Roberto Duran - Middleweight King at thirty seven!

29.12.05 - By James Slater: Iran Barkley started the year 1989 as the new WBC middleweight champion and was looking forward to making a first defence of his title. He was matched against yet another legendary fighter (he had won the title with a stunning upset over all-time great Thomas Hearns) early that year when he signed to defend against “The Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran. Duran was as legendary as it gets but at this point most experts thought he was way past his best.

He was possibly the greatest lightweight who ever lived but his peak years were back in the 1970s, and in more recent years he had been flattened in two shocking rounds by Hearns and out-pointed over fifteen by Marvellous Marvin Hagler (a close fight though, it must be said). He had caused an upset and won another world title in 1983 by relieving Davey Moore of his light middleweight belt, but to most experts this was probably his last hurrah, and even this was six years ago.

“Hands of Stone” was put on the short end of 3-1 odds for his bout with “The Blade”. The fight was set for February 24th at the Convention Centre in Atlantic City and most people were expecting a successful first defence by Barkley. But in another of the shocks that boxing can produce - it is this unpredictability that makes it such a thrilling sport - Duran turned back the clock one more miraculous time and fought a superb fight, capturing his fourth world title in different divisions at the advanced age of thirty seven. This was an incredible result.

Back then thirty seven really was considered old in boxing. But, in more recent years the exploits of fighters like George Foreman have changed this.

When “Big George” started his unlikely comeback at the age of thirty eight in 1987, people were appalled, you simply couldn’t do it at such an age. But Foreman pretty much single-handedly changed people’s thinking and set up a piece of boxing history. He proved that age was indeed just a number and today fighting at the age of thirty seven or thirty eight, or even older, isn’t considered an insult to the sport. However, back in 1989 when Duran sprang his upset over Barkley it was pretty much a one-off at world championship level. It wasn’t just that Duran won but the way in which he did so. Roberto performed with the excellent stamina one would normally associate with a man at least ten years his junior!

There was also an interesting subplot to the action. Davey Moore had been a good friend of Barkley’s and now Iran vowed revenge for his friend’s defeat due to what he felt were dirty tactics by Duran. Duran certainly did know all the tricks of the trade and Moore suffered a damaged right eye in the first round of his bout with him (it subsequently closed completely). This was the result of an illegal use of the thumb and Duran was also rubbing his glove laces in his opponent’s face when the two were locked in a clinch. Moore was KO’d in eight rounds and Duran was the new champion.

There was unfortunately a tragic and sad aftermath. Davey was killed in a freak automobile accident a short time before Iran’s great win over Hearns. Without trying to be a psychologist isn’t it possible that, at least subconsciously, Barkley held Duran responsible for his friend’s demise and was now determined to punish him for it? He certainly hated Duran in the days leading up to the fight, and this wasn’t merely a case of pre-fight hype to sell tickets, this was a very real dislike.

So, on a snowy February evening these two rival gladiators locked horns and they produced what turned out to be an absolutely thrilling fight. Both started at a fast pace, especially Barkley, the punching was truly intense. Could the old man Duran endure in such a furious brawl? At the end of the opener it was Barkley who had to answer this question as he was hurt by
a great right hand by his challenger. It was a good start to a good fight, indicative of the superb action to come. Iran landed some wicked body work in the next few rounds but Duran appeared unfazed, not backing up at all. By the middle of the third the crowd was cheering every punch Duran threw. His jab was fast and accurate and he was countering Barkley’s jab with
more sharp right hands. The fight was already shaping up as a classic. There were furious exchanges throughout and the chin Duran showed was truly amazing.

At the end of the fifth Barkley’s mouth was starting to drop open and he had a cut above his left eye. But he had one of his best rounds in the seventh as he cracked two left hooks flush on Roberto’s chin. Duran was hurt no doubt yet still he hung tough. He came back with another right and at the bell they were trading. In the eighth he was badly hurt by another left hook by Barkley, his best weapon in this fight, and this time only his great ring smarts got him through. Iran raised his arms at the end of this round. At the start of the ninth the eye damage had worsened to a noticeable degree though and Iran was really looking tired now. Roberto’s ring general ship was bossing the action and he dominated with his right. He was completely unmarked and had paced the fight brilliantly. Roberto put the finishing touches to his latest masterpiece with a knockdown in the eleventh, throwing a beautiful four punch combination that sent Iran crashing to the floor. He really did reach back in time to his heyday to produce such brilliant punches, thrown with stunning accuracy. Barkley did well to regain his feet, yet then again no-one ever had any cause to doubt his fighting heart.

By now the crowd was most definitely in Roberto’s corner and most of them undoubtedly had him ahead on the scorecards they had in their own minds. But it was desperately close and after the twelfth and final round everyone waited with baited breath, even announcer Michael Buffer who, in an incredible scene, had to quieten down everyone in the audience and the ring
so that he could be heard without the aid of his microphone, which had for some reason stopped working! It all added to the drama.

In a fight that really could have gone either way, a split decision was awarded to Duran. The crowd went wild. Some were even in tears. On this occasion Duran was absolutely loved by his fans. Even those who had started off supporting Barkley were gradually overcome during the course of this fight. Yes, this night belonged to Duran. But then another even more remarkable thing occurred, perhaps even more remarkable than the upset victory itself. These two bitter rivals who had been snarling and throwing such haymakers at one another only minutes earlier now actually embraced. This was amazing and if anyone had dared to say that this was going to happen in the days leading up to the fight they would have been laughed at, or slapped, or both! Yet they were doing it now in ring centre, they had both earned genuine respect for each other. Another example of the uniqueness of this remarkable sport. Can you name another where the opponents can literally hate each other beforehand yet afterwards have such a changed attitude, even if they have lost; that they can show each other genuine admiration? I can’t. Boxing stands alone in the world of sport in this regard and is all the more special for it.

Speaking of special, Roberto Duran had just proved, yet again, just how much he was this very word personified. He was the king of the world all over again at the age of thirty seven!

Article posted on 29.12.2005

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