Roberto Duran: The Greatest Lightweight Ever?

With the new documentary film ‘I am Duran’ currently getting nothing but great reviews, Duran is a fighter many young fight fans may be getting introduced to for the very first time. These fans are in for a real adventure as they see the Duran story unfold.

So many fight fans love Duran, are fascinated by him. What new revelations might be contained in ‘I am Duran?’ Sugar Ray Leonard features in the film, as does Mike Tyson, Sly Stallone and Don King. It just might be THE boxing film of the year. And what a story it has to tell on Duran the boxer (his out of the ring exploits also fascinating and featured in the documentary.

Turning pro in February of 1968 – at the young age of just 17 – Duran won a UD over four-rounds against a guy named Carlos Mendoza. Roberto would go on to score a number of brutal KO’s and he would also collect no less than four world titles in different weight classes – lightweight, welterweight, light-middleweight and middleweight being the divisions this legend conquered. And who can forget the classic battles Duran gave us while doing so.

Practically all of Duran’s early fights took place in his homeland, with a couple of bouts held in Mexico. But then, in September of 1971, Duran made his US and Madison Square Garden debut, as he TKO’d Benny Huertas in the opening round. Four fights later, at the same venue, Duran controversially took the WBA lightweight crown from Scotland’s Ken Buchanan.

Sending Buchanan to the floor in agony at the end of the 13th round with what was later claimed to be a low blow, the man also known as “Cholo” was the new ruler at 135-pounds. Buchanan, years later, claimed he still hated Duran for taking his title in such a ruthless and dirty manner.

Surprisingly, Duran lost at the weight before he even had a chance to defend his belt – dropping a ten-round decision to Esteban De Jesus, the man who would prove to be his fiercest rival at lightweight. De Jesus decked Duran in the opening round at The Garden in November of 1972, as the first bout of an eventual three fight series began. Still champion, Duran went on to defend his belt three times, before making his fourth defence against the Puerto Rican sixteen months after losing to him.

Amazingly, Duran was again floored in the opening round. This time, though, he got up and pounded out a fine KO in the 11th round. Roberto’s sole career loss had been avenged. The rubber-match would not be fought until 1978.

In the meantime, Duran would defend his lightweight title a further seven times – included amongst these fights being the famously brutal 14th round KO of Ray Lampkin in March of ’75; Lampkin being hospitalized after the fight. During this time, Roberto – even back then having some trouble keeping his weight down between bouts – boxed a number of fights up at 140-pounds.

Duran’s final lightweight fight came in January of ’78, and fittingly it was the third and deciding encounter with De Jesus. Making the fight even bigger was the fact that it was a WBA/WBC unification affair – De Jesus having won the WBC championship in May of ’76.

Another great fight ensued between the two bitter rivals, and this time Duran emerged victorious with a 12th round stoppage. His arch-rival had been seen off, and Roberto was now the undisputed lightweight king of boxing.

It wasn’t until the following January that Duran officially vacated the lightweight throne, but he boxed again as soon as April of 1978, up at light-welterweight. Just over two years later, he would win what is arguably his most famous and most impressive victory. On June 20th, 1980, the quintessential tough guy would beat up boxing’s new glamour star, Sugar Ray Leonard.

It was Duran’s lightweight peak that really impressed some experts, though, and there is little doubt that during his six-and-a-half year reign in which he made 12 retentions, Duran made an indelible mark on his sport.

Among the men Duran defeated at 135-pounds are: Buchanan, De Jesus (X2), Lampkin and Edwin Viruet. Some historians say Duran was the greatest lightweight in all of boxing. Let’s celebrate this awesome, quite incomparable fighter all over again by viewing ‘I am Duran.’