Monday, November 25, 2013

My Father, Green Chile and Duran vs Leonard II

By Randy De La O

Thirty three years ago today my father came to our home on Newlin Avenue in Whittier for the last time. I remember the date well because this was the day of the Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard rematch. The fight was taking place at the Superdome in New Orleans.

My father had been suffering from cancer at the time and was not doing well at all. I knew he wanted to see the fight but did not have ON TV (subscription television). ON TV and Select TV were still a new concept and not every one had it installed in their homes. I told my father that if he wanted to see the fight I would order it. He and I were both big Duran fans and I just knew that regardless of how he felt, he would not want to miss it.

In the early evening my father, mother and my brother Dennis arrived at the house. Also there were some friends of mine that knew my father well. With all the guest and the kids running around, it was a full house. We were all looking forward to a good fight and hopefully another victory for Duran. Duran had already beat Leonard in their first fight, why would we think otherwise?

My father did not have much of an appetite around that time but Jeri and I decided to make some Chile Verde (Green Chile) for him. It was his favorite dish but just making it was not enough. I knew my father well and he believed that no one made Chile Verde like he did, and he was right. The thing is, I learned by watching. I always paid 100% attention when he made it. I was confident I could make it for him, it would be just like eating his own chile. I also wanted to make it with potatoes on the side, a sort of home fries but not quite (nowadays we just call them “grandpa's potatoes”. It was a unique style taught to him by his father (as was the Chile Verde). It was this simple way of cooking that my father loved best. Jeri and I would put our hearts into it for my father.

We ate our dinner informally, in the living room and with tv trays. As I recall, we were watching the undercard while we ate. I'm happy to tell you that my father not only finished his meal but wanted seconds. It was a shock to my mother who had been unable to get him to eat anything. He really enjoyed it and he let us know. It gave us some hope.

It was now time for the main event, Roberto Duran, "Manos de Piedra" (Hands of Stone) vs Sugar Ray Leonard. The die was cast and the stage was set. My dad and all the rest of us were getting anxious. We expected Duran to win, but he was fighting Leonard, and in boxing, as you know, anything could happen. Years later HBO boxing analyst/announcer Larry Merchant would call boxing "The Theater of the Unexpected". Boy was he ever right. Especially on this night. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First we had to get through the formalities and the introductions. This was made all the easier when the great Ray Charles sang 'America the Beautiful”. I don't believe anyone ever sang it better. That bothered my father though. He could see it giving Leonard some juice. You could see Leonard moving around behind Ray Charles. He looked pumped up and confidant, he was smiling. Duran, by contrast, showed no emotion on his face. The savage panther that paced to and fro was not there.

Duran and Leonard met in the center of the ring and referee Octavio Meyran gave the final instructions. As always when one of my favorite boxers is fighting, especially in a big event, my heart is in my throat. I always get nervous. Howard Cosell, love him or hate him, God rest his soul, was the announcer. Ray Arcel, along with Freddie Brown, were in Duran's corner. Angelo Dundee in Leonard's. The two best fighters in the world backed by the best cornermen loyalty and money could buy. But it was not only money that brought everyone there that night. It was a true battle for welterweight supremacy. It didn't get any better, it didn't get any bigger. This was it.

Suddenly the fight was on. It was quiet at first. You could see right way that Leonard was fighting differently. He was feinting and boxing right off. I was not worried though, it was still early in the fight but as the rounds went on we could see that this was a different kind of fight. Duran seemed to be a step or two behind Leonard. I felt uncomfortable. My father, God Bless him, was yelling for Duran to pick it up. It was hard for all of us to watch Duran get hit with the sucker bolo punches, harder still to watch him get mocked by Leonard. Duran certainly did as much in his career, so sometimes Karma picks the worst time possible to give it back. You could see the frustration in Duran's eyes. “Stand still and fight me, Cabron”, they seemed to say. Leonard would have none of that. Let me say right here and now to dispel any notion of Leonard being a runner. Leonard was a fighter. He could hit, move side to side, get inside, hit and get out of the way, and he could take it. I would not be an honest fan of the sport of boxing if I said otherwise. He was one of the greats.

Still, going into the eighth round, and despite the fact that Leonard was ahead on points, it was still anybody's fight. Duran was never close to being hurt. There seemed to be a moment of confusion. We all stopped talking and tried to figure out what just happened. It's been shown over the years; on television, Youtube and with countless stories and photos but on that night it unfolded so fast, so damned unexpectedly, everyone was in a state of shock. My father, the entire household, were dumbstruck! They announced that Roberto Duran had just quit. Leonard had won the fight. It was unthinkable.

The ending was a blur. I remember Duran walking away, his hands down and Leonard walking up to Duran and landing a blow but Duran was unfazed by it. He waved his arms and the fight was stopped. Leonard was ecstatic. He jumped  up to the ring corner and and threw his hands up in victory. At that moment we knew it was true. Duran quit! That was the long and short of it and try as we might nothing was going to change it. The era of Roberto Duran was over.

My father was disappointed to say the least. We all were. I was hoping Duran would win this one for my father. It didn't happen. Instead it was the worst of all possible scenarios. It was a dark day in boxing if you were a Latino boxing fan. There was no argument to fight back with. No legs to argue with. There was no opportunity to make up a reasonable (however unlikely) excuse.

That was the last time my father visited my home. His cancer worsened and he was in and out of the hospital or home in bed. Either way he was mostly bedridden until his death the following year at the Whittier Hospital, where he finally succumbed to prostate cancer on May 7, 1981.

My father was a boxer in the Army, a featherweight. He was proud of the fact that he remained at 126 pounds all of his life. He believed that the best punch a fighter could possess was a good jab. Everything else worked off the jab. His heavyweight champions were; Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. He was a boxing fan to the core, a knowledgeable boxing fan.

A side note: my father was still alive when the Leonard vs Tommy Hearns fight was announced. We made a twenty dollar bet on the fight. He thought Hearns would knock out Leonard. He died before the fight. His reasoning's for his picks were sound. Again, it's like Larry Merchant says, Boxing is the Theater of the Unexpected”, to which I would add, so is life.

So you see, whenever I think or hear of Duran and Leonard's second fight, I automatically think of my father.

1 comment:

brian said...

A classic that could "only" happen on this particular night.

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