50 Years Ago Today: When The Great Roberto Duran Got His Revenge Over Esteban De Jesus

By James Slater - 03/16/2024 - Comments

Muhammad Ali aside, Roberto Duran was the boxing king of the 1970s (indeed, it would be an interesting debate – who was the fighter of that so utterly talent-rich decade, “The Greatest” or “Hands of Stone?”)

Referred to by many as THE finest lightweight ever, Panamanian God Duran holds a special place in the hearts of his countrymen and women, while Roberto will always be celebrated around the globe also. No boxing fan worth his or her salt is lacking an opinion of Duran, and most of us, well, we love the guy.

Duran had so many great nights and great fights, across numerous weight divisions. Duran was king at 135, 147, 154, and quite astonishingly, at 160 pounds. It was on this day 50 years ago, when Duran, at or close to his absolute peak, scored one of his most important, legacy defining wins. The big win was a revenge win, this over Roberto’s lightweight nemesis, Esteban De Jesus.

De Jesus, a fine boxer-puncher who could pretty much do it all the way Duran could, ranks as one of the very best to have come from Puerto Rico. It was De Jesus who inflicted the first loss on Duran’s record, this in a non-title fight that took place in New York in November of 1972, with De Jesus dropping Duran in the opening round; De Jesus walking away with a 10 round UD.

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Now, with both men claiming supremacy at 135 pounds, and with the two rivals each having an identical 41-1 record (Esteban’s sole loss coming against Antonio Gomez, this via decision back in February of 1971) the rematch took place in Panama City, the city sweltering beneath a brutal 100-degree heat. 15,000 fans just had to be there, and there they were, cheering on their hero. Duran simply had to win the fight.

It was another great one, a tough one for both. And, just like in the first fight, Duran was sent down in the opening round, De Jesus’ left hook doing the damage. The crowd was now at fever-pitch. Might De Jesus beat Duran again? Duran refused to switch tactics after the knockdown, the 22 year old instead being even more aggressive, if such a thing were possible. De Jesus, the older man by a year, was hurt by Duran’s blistering combos, but back he came with terrific counters.

Both men showed a superb gas tank, with fatigue temporarily being held at bay on both sides. It was a cracking fight, an intense battle that showcased so much skill, toughness and heart and desire. The pace inevitably got to both warriors eventually, and by the second half of the classic encounter it was Duran who was able to catch his second wind.

Snarling and ferocious, Duran was angered at the way De Jesus had made him miss, and had then made him pay. By this stage, De Jesus was throwing less and suffering more. Duran was attacking the body with malice and De Jesus was staring to break down. The end came in the 11th, when Duran closed the show with a right hook that forced De Jesus to one knee, unable to rise.

It was over. One of the greatest fights in lightweight history. A fight that tested both men severely and also saw the reputation of both greats go up a notch.

The rubber-match came in 1978, with Duran winning via 12th round TKO. Duran, fresh out of challenges at 135, then moved up to welterweight, where he absolutely dazzled in fights with Carlos Palomino and Sugar Ray Leonard.

Sadly, De Jesus was inflicted with AIDS after his career had ended in the summer of 1980. Having become a drug user and dealer, De Jesus was jailed – for murder – and he found out in 1985 that he had been infected with the deadly virus, this from a dirty needle. His jail sentence cut short, De Jesus died at home, with Duran being one of the numerous people to have visited him as he lay dying in bed. Duran leant over and kissed his former rival, the image circulating around the world.

De Jesus died aged just 38.

Esteban might just have given the peak Duran his toughest, most demanding fights.

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