Roberto Duran - Part 2: Miracles Do Happen
08.09.06 - By Michael Klimes: After Roberto Duran’s ‘No Mas’ fiasco, he became a subject of heated debate in his native Panama. The still great legend was seen as a ‘loser’ and a ‘quitter’. Many who had previously championed him and basked in his glory did not want any part of him. For a long time, the scar of ‘No Mas’ did not heal and Duran found himself in a position you not would think a fighter of his calibre would be in again. He was a boxer with something to prove.
Article posted on 09.09.2006
Duran refused to believe it was over and started his campaign in the junior middleweight division. Nine months after he lost to Leonard, he fought a tough cookie by the name of Nino Gonzalez. He won a ten round decision and only came on later in the bout as he showed some ring rust and in periods appeared gun shy. This was unsurprising as Duran was navigating through uncharted waters at his new weight and he needed to find his anchor like he had done in the welterweight division. He fought top contenders like Monroe Brooks and Carlos Palamino, before he went after the big fish..
In his following tune up, Duran took on a very game Italian, Luigi Minchillo, the European Champion at that point in time. Minchillo was a predictable brawler and tried to outwork Duran but came unstuck in the latter stages as Duran’s superior experience shown through.
Bothersome Benitez and Kirkland Laing:
Wilfred Benitez, defence extraordinaire and from the same country as Duran’s former rival, Esteban DeJesus had Duran in his scopes for their 1981 match up. Their entrances belied the actual nature and outcome of the fight.
Duran looked composed and calm, Benitez tense and stiff. For fifteen rounds, Benitez out jabbed, out landed and out slicked Duran in an exceptionally one sided bout. Duran was very sluggish and did none of his irritating head feinting, searching jab or crisp combinations. Sugar Ray Leonard commented at ringside and observed, ‘Duran does not have it.’ Ray made that that comment in between Rounds three and four. Another commentator concluded, ‘there is a look of resignation in Duran’s eyes.’ That was after Round ten drifted into Benitez’s lap. The Puerto Rican won a lopsided but bizarrely close unanimous decision.
In one of the supreme ironies of Benitez’s career, the usually lazy counter puncher trained for what was meant to be the hardest fight in his life but it turned out to be one of the easiest.
Perhaps Duran’s most humiliating plummet as a professional was against the very fast fisted Kirkland Laing. Laing, with Herol Graham, was one of the most talented British fighters of the decade with very quick hands, reflexes and feet. Both of them were very elusive in the ring but the richest prizes eluded both of them. Laing gave a text book performance on how to negate an offensive fighter of Duran’s versatility and dynamism. He doubled and tripled the jab, keeping his foe off balance and out of rhythm, brought in the straight right and gave the Panamanian plenty of angles. Duran looked like a former demon who had his sadism exorcised and needed to find a new line of work.
The Moore Moment
It took a whole year before Duran would find any of his old form again. He rediscovered it when he fought Pipino Cuevas in Los Angeles and destroyed him in four rounds. Duran came in, wearing a glittering white robe, which made an allusion to Hollywood and fantasy that evening. Duran looked fit, fought beautifully one the inside and landed his trademark hooks to the body. Cuevas was ragged and undisciplined, throwing his punches off balance and with little thought. Duran was relaxed and picked his spots.
In 1983 Duran squared up against the very talented but rookie like Davey Moore, the W.B.A Junior Middleweight Champion at Madison Square Garden. Moore made the critical mistake of going toe to toe with the old veteran when he should have used his decent jab and footwork to outmanoeuvre and outscore Duran. Moore had no shortage of courage but Duran gave him a vintage mix of the cocktail, which saw wonderful head feinting, body punching and that cracking straight right. It was one of Duran’s best ever performances but it was tarnished by disgraceful refereeing and corner management.
Moore’s corner made two unforgivable decisions; they never told Moore to box instead of brawl and did not pull him out of the fight after the seventh when it was clear beyond clarity that Moore was the broken goods. Similarly, the referee let Moore be hammered by a merciless Duran for far too long in the eighth. However, the event took place at Madison Square Garden and it was a fitting place to have such a historical happening as Duran had prior history there, winning his first world title in 1972 and suffering his first defeat in 1974.
In my personal opinion, the referee and members of his corner should have been penalised as their reckless handling could have potentially killed Moore or at the least permanently damaged him. It is the duty and a very obvious one of the referee and the fighter’s corner to protect their own boxer, even from themselves if need be but this did not happen.
‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler
Duran had the guts to move up in weight again and challenge the fearsome middleweight champion in the same year. In a highly tactical but fascinating title fight, Hagler won a closely judged decision against Duran who frustrated him in the first four rounds with some sensational ring savvy, defensive skills and counter-punching. Hagler finally tripled his jab in the later stages and began scoring with his uppercut that he could be so good with. They had some explosive exchanges as well and Hagler adapted brightly to an increasingly clever and wily boxer-puncher.
‘The Hitman’s’ Hammer
In 1984, Duran moved back down to challenge the freakishly frightening Tommy Hearns. The commentators phrased Duran so neatly as he approached the ring, ‘You don’t have to see Duran, you can smell him.’
In what proved to be Duran’s stylistic nightmare, the tall and gangly Detroit puncher knocked out Duran in less then two rounds. Hearns had just reverted his nickname back to ‘The Hitman’ just before this bout and what apt timing it was. It became very clear from the opening bell that it was more than David vs. Goliath as Hearns’s 6ft 1’’ frame against Duran’s 5ft 7’’ eclipsed any hope of Duran winning. Hearns’s ramrod jab and steel plated combinations were so emphatic that when Duran was knocked out he slumped forwards, not backwards!
Hearns was very chivalrous and remarked, ‘Duran is still a great fighter’ but the proud Duran asked, ‘What I have done to deserve this?’ It seemed it was over.
The Miraculous Ending
In 1989, after five years of being the big beast in the wilderness, Duran had one more glory chapter to be written. He took on the very big and stormy middleweight champion Iran Barkley in Atlantic City. In what I consider to be a classic boxing match and one of the most touching moments in the sport’s history, Duran took on a man nine years his junior and won his fourth world title. Iran ‘The Blade’ Barkley was known as a tremendous puncher and indeed he was; he knocked out Duran’s nemesis, Tommy Hearns not once but twice before this scintillating showdown.
What made the ingredients for this bout so emotional was Barkley had been good friends with Davey Moore who had tragically died in a freak car accident. He made a point that he would beat Duran for his friend. Duran had a lot at stake as well considering he was thirty seven years old, perhaps in his last title fight and was gunning for that accolade of being a man to had won world titles in four different weights.
Each gladiator was in a brilliant form. They battled at a very fast place for middleweights. Duran was the slick offensive-counter-puncher, looking to work his way on the inside and hurt Barkley with his straight right. Barkley learned from Davey Moore and boxed beautifully on the outside and did his fair share of work on the inside. Fans were surprised by how intelligently and skilfully Barkley handled Duran. He launched a good jab and moved very well from beginning to end. He also landed excellent uppercuts to Duran’s head and did a lot of accurate body punching. Duran rolled with Barkley’s punches, took Barkley’s bombs (amazing considering Barkley’s size and punching power) and kept to his game plan. Barkley kept to his strategy and a roaring crowd was treated to a technically excellent contest with a lot of explosive action.
In rounds seven and eight Duran began to fade but came back in the tenth. He floored a gutsy Barkley in the eleventh round with a right, left, right, right combination. Barkley got up and finished strongly in the twelfth.
Duran won a split decision but the result of the fight and his fourth title was irrelevant, what was significant was the sportsmanship shared between Duran and Barkley. Duran was extremely gracious and exclaimed, ‘You made it tough for me!’ How many times had Duran acknowledged another fighter after the bout? They hugged and congratulated each other several times and it became astonishingly clear Barkley could not have given a better dedication to his deceased friend, Davey Moore, neither could have Duran to boxing, the end of his career or himself.
The announcement of the decision took a long time because Michael Buffer, had trouble with his microphone. It was if God himself did not want there to be a winner because both had been such worthy combatants. The atmosphere in the arena and the good feeling between the two fighters did not diminish. They were questioned after the bout with both arms on each other’s shoulders and Barkley did not have any resentment at the decision stating, ‘I have to take off my hat to Duran.’
Duran was a great fighter because he was a one off as a man. He would continue fighting but I think his greatest victory was against Barkley. He revealed a side of himself, which had always been there but he had not displayed. In the documentary series ‘Beyond the Glory’ one can see the emotional and softer to side to Duran. Yes he was the boxer but what about the person after that? He could have quit after nearly everyone turned their back on him but he shredded that maxim by F.Scott Fitzgerald, ‘There are no second acts in American life.’ Duran had three.
His other miracle, which gives me a lot of affection for him was when he met Esteban DeJesus, dying from AIDS in the early 1980s and embraced him. Duran was an inspiration to millions of people and he should never be forgotten. His career is a metaphor of a human being who fell into the bottom of the pit and clawed his way back up. He was not a perfect person, but he became a better and stronger person in his worst moments and for that reason I will always take pleasure from that cold spine chill every time I say, ‘Manos de Pierda’, Roberto Duran!’
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