LAS VEGAS — Sadly, by the end of the fourth round, you could see none of it was left. Not even a flicker. Lost, somewhere in time.
The Roberto Duran you remembered from the 1970s, when he was arguably the greatest lightweight who ever lived, was now a sad, bleeding caricature of what he was. Now, he was struggling as a blown-up, 35-year-old middleweight against a very ordinary opponent, Robbie Sims, Marvin Hagler's half-brother.
The rage, the fire, the fury and even the wonderful sneer you remember from the electrifying 1970s battles with Ken Buchanan, Esteban DeJesus and Sugar Ray Leonard at Montreal in 1980 were only a memory now.
The script from this point was predictable. Duran went on to lose a split decision Monday night before a strangely silent crowd of 10,200 at Caesars Palace, still stunned by the result of the previous bout, the upset victory by Stevie Cruz over WBA featherweight champion Barry McGuigan.
The tipoff that Duran might be performing for the last time in an 86-bout career came at the end of the fourth, when he walked back to his corner on legs that wouldn't work right. He had another bad round in the fifth, but he rallied somewhat in the fifth and sixth, and even sent Sims back to his corner on wobbling legs at the end of the sixth.
In the end, Duran was denied a draw by the margin of one low blow in the eighth round. Sims appeared to deck Duran in Sims' corner with a left hook. But referee Mills Lane ruled it a throw-down instead. Lane immediately deducted a point from Duran for a low blow.
Said Lane afterward: "He hit Sims low a couple of times before that and I told Roberto if he did it again, I was going to take a point away. He hit him in the cup so hard, I heard the 'crack.' Immediately after that, Sims had his arm on Duran's shoulder and threw him down."
With the point deduction, judge Jerry Roth had it 95-94 for Sims. Without the low blow call by Lane, Duran gets a draw on Roth's card and a draw for the fight. Art Lurie scored it 96-94 for Duran, and Bill Graham had it 97-92 for Sims.
It was a tough, brutal fight. Both men chopped away at each other at close quarters, scoring with short, hard hooks to the head and body.
Sims, 25, rated 5th by the WBA, will never remind anyone of his brother, Marvin the Elder. He's slower than Marvin, doesn't hit nearly as hard and lacks the staying power.
By the end of three rounds Monday night, both men--each of whom earned $100,000--looked as if they'd gone 15. Sims had a mouse under his left eye. Duran had one under his right eye. At the end, both of Sims' eyes were swollen and both men bled from the nose. Duran had a cut lip.
Early in the 10th, the bearded Duran came just short of pulling it out with a smashing long right hand on Sims' jaw. Five years ago, you figure, the punch ends the fight. But on a hot June night in 1986, Sims wobbled but stayed up. In fact, he soon had Duran bent in half over the top rope, flailing away with ineffective lefts and rights.
At the final bell, Sims was the stronger fighter, but not by much.
Afterward, Duran had a rip for Graham, the judge who had it 97-92 for Sims.
"No one in that stadium believes I lost the fight, 97-92," he said, through an interpreter.
Will he fight again?
"Si, si--if the press likes me to come back, I come back (in English)," he said.
Of Sims, Duran said, in Spanish: "He doesn't compare to his brother--he's a strong guy, but not that strong. He didn't hurt me like it looked, a lot of his punches were hitting me on the side of the head."
Sims, concealing two swollen eyes behind sunglasses, said Duran showed some flashes of the Roberto of the 1970s.
"The man showed why he's a legend," he said. "He was hurt, he was very tired, but he could still dig. He still had something left. He showed me a lot, why he's a three-time champion."
Fifteen minutes before the fight began, one of Las Vegas' major league gamblers, Billy Baxter, sized it up this way.
"I figured Duran would win some time back, but I wanted a close look at him first. I wanted to see his eyes. So I went to the pre-fight press conference and sat up close, so I could see his eyes. A lot of washed up fighters have that slightly vacant stare.
"But Duran had that sparkle in his eye. Physically, he looked good to me and that was enough for me. At his best, he's maybe the best fighter of the last 15 or 20 years so I figure he's got enough left to beat Sims, who to me is not a top line middleweight."
Baxter bet $45,000 on Duran.