tell the media he would “kill” Duran during their fight.

The fight

Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s trainer, advised his fighter to box smart against Duran. Leonard, known for his quick movements and boxing prowess, elected to fight toe-to-toe with Duran, but that favored the Panamanian bruiser. In the early rounds of the fight, Duran repeatedly cornered Leonard and forced him into the ropes. Duran punished Leonard with body shots and appeared to be in control through the first half of the bout.

The tide slowly turned for Leonard around the 10th round, as he began to fight closer to his natural style and fatigue set in for Duran. The next round, however, Leonard again retreated to the corners and spent more than half the round on the ropes. The last three rounds were a slugfest in which both fighters landed hard shots, but neither fighter gave in. The post-fight decision left confusion because of a judge’s scoring error, but Duran won by unanimous decision 145-144, 148-147, 146-144.

The numbers

Duran was the aggressor early and often during the fight. He consistently cornered Leonard and kept him on the ropes, landing power shots while his opponent was stagnant. Leonard averaged five fewer jabs (three) per round in this fight than in his 16 other fights tracked by CompuBox.

Leonard made adjustments later in the fight, but Duran had built a large lead early. At one point in the third round, Leonard was on the ropes for 30 seconds and took 17 punches.

The aftermath

The loss was the first of Leonard’s career and a defining moment. Leonard gained some respect for his will to fight in Duran’s style, but he also lost because he fought to the strength of his opponent. On the flip side, it was arguably the biggest win of Duran’s storied career. The fight was one of the many battles between the top fighters of the era (Duran, Leonard, Hearns, Hagler). Duran and Leonard would go on to fight two more times, once in November 1980 and again in December 1989.