The Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran fights in 1980 launched the phrase “No mas” into the global lexicon, while triggering what amounted to a mystery about what could inspire one of the scariest boxers on the planet to quit in the middle of a fight. “No Mas,” ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” documentary explores that question, doing a bang-up job of revisiting those events, before committing a serious misstep by reuniting the two fighters in what feels like a reality-TV stunt. Producer-director Eric Drath’s film is still worth seeing, but unlike Leonard, this one bit of showboating nearly results in a technical knockout.
As the film makes clear, boxing was riding high in the late 1970s, thanks to the combination of the stable of fighters introduced by the 1976 Olympics and the movie “Rocky.” Of those Olympians who quickly became stars in the professional ranks, nobody shone brighter than Leonard, who mixed flash and showmanship with a dazzling set of skills.
Still looking remarkably fit, Leonard and a slew of analysts and participants recount his first faceoff with Duran, whose bruising style and swaggering machismo made the normal pre-fight posturing unusually personal and pointed. “I hated that sonofabitch,” Leonard recalls, while Duran — whose hostile gestures included flipping off Leonard’s then-wife — is shown in an interview saying he “wanted to break him into pieces.”
The first bout was a war, with Leonard choosing to go toe to toe with Duran instead of out-boxing him, and losing in a decision. “He hurt me to the body,” Leonard marvels. “Nobody hurt me to the body.”
That sets up the rematch, where Duran — after being dominated and humiliated by Leonard in the early rounds — simply threw up his hands and quit.
That inexplicable act dogged both men, casting a pall over Leonard’s victory and making Duran a pariah in his native Panama, after his previous victory had turned him a national hero.
So far, so good. But the filmmakers arrange (or at least agree to film) an awkward meeting between the two in Panama, made even more silly by staging the meeting in a boxing ring. It’s an unnecessarily theatrical touch, particularly since the present-day Duran — exhibiting little evidence of the eye of the tiger he once possessed — doesn’t come across as someone prone to much in the way of introspection, second-guessing or confessionals.
It’s too bad, since until then, “No Mas” (Spanish for “No more,” a phrase Duran insists he never uttered, blaming Howard Cosell) does a terrific job of capturing that era, when big fights could still seemingly bring the world to a stop, creating big personalities and an gladiatorial quality around the sport’s epic pairings.
By contrast, the film’s glaring flaw is clearly a product of its current time, once again demonstrating how in today’s age of media overkill, a little less is often mas.