ONCE IN Las Vegas, before some big championship fight or other, Jim Murray, late of this life and the Los Angeles Times, wrote that in certain parts of the world - "Great Britain, for example," - it was considered perfectly in order for a fighter to quit on his stool.
As the publication of Murray's remark happily coincided with an appointment we had on one of the casino capital's many golf courses, I laid in wait for the Pulitzer prize-winner. Murray was bringing all his concentration to bear on a tricky shot from just off the fairway, one that might have caused even his great golfing hero, Ben Hogan, heartburn, when I quietly said: "Jim, we didn't quit on the stool in 1940." Though I had the decency not to address Murray in full swing, his ball sailed off into a deep greenside bunker. "That was a low blow," he grunted. "Not as low as that sentence in your column," I replied.
To lace on a pair of gloves and climb into the ring, face to face with a man intent on relieving you of your senses, is to give the world irrefutable proof of your courage before a punch is thrown. But no matter how many blows a fighter has taken, no matter how much he has bled, if he gives up under punishment somebody is bound to say that there is a touch of the dog in him, meaning a streak of cowardice.
It would require a great deal of effort to shake the conviction that Roberto Duran was no quitter. Yet the announcement of his long- overdue retirement at the age of 51 inevitably recalls the astonishing fact of his capitulation to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans on 25 November 1980, when defending the World Boxing Council welterweight championship he had wrested from Leonard in Montreal five months earlier. After eight rounds of one-sided activity, Duran turned to the referee and said: "No peleo mas" - I fight no more. Weakened by efforts to train off more than 20 pounds - he had been still well outside the stipulated 10st 7lb limit less than 24 hours before the official weigh-in - Duran found Leonard a different proposition from the fighter who had chosen to brawl with him in Montreal. Frustrated by the challenger's brilliantly-executed manoeuvres, hearing his taunts, Duran gave up, the shame of it following him home to Panama.
As a lightweight, perhaps the most dangerous of all time, Duran won all but one of 63 contests, 51 by knockout. At just 16-years- old …