When fighters who don’t quit, quit.
Throughout April, our book of the month featured Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran by Christian Guidice.
If you have read the book you will know how ferocious and fearsome a fighter Duran was. You will also know how ultimately, he had major flaws.
There is a unique charisma to Duran; an awe-inspiring kindness to his people, a loving generosity to give back to those from where he came. To pay it forward, with zero expectation of a return.
This is a quality that should cut through all disciplines of combat, regardless of whether you are a seventh dan or a black sash, a pro fighter or a samurai, an American ninja or a Bjj blue belt. Whichever tag the conditioning and mundane day-to-day grind of it all has attached to you, should never inhibit your ability to relate.
To the humble Panamanian; Duran’s persona, his kindness; precede him.
He suffered so they do not have to.
No one cares to remember ‘no mas’.
To his followers, the Leonard rematch was merely a blip in an unparalleled career.
At a time where boxing as a sport approached a junction point, Duran’s rallies in the ring were an accidental metaphor for how his performances, gutsy yet technical, served to reinvigorate a style that could have fallen by the wayside.
The likes of Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, George Forman and Marvin Hagler were about to set precedents for what prizefighters could earn that no one could have previously dreamt about. For Duran, a boy born to poverty who would sleep rough to be the first to sell newspapers to villagers in order to ease up the strain on his mother, he fought merely to survive. This dramatic increase in fighter pay would pose as many challenges as it would deliver solutions, and the Hands of Stone book pulls no punches in documenting the spending habits of the real ‘Hands of Stone’!
Some of his out of the rings antics are his most instantly alluring. The tale of him knocking out a horse cold with one punch to settle an astronomic bar tab that he and his friends had racked up after over indulging following one of his fights is worth the price tag alone.
My personal favourite ‘non-fight moment’ of the book happens to occur inside the ropes. However it was what was said outside the squared circle, bearing in mind the time that Duran’s tales took place, that sums Roberto up to a tee.
Following Duran’s stoppage of Pedro Mendoza, an irate relative entered the ring. Duran thought she was a fan but to his genuine surprise the champion was attacked by the woman who inexplicably ended up on the floor herself. Allegations were made that Duran had hit her but when asked Duran said he would never under any circumstance, hit a woman, instead he had merely “just swatted her away with the back of my hand.”
What a legend!
In his victorious first fight versus Leonard, Duran was to go 72-1 as a pro. People tend to forget this, as well as the fact he soundly outfought Sugar Ray, backing him up constantly and consistently getting the better of the exchanges.
Duran had built a spectacular career, working his way up the ranks, and at 29 the 15 years as a pro had already taken their toll.
Duran often unfairly gets painted as the jack to Hearns and Hagler’s king, with Sugar Ray playing the ace.
That is not to say that any of the above four do not belong in the same bracket when it comes to true greatness; only that Duran was not only the smaller of the four, beginning his career at 135lbs, but was also the most weathered by the time he stepped into the ring with any of the other famed three of the era.
Duran, coming from where he did, was required to exhibit a different kind of will power, the kind every world champion must possess in abundance come the 12th or 15th round; the will power to not only leave it all in the ring, but to do so again and again in consecutive months.
Upon winning his first world title fight, Duran fought 23 times in four years.
Coming from the back end of the previous era, where distance fights were more likely to be decided on aggression and the ability to punish an opponent than they were won with speed and placement of foot and movement of head, there would be a distinct size and strategical challenge each time Hands of Stone threw down throughout the eighties. Ironically, all of the big memorable super fights were to take place in that same decade, and much of Duran’s dominance throughout the previous 10 years would be unfairly seen by fickle late comers to the sport as nothing but practice.
You only need to pick up the book, feel the weight of it, and read up until page 53 to find Roberto turning pro as a teenager. He always considered himself a street fighter. In the beginning he would take on boxers with wrestling and freely admits to being a better wrestler than a striker during those early fight years.
Duran should stand out a mile from the others in his own inimitable way. Simultaneously the least and most hardest working fighter worth discussing; Duran is always the wild card when debating boxing’s absolute great pound for pound pugilists. For me he is top 3 of all.
By the time he fought Benitez, Hagler and Hearns, Duran had already left his best in the ring more times the most of us can even picture having a best. This key detail is overlooked time and time again and is accentuated further by the Panamanian’s quite remarkable world title winning comeback victories against Davey Moore and Iran Barkley.
The man simply must go down in history for having defied the odds and the critics and being the only man to have fought in five different decades and winning world titles in three of them.
During the month of April, the Instagram bug continued to spread as the man himself liked two of our instagram posts featuring our book of the month review. This is further proof of how much of a legend Hands of Stone is! Even at 65!
So what happened versus Leonard to make him quit?
In part two I want to expand upon why someone as outwardly fearless, unnerving and as bold as Roberto Duran or Conor McGregor would ever back down from, or indeed bow out of, the sport that is their life.
You can find Roberto on Instagram at ROBERTODURANBOX
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Written by Chris Elements
Edited by Amos Mallard, Mallard Bros.