The great Roberto Duran turns 69 today. For many the greatest living fighter, for some more the greatest fighter of all-time (certainly the finest lightweight in boxing history), Duran has some truly astonishing, incredible fighting career to look back on. Just one glance at Duran’s numbers – 103-16(70) – let’s a fan know how special Duran was. And of those 16 defeats, nine of them came after Duran had turned 38.
Duran, a superb defensive fighter who is often celebrated as a tough guy (which he was of course), was able to fight for many years – over five decades – primarily because he was adept at avoiding taking punishment. Duran was smart, with a capital ‘S.’ Titles won at 135, 147, 154 and 160 pounds. Duran was legitimately stopped just twice. Duran fought from the age of 17 to 50. He was one of a kind.
Picking Duran’s finest wins, his greatest fights, is not too easy. Duran fought so many great fights at 135, before moving up to tackle the best at welterweight and middleweight. Duran was at his savage, unstoppable best at 135, yet he was an ultra-experienced, master of everything as a veteran; often taking on younger fighters and taking them to school.
To Duran himself, his 1989 upset win over Iran Barkley – this Duran’s last truly great win – ranks at the top. Roberto has very fond memories of the fight and of how he went against the wishes of his many millions of fans in Panama, who feared for his safety in the fight. Duran of course rolled back the years, as he had done on his birthday in 1983, when he beat Barkley’s friend, Davey Moore, to win a belt at 154 pounds.
1: W15 Sugar Ray Leonard, 1980.
Duran beat the golden boy, he won his second world title, and we saw the birth of “The Four Kings.” Duran was super-motivated in this fight, absolutely perfectly trained and conditioned. 15 furious rounds of action later, “Hands of Stone” was the king of kings. Plenty of people list Duran’s win over Leonard as the best welterweight fight they have ever seen.
2: WTKO13 Ken Buchanan, 1972.
Duran’s first world title fight. As a rampaging, unstoppable force, the 21 year old Duran hit the skilled and classy defending lightweight champ with everything. As in EVERYTHING. Duran was a man possessed that night in New York, not letting little things like rules get in his way. Duran beat Buchanan up, with his fists, with his elbows, with punches after the bell, with punches that landed low, with shots that just never stopped coming. Buchanan did incredibly well to make it as far as the 13th round. To this day, fans argue about the ending. Did Duran win the title by way of a shot to the groin, or by way of a knee to the groin, when he really should have been DQ’d? Duran had served notice to the entire lightweight division, he was the new terror of the sport.
3: KO14 Ray Lampkin, 1975.
If Duran was frightening against Buchanan, he was an absolute killer against Lampkin. Defending his lightweight crown for the sixth time, Duran went to war with the speedy Lampkin, the pace eventually getting to the challenger. Duran violently ended matters with a brutal hook to the head in the 14th, Lampkin going down hard and out, later being taken to the hospital. Chillingly, Duran said afterwards “Today I sent him to the hospital. Next time I’ll put him in the morgue.” There was no rematch.
4: W12 Iran Barkley, 1989.
A truly stunning return to form, Duran gave away height, reach, power and physical strength as he battled the nearly ten years younger Barkley. Having whipped himself into the best shape he had been in for many years, Duran gave us his final masterpiece. Sealing the close win with a heavy knockdown in the penultimate round, Duran had captured his fourth world title. And the hearts of many millions of younger fight fans.
5: WTKO12 Esteban DeJesus, 1978.
Duran’s final world title fight at 135 pounds and his third and final fight with arch-rival DeJesus. DeJesus was the first man to ever defeat Duran, dropping and decisioning him in a non-title fight in 1972. Duran gained revenge (after being decked again by the smart and clever DeJesus) and now the rubber-match came. After another tough and demanding fight, Duran ended his most testing rivalry via 12th round stoppage. Duran had no challenges left at 135 pounds.