Lee Groves

10: Best Over-40 Fighters

6. Roberto Duran: Record after age 40 – 18-7 (9)

In his youth Duran was a raging force of nature whose fists of stone meted out frightening punishment and created an everlasting legacy. His blend of talent and fury was such that even the most savvy old timers were forced to admit that Duran (1) could have competed successfully in any era and (2) would have given their choice of history’s greatest lightweight – the immortal Benny Leonard – all he could handle. 

When Duran turned 40 on June 16, 1991, he was three months removed from a humbling sixth round TKO to Pat Lawlor that was prompted by an injured shoulder. As a result, Duran didn’t begin his over-40 phase until September 30, 1992, nearly halfway through his 41st year on earth. The Duran that faced Tony Biglen in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium was a pudgy 166½ pounds but the most formidable weapon he possessed – his razor-sharp boxing brain – was in prime condition and would remain so for years to come.

While the younger Duran banked on intimidation and power, this Duran thrived on technique, timing and intelligent punch selection. His reflexes were still sharp enough to roll away from maximum punishment and his chin was still stout enough to minimize the effects of his mistakes. Because he was older and was fighting naturally bigger man, the knockouts that came with such frequency in the 1970s were much tougher to get, but when he hit an opponent just right the power was still there.

Duran was a staple of the USA Network Tuesday Night Fights “Seniors Tour” and after out-pointing Biglen, he won his next six fights (four by knockout) over decent competition to set up a marquee pay-per-view match with Vinny Pazienza, which he lost over 12 competitive rounds. After disposing of the 25-4 Heath Todd on USA, Duran lost the rematch to Pazienza in more lopsided fashion.

Three wins later Duran earned another pay-per-view date, this time against Hector “Macho” Camacho. The 45-year-old Duran whipped himself into fantastic shape as his 157-pound physique was stunningly defined. He also fought excellently and many believed he did more than enough to win the decision. But Camacho again earned the judges’ favor by emerging with a unanimous decision that had a decidedly sour taste.

Duran continued to dissect modest opposition while occasionally coming up big against better opponents. For example, Duran split two fights with former middleweight champion Jorge Castro, who was 100-5-2 going into his first meeting with Duran. Castro won the first 10 rounder in Buenos Aires while Duran out-pointed Castro in the rematch in Panama City four months later. That a Duran two days short of his 46th birthday could take the measure of the 29-year-old Castro, much less beat him, was a stunning accomplishment.

But as time marched on, Duran’s abilities ebbed. In January 1998 Duran was dropped heavily in the first round but rebounded with knockdowns in rounds four and eight en route to a dominant decision. Seven months later, the 47-year-old Duran improbably earned a title shot against WBA middleweight king William Joppy. Given Duran’s history of producing magnificent efforts when properly motivated, there were thoughts of another stupendous upset when Duran weighed in at 159. But Joppy graphically exposed Duran for what he now was before dismissing the legend in three sobering rounds.

Another decision loss to Omar Gonzalez followed, but Duran’s final moment of glory came on his 49th birthday when Duran avenged his defeat to Lawlor by 12 round decision and doing so in a stadium that was freshly renamed for him.

Duran followed with a 10-round win over Pat Goossen, which set up a rematch with Camacho staged one month after the Panamanian’s 50th birthday. While Duran performed well in his 40s, his talents at 50 were too deeply encased in age and rust. The 39-year-old Camacho easily out-pointed a sluggish Duran but even that wasn’t enough to persuade Duran that his time in boxing was over. An October 2001 car crash in Argentina saw Duran suffer broken ribs, a collapsed lung and other assorted injuries and his slow recuperation forced Duran to call it a day on Jan. 26, 2002.

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