Wherever you are from in the world – but for obvious reasons, more so if you hail from Panama – Roberto Duran has made some kind of an impact in you if you are a boxing fan (and maybe if you are not a fight fan). Duran, a genuine hero to tens of millions, did it all both before and during his astonishing career: from stealing fruit in a rich man’s orchard, to shining shoes and selling newspapers and dancing for a penny on the streets, to becoming a multi-weight world champion who earned millions and gave at least three quarters of it away. For sure, the Duran story is as fascinating as it is inspirational.
Duran’s latest battle was one with COVID-19, which the champ thankfully won last year. This week, June 16, “Hands of Stone” turns the milestone age of 70. I dare say the young, tearaway Duran, his belly aching with hunger, his strong mind telling him he was set for something better, greater in life, could scarcely have imagined being 70 years old. But we are all thankful that Duran – THE greatest living fighter (it’s not Ray Leonard, it’s not George Foreman or Larry Holmes, it’s certainly not Floyd Mayweather) – is still with us.
Duran, as clever a defensive fighter as he was a rough, tough and brutally powerful guy (at 135 pounds especially, in all departments), has made it into advanced age (I would never dare tell Roberto he is “old”) and he is still in command of his faculties and he can, as a result, look backwards as well as forwards. And what a joyfully crammed trophy cabinet of memories Roberto must hold today.
Lightweight king from 1972 to 1978 – and so many historians say Duran is THE greatest lightweight ever. Wins at this weight over: Ken Buchanan, Esteban de Jesus (after suffering a rare loss to the man who sadly died of AIDS in the 1980’s, Duran there at his bedside), Ray Lampkin, Edwin Viruet.
Welterweight king in 1980 – with a stunning win over Sugar Ray Leonard, this one of the greatest fights in history.
Light-middleweight champ in 1983 – Duran torturing Davey Moore.
Middleweight king in 1989 – “Manos de Piedra” turning back time to beat the bigger, far younger Iran Barkley.
There were of course some downs to go with the ups, and no fight fan can ever forget “No Mas,” the fight where Duran shockingly and unexpectedly threw up his hands and quit against the man he had beaten up when he was in trim fighting shape. Nor can fans erase the brutal KO loss Duran suffered at the lethal hands of Thomas Hearns. Duran was also beaten by the tricky (and recently departed) Kirkland Laing, and before that by Wilfred Benitez. And in another loss, one that actually adds a big slice of respect to Duran’s fighting legacy, Duran was pipped at the post by a peak Marvin Hagler.
Duran’s biggest problem might have been the fact that he never knew when to stop fighting. It was at age 37 when Duran edged Barkley in a fight that, Hagler-Hearns aside, might have been the best world middleweight title fight of the ’80s. Yet there Duran was in 1994, almost beating Vinny Pazienza, and there Duran was in 1997, beating Jorge Castro. And there was the most utterly and absolutely born fighter, challenging William Joppy for a version of the middleweight title in 1998!
Duran’s final numbers read an amazing, 103-16(70), yet he should never have had something like 15 or more of those final fights. Finally, a car crash did Duran a favour, in it ended his ring career. By the time of his swansong, in 2001 (a points loss to Hector Camacho, this in a return meeting), Duran was 50 years old.
So here we are, celebrating with one of the top-10 greatest fighters of all-time as he reaches his 70th birthday. What does Duran mean to you? To me, Roberto Duran is one heck of a huge, massive and colossal reason I’m a boxing fan at all.
Happy birthday Champ!