It has been just over a year since the boxing world narrowly missed having another tragedy on its hands. On October 3rd, 2002, Roberto Duran nearly lost his life in an auto accident. Itís amazing that despite the horrific nature of the accident, in which Duran suffered severely damaged lungs and ribs, he spoke of fighting yet again. But the severity of the injuries forced him to once again say "No Mas," but this time, nobody is going to accuse him of being a quitter. If there was ever a fighter who has given more of his life to the ring than the legendary "Hands of Stone," Iíd like to know who. His career spanned longer than any other pugilist in history, turning pro in 1967 he competed every year except for 1985 and 1990.
The rags to riches fairy tale life began in the Banana Republic of Panama on June 16th, 1951. Roberto Carlos Duran was born in the impoverished Chorillo section of Panama. He was the second of nine children born to Osvaldo and Clara Duran. It is to his Mexican father and Panamanian mother, and the mean streets of Guarare and Chorillo that Duran owes his menacing, burning eyes to. Growing up in extreme poverty left little choice for what Roberto Duran could be. Doctor, lawyer, or astronaut was out of the question. Instead a young Roberto turned to fishing, shoe shining and street hustling for a subsistence level of income. Looking for food, he once stole coconuts from the property of millionaire industrialist Carlos Eleta; as fate would have it Eleta would later become Duranís manager.
Duran dropped out of school at age 14 and stepped into a boxing gym with his older brother. A huge fan of the Panamanian great Ismael Laguna, Duran demonstrated plenty of tenacity that impressed former national Panamanian featherweight champion Sammy Medina. After a brief stint as an amateur (winning 13 of 16) the natural born fighter turned pro. The hard hitting, puncher-boxer style Duran had was certainly much better tailored to the pro game than the amateurs, and he quickly built up a name for himself in his homeland.
His pro debut was against Carlos Mendoza who can claim to have fought three all-time greats in his career for he later lost to Mexican great Ruben Olivares and unsuccessfully challenged Puerto Rican superstar Wilfredo Gomez for the WBC Super Bantamweight title. Of Duranís first ten opponents, only Mendoza would make it to the final bell, lasting four rounds. The overwhelming majority of Duranís early fights took place at the Nuevo Panama Coliseum in Panama City. Even after knocking out fellow countryman and future world featherweight champ Ernesto Marcel (who would later score a win over the legendary Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello and retire as champion) few would suspect that Duran would turn out to be the greatest athlete in Panamanian history and the Nuevo Panama Coliseum would one day be renamed ďRoberto Duran Coliseum.Ē
Duranís next big fight was against the vastly more experienced Benny Huertas. It was Duranís first fight on American soil at the Mecca of boxing, Madison Square Garden in New York. The young lightweights were battling on the undercard of the world champion Ken Buchanan versus Ismael Laguna rematch. As it turns out, Duran traveled all that distance for only one minute and six seconds work. Huertas crumpled to the mat, the latest victim to the power punching Panamanian assassin. Later in the night, lightweight champ Buchanan defeated Laguna for the second time. Duran would be facing the Great Scot in that very same ring in less than a yearís time. In the meantime, Duran returned to Panama for a special, over the weight limit, junior lightweight attraction with former world titlist, Hiroshi Kobayashi. Kobayashi was a light-hitting slickster coming off a defeat at the hands of Alfredo Marcano which cost him his WBA Super Featherweight championship. Despite Kobayshi's vast advantage in experience, he was no match for the hard-hitting Duran. In the seventh round Duran landed a brutal combination leaving Kobayashi motionless on the canvass. The Panamanian crowd went ballistic, and as big as Duran was in Panama, he was ready to explode onto the world scene. The 21 year-old Duran had earned his first world title shot against the aforementioned Ken Buchanan.
On June 26th, 1972, Roberto Duran would be crowned WBA Lightweight champ. It took less than a minute for the fiery Duran to establish his position as the effective aggressor, scoring an early first round knockdown of the sturdy Scot. The resilient Buchanan got back up, but continued to get mauled by Duran heavy punches, in particular vicious right crosses and picture perfect left hooks to the body. Legendary trainer Gil Clancy was in Buchananís corner. Not being very familiar with Duran, Clancy speculated that based upon Duranís reputation as a young power puncher, he would tire in the middle rounds and Buchanan would take over. However, Duran never decelerated and Clancy realized right then and there that the fight was going to be a coming out party for a very special fighter. Unfortunately, the fight would not end without controversy. At the end of the thirteenth, Duran landed a borderline low blow after the bell which to this day is a source of debate. Some say it was Duranís knee that caused the damage; others, including Duran himself feel it was a punch. The referee seemed to believe it was a legal punch, and had no sympathy for Buchanan. Perhaps the referee, John LoBianco, felt the thoroughly beaten Buchanan, way behind on points, was looking for an out and consequently exaggerated the severity of the blow/foul in a last ditch effort to save his title. The referee simply raised Duranís arm in victory and declared him the new lightweight champion of the world. The greatest reign of terror in the history of the 135-pound weight class had begun.
Duran followed up on his title winning performance with several non-title matches. As a matter of fact, Duran did what was rare then, and even rarer now, and thatís fight a plethora of non-title matches. After the Buchanan fight, Duran would engage in no less than twenty non-title fights while holding the lightweight title. His first pro loss came later on in 1972 in a non-tile fight against the future lightweight champion, Puerto Rican great Esteban Dejesus. Dejesus was a formidable foe, and perhaps Duran rushed into the fight for Esteban was the third opponent Duran would face in less than two monthís time. Dejesus had slick boxing skills and when he floored the iron jawed Duran seconds into the first round, it became evident he had some dynamite in his fists as well. Duran, later claiming to have underestimated Dejesus and consequently not training hard enough for the fight, could never find his rhythm. Despite having some moments and riding a lot of Dejesus' blows, it would be Dejesus who would have his hand raised after ten rounds of boxing were complete. Legend has it Duran was so upset by the loss that after he soaked his wounds in a New York hotel room, he then pounded the bathroom wall so hard his fists were bloodied. It wasnít the first time Duran had hammered away at an unconventional target; legend also had it that a drunken Duran, acting upon a dare, kayoed a horse. It became clear that losing was not an option for Duran, he simply had to win. The rage and anger inside of him was not something that worked against him, but instead helped make him great. He harnessed the raw emotion, and in two subsequent rematches with Dejesus there would be a distinctly different outcome.
Duran got back on track with successful title defense by knocking out Jimmy Robertson, Hector Thompson, and former lightweight champ Guts Suzuki. The stage was set for Duran-Dejesus II, this time in the sweltering heat of Panama City. The fight began much like the first, with Duran getting decked in the opening round, but thatís where the similarities ended as Duran got up and began to issue a terrific beating to the outgunned Dejesus. Dejesus claimed difficulty making weight, and the 100 plus degree heat certainly couldnít have made things easier for him. Duran put on a tremendous display of disciplined power punching that had the crowd on its feet for most of the bout. Commentator Ferdie "Fight Doctor" Pacheco joked that there was no sense in selling seats for the fight as most everyone in attendance stood to watch the frenzied action. Duran landed a variety of punishing blows to both the head and body, yet demonstrated his very underrated defensive skills. When Duran floored Dejesus in the seventh he closed in for the kill. But the courageous Dejesus scored with a vicious right hand on the overanxious Duran, creating a mouse under Duranís left eye. This was one of the few times Duranís face looked roughed up in a fight. Duran would not be denied, and when the eleventh round began, Dejesus came out from his corner a defeated man. The fighters touched gloves and Dejesus gestured to Duran that he was the better man and seconds later Dejesus was on the canvas after taking a few more of Duranís punches; however, it was more exhaustion and the accumulation of punches that caused Dejesus to fold for none of the punches he took in that round were nearly as hard as what he had already absorbed earlier. Duran redeemed himself and there was no doubt as to who the best lightweight in the world was.
There would continue to be no doubt for some time as Duran continued his winning ways. Duran pounded all his title fight opposition into submission. When all was said and done, 11 of 12 of his lightweight title defenses ended in kayo fashion with only Edwin Viruet, in 1978, lasting the 15 round distance. Duranís next fight after Viruet was the rubber match with Esteban Dejesus. Esteban had managed to get his hands on another version of the world lightweight title so the winner would be the unified champ. It would arguably be the best Roberto Duran the boxing world would ever see. Duran seemed to be at his absolute peak. Physically he had the stature of a perfect lightweight. His power punching was dominant; his team consistent of legendary trainer Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown had finely tuned the little things Duran did, making him just that much better. While Duran claimed he knew how to fight before Arcel and Brown, in the late seventies it appeared that his corner added a little to his game. Duran seemed to be a perfectly balanced fighter, able to destroy opponents on the inside and out. He began as a puncher boxer, and would later become a boxer-puncher to deal with younger, stronger, bigger fighters, and perhaps at this stage in the game he was right in the transition period, the absolute perfect blend. Duranís defense was simply too tight for Dejesus to deter Duran or land momentum changing punches. Every time Dejesus' arms left the guard position Duran found a way to work in his blows. Duranís footwork was immaculate; hand speed (always underrated) was incredible, his combination punching a sight to behold. Duran didnít have any one trademark punch, he wasnít known as a legendary left hooker like Frazier, he had no trademark liver shot like Chavez, no right hand like Hearns, no uppercut like Tyson, merely because his offense had so much variety and balance no single punch stood out because they were all exceptional. Duran could throw every punch in the book, and hurt his opponents with any. Dejesus was knocked out in the twelfth after being comprehensively outclassed. A young member of the Dejesus camp, overcome with emotion charged into the ring and shoved Duran from behind and was lucky Duran did not retaliate. In the audience was Sugar Ray Leonard, whom saw the destruction first hand. He told entertainer Jackie Gleason, who was also on hand, that he would one day beat Duran, to which Gleason responded by saying, ďSon, donít risk your life.Ē
It would be Duranís last title fight at lightweight. Sadly enough, Esteban Dejesus would pass away in the late 80's after a long battle with A.I.D.S. Dejesus developed a drug addiction problem and had killed a young man who had robbed him. While in jail he contracted the dreaded disease by sharing a needle. On his deathbed, Duran with tears in his eyes, visited the frail, thinned out Dejesus and hugged him, comforting him by saying, ďYou're always going to be my great champ.Ē
While Duran was better known for being the foam-at-the-mouth killer, there was always a good-natured side to him there if people cared to look. After knocking Lightning Ray Lampkin out cold in a 1975 title defense, he said on live T.V. after the fight that if he was in better shape he would have sent Lampkin to the morgue instead of the hospital. And while that thoughtless line grabbed the headlines, what went for the most part unnoticed was Duran visiting Lampkin in the hospital and kissing him on the cheek. His giving to the poor is also well documented, making him a pugilistic Robin Hood.
The competitive fire in Duran and a growing appetite (for both food and money) moved him up to the welterweight weight class. The seventies ended for Duran with a pair of solid wins against talented welterweights Carlos Palomino (former WBC welterweight champion) and Zeferino "Speedy" Gonzales. The stage was set for the first super fight of the eighties, a Sugar Ray Leonard-Roberto Duran showdown. The venue would be the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, the same place where Leonard captured an Olympic gold medal during the 1976 Summer Olympics. It would turn out to be the battle of the fighter of the seventies against the future fighter of the eighties (along with Julio Cesar Chavez).
Leonard, the reigning welterweight champion, had captured the title from the talented Wilfred Benitez via 15th round knockout. The undefeated media darling Sugar Ray was the slight gambling favorite, and all the hype surrounding Leonard genuinely bothered Duran. The fact that Duran, who had lost just once in his first 73 bouts, was getting only one fifth the money Leonard would make for the fight just fueled the fire. Duran cursed Leonard during press conferences, questioned Leonardís manhood; he even went so far as to insult his wife. Duran made it his mission to get inside Leonardís head, and dethrone the extremely popular champion.
The "Brawl In Montreal" took place on June 20th, 1980. It was a chilly, rainy day, but fight fans had nothing to be gloomy about as they were treated to an epic battle. The bigger, younger Leonard began using the perimeter of the ring while Duran charged in like a man possessed trying to turn the fight into a war on the inside. Duranís raw aggression was enough to take the first round, but the second round is where Duran won the fight. Near the end of the second, Duran caught Leonard with a right-left combo, the left hook landing very hard. Leonardís right leg did a dance and although he shook his head to show people he wasnít hurt, his extremities were proving else wise. After getting hurt on the outside Leonard was more willing to stay on the inside where there wasnít enough room for knockout blows. The high level of pugilistic prowess on display that night arguably hasnít been matched since. After fourteen intense rounds it seemed apparent that Duran had the fight won, certainly he thought so. At the beginning of the fifteenth and final round Duran refused to touch gloves, resulting in Carlos Padilla forcing him to do it. Duran spent most of the fifteenth mocking Leonard with taunts, and exhibiting some flashy defensive moves, and when the final bell rang, Duran not only refused to embrace Sugar Ray, he shoved him when Ray lifted his arms in the air.
There seemed to be little doubt in Duranís mind that he had won, and Leonard had a morbid expression on his face. However, the officials had the fight very close, scoring an unprecedented number of even rounds. The final scorecards were 145-144, 146-144, and 148-147 (the ring announcer erroneously declared one scorecard even when reading the verdict). The audience roared when the ring announcer presented the verdict, "Et le nouveau champion du monde, Roberto Duran!"
It was the pinnacle of Duranís career. He had moved up in weight and beaten a prime great. And so the good times rolled as Roberto began living the life. He indulged himself and others, giving away hundreds of thousands, ate like a king, and it was at this point that Duranís professional career took a turn for the worse. His discipline was lacking; at times having a walk around weight in 190-pound zone. Rumor had it he once managed to tip the scales as far as 217 pounds (Duran himself claims to have hit 230 pounds after the Brawl in Montreal, although that seems to be an exaggeration).
The first Leonard-Duran fight was a huge money maker, unprecedented for two non-heavyweight combatants and immediately after the fight, Leonard tried hard to get a rematch. He, by his own admission, stated his intentions, from day one, was to get a rematch as fast as he could, knowing Duranís training habits (or lack thereof). Duran himself was admitting that he no longer had the impetus to train hard like he use to. When Don King made a huge offer to Duranís manager, the fight was on.
The rematch was five months later, and the Battle of New Orleans didnít turn out to be much of a battle at all. Leonard was fast as lightning and was mocking an impotent Duran. Duranís answer to Leonardís antics was to simply utter the now famous words "No Mas." Duran claimed to have quit due to stomach cramps and was hoping to get a rematch. Duran did get a rematch, ten years later.
The shame of No Mas had a devastating effect. Even his countrymen viewed his quitting as unforgivable, and Duran went from hero to zero. Ray Arcel dumped him. To this day, many casual boxing fans associate the name Roberto Duran first and foremost with the No Mas incident. But things got worse for Roberto Duran. After a couple of wins over light competition Ray Arcel came back when Duran took on defensive wizard Wilfredo "El Radar" Benitez. Duran fought without the intensity that was his former trademark. He looked mediocre, broken. As a result, he lost a close decision and a dejected Arcel quit the Duran camp again.
In Duranís very next fight he sunk to a new low. He was up against the unheralded Kirkland Laing. Duran lost by decision again in what Ring Magazine called the biggest upset of the year. Never before had Duran lost two fights in a row, and more importantly, never before had he lost to a fighter the caliber of Kirkland Laing. To add insult to injury, Laing's manager called Duran "a fuckin old man," on live national television afterwards. There was demand for Duran to retire. After Arcel, Don King left Duran, as did plenty of other members of his camp. Roberto had hit rock bottom.
If Sugar Ray Robinson is the boxing God, Roberto Duran would have to be Jesus for after the rise and fall, there would be redemption in grand style. When the boxing world told Duran he couldnít beat Leonard he rose to the occasion. Now the boxing world was telling him he was through. Finished. Again, Duran would rise to the occasion. Teddy Brenner of Top Rank gave Duran the chance he needed by matching him up with former welterweight champ, Jose "Pipino" Cuevas of Mexico. Despite looking a little thick around the waist, Duranís timing was on and he took Cuevas out in just four rounds. One could sense the genuine excitement in Duran during the post fight interview. It was the look on his face and the manner in which he spoke; one could sense that there was a reawakening within Duran.
The Cuevas win garnered enough momentum for Duran to take on undefeated WBA light middleweight champ Davey Moore. Despite being an inexperienced champ with just 12 fights (all wins) under his belt, Duran was for the third time a betting underdog (five to two) in his challenge for a world title in a third weight class. The fight took place on Duranís 32nd birthday at Madison Square Garden. Moore, being from The Bronx was just a hop-skip and jump away from MSG, couldnít be further from home as the Garden was packed with Duran fans eager to see if Duran could pull off the improbable. Moore, uncharacteristically for the champ, entered the ring first, and the pro-Duran crowd erupted when Roberto later made his way into the ring.
The fight turned out to be one of the most vicious lop-sided beatings of all time. Duran, who weighed in under the limit, was fast and technically brilliant. Moore, despite giving his best effort, was totally outclassed by Duran who was looking like a wizard in the ring. Every time Moore looked like he had an opening to land a blow, Duran would just roll with the punches at the last moment and counter hard. By the end of the sixth round Mooreís eye had swollen shut and the beating was so terrible his wife at ringside passed out. The seventh and eight rounds were pathetic one-sided beatings, with Moore floored near the end of the seventh. How the referee, Ernesto Magana, let the fight go into the eighth, and how Mooreís own corner let Moore come out for the eighth will always remain a mystery. The fans at ringside were going crazy as Duran punished Moore, and former light heavyweight champ Joe Torres at ringside was beside himself in anger and frustration, pleading with Magana to stop the fight. Finally the towel flew in and it was fight over. Roberto Duran was 32, Triple Crown champion, and most importantly, he was Roberto Duran again. He was hoisted up in the air and the crowd sang "Happy Birthday" to a sobbing Duran. The comeback was complete.
Duran, never one to rest on his laurels, targeted a title in a fourth weight class, and challenged another all time great fighter, Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Hagler, the long time Middleweight kingpin had knocked out each and every one of his challengers to that point. It was Duranís very first fight at middleweight and the big question was whether or not the 5'7" frame of Duran could handle the weight. The fight was a very cautious affair, with Duran scoring and stealing some early rounds with counter right hands and moving out of harmís way. Going into the championship rounds, the outcome of the fight was up in the air, but Hagglerís always immaculate conditioning saw him sweep the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth rounds and he received a well received unanimous decision win. It was an admirable performance by Duran, considering the former lightweight was challenging the current undisputed middleweight champion; a close decision loss was nothing to be ashamed of.
The Hagler defeat put Duranís dream of being a quadruple crown champion on hold and he went back to junior middleweight. Duran then signed an open contract to fight either Tommy "The Hitman" Hearns or Mike "The Body Snatcher" McCallum; both of whom were Kronk Gym (located in Detroit) fighters under the tutelage of Emanuel Steward. Steward opted for Hearns to fight Duran, which infuriated McCallum who was looking for a big fight to springboard his career into superstardom. Unfortunately, McCallum was never able to lure Duran, Hagler, or Leonard into the ring and consequently had his chance for all-time greatness pass.
It turned out to be a wise decision as the murderous punching, lanky Hearns became the first fighter to truly knock Duran out. Duran came to the ring looking cold and intimidated and the first round was all Hearns who came out of the gate with guns a blazing. Tommy towered over Duran and unleashed furious barrages of power punches, and the end came abruptly just a minute into the second when The Motor City Cobra landed a trademark right cross when Duran was trapped up against the ropes. It landed flush and Duran collapsed forward landing face down and motionless on the canvas. By the time Duran got up, his handlers had already entered the ring. Hearns had done what no other fighter could do, and what many thought was impossible, stopping the great Duran.
After the fight, a Hearns-Hagler fight was made. It had taken Hearns only four minutes to destroy Duran, whereas Hagler had to go the full fifteen round distance. Hagler dismissed Hearnsí impressive win as Duran getting old overnight. Not surprisingly, Hearns credited the performance to his awesome power and boxing ability. When the two did meet, it turned out that the cast iron jawed Hagler could handle Hearnsí power, and after Hearns hit him with everything including the kitchen sink, Tommy was flat out exhausted and fell in three frenzied rounds. It was a fight that many consider to be the best fight in middleweight boxing history, and the first round many content to be the greatest single round of all time.
After the Hearns loss, Duran took some time off to regroup before launching another comeback. Almost two years later he came back as a middleweight and quickly scored a pair of easy wins in Panama. He then suffered another loss, a close, controversial split decision defeat against Marvin Hagler's half brother Robbie Simms. Duran fought much of the fight off the ropes, and although he was effective, perhaps it was just the fact that Duran was on the ropes that allowed for rounds to unfairly be scored in favor of Simms.
Regardless, Duran had hit roadblock, and was once again considered washed up. Yet after a four quick wins, Duran took on ďJoltinĒ Jeff Llanas in Llanasí hometown of Chicago. Winner was likely to get a title shot at newly crowned middleweight champ Iran ďThe BladeĒ Barkley, who had won the title four months earlier with a dramatic third round brutal kayo of Tommy Hearns. The partisan hometown crowd roared as Llanas had his moments against a lethargic Duran, and going into the last two rounds the fight was still in the balance. However, Duranís vast advantage in experience paid dividends as he neatly scored his punches and effectively tied Llanas up. When the official verdict was read, it was a close split decision victory for Duran.
So the stage was set, and Duran was off to Atlantic City to challenge Barkley for the middleweight title. Logic dictated that this would be an easy defense for Barkley; after all, he had knocked out Hearns who had knocked out Duran in two. If common opponents were any indication, it was going to be an easy night for Barkley. And Barkley wasnít just another middleweight; he was a huge middleweight who would later go on to win world titles at light heavyweight and super middleweight as well.
Barkley had dedicated the fight to his friend, fellow Bronx fighter and Duran victim Davey Moore. Moore died just four days prior to the Barkley-Hearns fight, when tragically a car he was repairing fell off its jack, killing Davey. Just like the Moore fight, Duran had many more fans in attendance than Barkley, who was the local fighter. All the Duran fans, which had to drive through a snowstorm to get to the convention center, did not leave disappointed. Not only were they treated to one of the greatest fights of all-time (it was Ring Magazineís fight of the year for 1989), but their national hero pulled off what Gil Clancy called ďa miracleĒ by walking away with the world middleweight championship.
The Duran fans didnít have to wait long for their opportunity to cheer as Duran nailed Barkley with a counter right cross over a Barkley jab near the end of the first. Barkley was visibly hurt and Duran went in for the kill but the bell sounded. The second through fifth rounds were for the most part filled with furious action and the two gladiators stood toe-to-toe unloading with everything they had. Rounds six through eight were Barkleyís best rounds as he was repeatedly nailing Duran with big league power punches. Clancy, who was in a state of shock for most of the night, couldnít believe that Duran was able to take the kind of punishment Barkley was delivering. ďI canít believe this is the same guy who took the lightweight title from my fighter, Ken Buchanan, as a lightweight back in 1972,Ē he said in disbelief.
ďThe difference between Duran now and Duran then is that he would never have been hit with these kinds of punches,Ē Al Bernstein responded astutely.
In the seventh round, Duran was in trouble for the first time as Barkley landed a picture perfect double left hook combination. Duran stumbled forward into Barkleyís chest where he smothered Barkleyís follow up punches and countered.
The eighth round was more of the same as the two began the round by circling in the middle of the ring. They threw simultaneous left hooks and Barkleyís landed first. It was a punch Duran never saw coming and the force must have knocked the water from Duranís head eight rows deep into the audience. The force of Duranís own hook caused him to spin around like a scene out of The Exorcist. His glove almost touched the canvas, but somehow Duran stayed on his feet.
ďDuran is in trouble!Ē, shouted Bernstein.
ďEverything but his heart is in trouble,Ē Clancy replied as Duran once again covered up in close and even landed his own uppercut.
Perhaps seeing Duran take Barkleyís best punches knocked Iranís morale level down a notch or two, or maybe it was just the frantic pace of the fight that simply took a lot out of Iran, but the ninth through twelfth round was for the most part dominated by the 37 year old Duran. Gil Clancy referred to it as a second wind, but perhaps it was just a reminder of how great a fighter Duran could be when he puts his body in good enough shape to not let him down. It all culminated in the eleventh round, which on this writerís scorecard was the difference in who won the fight. After a huge round ten, Clancy stated he felt Duran could take a better punch than Barkley at that point and he was right. After Barkley came up short with a right cross, Duran landed one of the most beautiful combinations in the history of the fight game. A right cross stunned Barkley followed by a follow up vicious left hook that also landed flush, another right cross landed right on the button, and after a decoy left hook, a crushing third right cross sent the now staggering Barkley to the canvas. The partisan crowd, already engulfed in emotion from the earlier drama of the fight, erupted in ecstatic excitement. As Clancy said, watching Duran was like watching a "surgeon operate."
But much like there was never an ounce of quit in Duran, Barkley showed his heart and courage and scraped himself up barely beating the count. He survived the remainder of the round, and the two warriors battled on relatively even terms in the twelfth and final round. Unlike the Duran of years before, this Duran openly embraced his opponent after the fight was over. The two combatants had earned each otherís respect. After that war, any two combatants should have earned each otherís respect.
When the official decision was announced, it was a bizarre scene. Michael Buffer, who called the fight the greatest he had ever seen, didnít have a working microphone and had to quiet the crowd as well as those who crammed into the ring, and yell out the decision. Not surprisingly, given the action in the fight, it was split: 116-112 Duran, an outrageous 118-112 Duran (the judge must have given every close round in the fight to Duran), and 113-116 Barkley.
It would be the last time Duran could claim to be a true world champion. Being so many years and weight divisions past his prime, the end should have been near. But like so many other fighters before, Duran would stick around in the fight game for far too long. His next fight was the way-too-late-to-mean-anything rubber match with Sugar Ray Leonard in which a pudgy Duran showed little will to win as Leonard danced around for an easy decision win.
The next fight was an injury loss to the unheralded Pat Lawlor. Duran had been down before, but at this point in his career he couldnít cheat Mother Nature.
Over the last third of his career, a pattern of a series of wins against undistinguished opposition followed by a loss to a reputable fighter began. In 1994 he secured a payday against the exciting Vinny Pazienza (now simply Vinny Paz) and decked the "Pazmanian Devil" on route to a controversial decision loss. The rematch was an embarrassment as Duran was terribly out of shape and during the post fight interview a ridiculously large belly took up much of the viewerís television screen. After a few more wins it was a controversial decision loss to Hector Camacho Sr. Unlike most of the other all-time greats, Duran would find himself on the short end more than his fair share of times when it came to close decisions.
After splitting a couple of fights with respectable Argentine Jorge Castro, Duran got a title shot against middleweight champ William Joppy. The gross mismatch pitted a 27 year-old natural middleweight in Joppy who had only one avenged defeat, against the 47 year-old former lightweight great. While Duran knew what to do, physically he was so deteriorated the fight didnít even last three rounds before Joe Cortez wisely stepped in to stop the bout. Watching Duran fight at this point was outright pathetic. It's one thing to see Duran lose decisions to fighters that couldnít carry a younger Duranís jock strap, but itís another to see him punished, or look so bad he doesnít resemble his former form one iota.
After a decision loss to Camacho (who in the meantime had knocked out a foolish come backing Sugar Ray Leonard) and the car accident, Duran was forced to retire.
Looking back over his career, the ups and downs are evident. Heís certainly had enough ups to be considered one of the greatest fighters to have ever lived. His accomplishments when looked individually in isolation, puts him in a group of other greats. When his accomplishments are looked at in sum, it puts him in a class all of his own.
*He held the lightweight title for six years and seven months, defending the title 12 times and winning them all, eleven by kayo. The title reign is generally viewed as the greatest reign in the history of the lightweight division. This alone puts his accomplishments at lightweight with those of other traditional weight classes: Louis at heavyweight, Archie Moore at light heavyweight, Monzon and Hopkins at middleweight, Pedroza at featherweight.
*He held titles in four different weight classes: the lightweight, welterweight, junior middleweight, and middleweight. Three of which are traditional weight classes. This puts him in the class of Leonard, Hearns, Armstrong, and Fitzsimmons. Duran never made an effort to win the junior welterweight title although thereís little doubt he would have won the title. Keep in mind if he did try it, it would have been sometime between 1976 and 1978 where the junior welter champs were Velasquez, Muangsurin, Cervantes, and Kim), and the competition from which he won the traditional titles is sublime. Ken Buchanan is now a Hall of Fame fighter, Ray Leonard is an all-time great and guaranteed soon to be Hall of Famer, and Iran Barkley a triple crown champion. Also, had Duran gotten a break earlier in his career, thereís a very strong chance he would have been able to pick up a junior lightweight world title as well.
*Outside of George Foreman, no other fighter has had a longer span of time between title winning performances. However, unlike Foreman who regained the heavyweight title in a mediocre display of boxing, Duran won the Middleweight title almost 17 years after winning the Lightweight title in a formidable boxing match.
*Duran fought from 118 to 175 pounds, bantamweight through to light heavyweight. Was a pro fighter from 1967 to 2001, a span of 34 years.
Duran is a fight fanís kind of fighter. His willingness to fight anyone, anywhere, anytime and do it while never taking a step back made him a fan favorite. His bravado and machismo, for the most part was both in and out of the ring. He was one of the first Latino fighters to become a mainstream sporting boxing star in the states. His natural talent and overall ability, quality of opposition, unprecedented achievements, combined with unmatched longevity has made its mark on the sport. And while he may have little of his ring earnings left, he put a lot of food on a lot of peopleís plates, and a lot of roofs over a lot of peopleís heads. If he could do it again, it seems doubtful that heíd do it much differently. Fight fans, and people all over will always remember Roberto Duran for he gave us, the fans, the people, so much.
Contributed By: Yori Boy
PROFESSIONAL BOXING RECORD
Remembering Roberto Duran