It seems that every time Donald (The Cobra) Curry and Marlon (Magic Man) Starling climb up into the ring with each other, the shadow of Sugar Ray Leonard threatens to eclipse them even before the first punch is chucked.
When Curry and Starling first fought in October of 1982, they were both undefeated and considered the cream of the emerging crop of 147-pounders. Great things were ex pected from the winner. BOXING ILLUSTRATED had already scooped the planet and leaked the news of Leonard’s impending “retirement.” Less than three weeks after Curry boxed his way to a dull split decision over Starling, Sugar Ray made his dramatic announcement. Leonard’s temporary departure from the active ranks left a tremendous void. And while nobody figured a “new” Sugar Ray to emanate from the Curry- Starling confrontation, few expected their match to be such a bore. Curry ran and countered, while a frustrated Starling pranced and clowned. Needless to say, a star was not born. The second time around, both the fight and the fighters were better, but still not nearly good enough to make anyone forget just hwo sweet Sugar Ray was-and probably still is.
Quite a bit had happened to Curry and Starling in the 15 months that separated their two encounters. Donald went on to capture the WBA belt vacated by Leonard, winning a 15 round decision over the ever popular Korean, Jun-Sok Hwang. He followed with a one-round blitz of shopworn Roger Stafford in his only defense prior to Starling. Marlon, in the meantime, rebuilt his credibility with six straight victories. There was an assortment of stiffs among his victims, but solid wins over previously unbeaten Jose Baret (K04) and Tommy Ayers (W12) had convinced some that Starling’s loss to Curry had been a fluke and that the “Magic Man” would prevail in their rematch.
Curry, on the other hand, was smarting from accusations that he was little more than a “runner” and that beating up unknown Hwang and washed up Stafford proved nothing. He was determined to silence his critics and entered his second meeting with Starling in a belligerent mood, bent on showing the world just how venomous the “Cobra” really could be.
The atmosphere inside the ballroom Bally’s was enhanced by over 1,000 Starling fans among the capacity crowd of 2,200, They had journeyed down from Connecti ut and ushered their favorite son into ring with a deafening roar. Once the first bell rang, however, there was only infrequent cause for them to cheer. Although the contest proved close, Curry was just a superior practically every step of the way.
Both Curry and Starling are excellent defensive fighters. Curry’s artful dodging made him extremely difficult to nail down. And when Starling covered up, his arms and gloves protected almost his entire head and torso. Despite the fact that both men seemed eager to please, their defensive skills far outshone their offensive output. Thrill seekers would have been better downstairs at the crap tables. It was hardly the sort of fight that will be remembered with much enthusiasm when the cogscenti gather to swap yarns at their favorite watering hole.
One major surprise was that Starling reverted to slugging in the sixth, but Curry was waiting for him with sharp counters to the head. By this point, Marlon was beginning to become a little frustrated, constantly looked to his corner for advice.
As the bout progressed, Curry’s body shots gradually took the steam out of Starling. The “Magic Man” rallied to have a good session in the 11th, scoring with left hooks and right uppercuts. None of the punches, however, were remotely hard enough to turn the tide.
Curry suffered a split lip in the 12th, but edged the round. Then Starling, 146, gave it one last push in the 13th, nicking Donald’s left eye in the process. His busy work rate won the round, but Curry never lost control of the fight. He was fighting well within himself and could probably have opened up earlier than he eventually did.
After shoving Starling down in the 14th, Curry came close to putting him away in the final round. Donald gritted his teeth and charged after his weary challenger, snapping a number of hard punches off Marlon’s head before the fight-ending bell curtailed his attack.
Although both men raised their arms at the conclusion, the scoring was unanimous in Curry’s favor. Judges Arthur Mercante, Rudy Battle, and Joe Garcia voted 145-140, 144-140, and 145-140, respectively. Even the pro-Starling audience took the verdict without complaint.
Curry seemed very pleased with his performance.
“I think this fight shows I’m a better fighter and that I wasn’t ready the last time ‘ Curry said. “I expected a tough fight from Marlon and I got it. I knew I had to take the fight to him. I couldn’t win on my bicycle. I was winning on the inside, so I stuck with it. A lot of people were saying Donald Curry runs too much and I don’t have any heart.”
The loser concurred.
“I got beat by a better man today ‘ said Starling. “Donald is elusive. He’s a very good defensive fighter. The idea of the game is to hit and not get hit. That’s what Donald Curry did today.”
After trading verbal jabs with WBC welterweight boss Milton McCrory, Curry got down to the most pressing question of the afternoon: Does he want Ray Leonard next?
“If Ray’s ready, I’m ready ‘ Curry said. “All he has to do is say he wants to fight.”
Whether or not Leonard is ready remains a matter of speculation. Curry certainly poses a serious challenge. Donald seems to be one of those gifted fighters who doesn’t quite realize just how good he is, or could be. Maybe his second victory over Starling will give him the ego boost he needs to fulfill his potential. If so, Sugar Ray may really have a fight on his hands.
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