ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The Roberto Duran-Vinny Pazienza rematch at the Convention Center on Saturday night was a crossroads fight. By the time it ended 'round midnight, they were heading in decidedly different directions.
For Pazienza, a clear-cut winner on all three judges' scorecards, the future looks extremely promising with the prospect of a megabucks match this summer against unbeaten super-middleweight king Roy Jones.
For Duran, who looked every bit his 43 years in the closing rounds, all the signs point toward retirement.
The International Boxing Council 165-pound crown that Pazienza successfully defended may carry little weight in the boxing community, where world titles abound, but Pazienza is a special case. Four years ago, there were doubts that the former lightweight and junior middleweight champion would ever walk again after a near-fatal car accident.
Now, at 32 and more brash than ever, the self-styled "Pazmanian Devil" is ready to rumble with Jones, whom he calls "the greatest fighter pound-for-pound."
"He should be a household name with all his talent, but he's not," said Pazienza.
"That's why Jones needs to fight me for recognition. There is nobody else out there with my charisma. Besides, I've got the style to beat him. And it would culminate a great story."
Jones, who watched Pazienza's victory from ringside, seemed in no hurry to follow Pazienza's script.
"If I hit him with my best shot, I'd hurt him bad," said Jones, coming off his surprisingly easy victory over James Toney.
"I don't want hurting Pazienza on my conscience. I know a lot of people would like to see the fight. It really doesn't interest me. But if that's what it takes to put music in people's ears, maybe I'll sing along."
In another part of the arena, Duran's followers were singing dirges in the wake of his being beaten by Pazienza for the second time in eight months.
Their first fight last June left room for doubt after Duran dropped Pazienza twice, then tired badly in the closing rounds.
Never one to accept defeat gracefully, Duran blamed this loss on being preoccupied with his unsuccessful run for a senate seat in Panama, which he says restricted his training regimen.
After Saturday's setback, Duran said he had overtrained for the rematch. But the excuse had a hollow ring.
The four-time world champion made it interesting in the early rounds with an effective body attack that kept Pazienza pinned against the ropes.
But the resourceful Pazienza was never in danger. Employing a darting style designed by trainer Kevin Rooney, he quickly seized control, repeatedly nailing his crowding rival with sneak right hands and short hooks.
By the sixth round, Duran's small smile had turned to a grimace of frustration. But his pride apparently would not allow him to admit this had been his last hurrah.
"I'm not going to retire," said Duran, who began fighting professionally in 1967 and captured titles at 135, 147, 154 and 160 pounds.
His handlers also tried to keep the fading dream alive.
"Pazienza is just a bad guy for Duran to fight, especially at 165," said co-manager Hector Martinez. "He's always had trouble against hit-and-run guys like Leonard and Pazienza.
"We're going to sit down with Roberto and his wife and decide what's best for everybody."
But there is little reason now for Duran to continue.
No more major fights on the horizon. No more passion or fury in his middle-aged body. Only the memory of a once-great fighting machine.