Lee Groves

Hands of Stone: 10 fights that cemented Duran’s legend – part I

Roberto Duran (left) lands a left uppercut against Carlos Palomino during their welterweight fight at Madison Square Garden on June 22, 1979 in New York, N.Y. Duran won a clear 10-round unanimous decision.

 

 

More than 11 years after officially announcing his retirement, Roberto Duran’s career inside the ring will experience a “full circle moment.” On Sept. 7, the 62-year-old icon is scheduled to box a three-round exhibition inside Buenos Aires’ legendary Luna Park against former middleweight titlist Jorge Castro, who, at age 46, is using the event to bid his own farewell to boxing.

That the event is taking place in Argentina is significant, for it was there on Oct. 3, 2001, that Duran was involved in the car crash that would lead to the end of his extraordinary 33-year career. He was there to promote a salsa CD and was traveling with his son Chavo and two reporters when the accident occurred. Duran suffered multiple injuries that included broken ribs and a collapsed lung and when his recovery proceeded more slowly than he wanted he knew his in-ring journey had come to an end.

“I can’t return to fight anymore because (the recovery process) is going to take a lot more time,” Duran said then.

Duran was correct, for it took his body quite a while to regain its pre-accident state. However, there were other wounds – spiritual wounds – that never fully healed. The accident prevented Duran from ending his career entirely on his own terms, and given his robust pride that fact surely had to bother him.

Perhaps this appearance will allow Duran to achieve the peace he needs to walk away from in-ring combat – once and for all.

In terms of time, place, opponent and parameters, this event appears to be the perfect way for Duran to leave. It’s not an official fight but rather a public sparring session, so the proceedings will be tightly controlled in terms of inflicted punishment. Also, the exhibition will allow the crowd the luxury of paying tribute to both men instead of choosing sides as was the case in their February 1997 bout won by Castro in Argentina and the rematch won by Duran in Panama City four months later.

Once Duran exits the ring we all will be left to savor his legend one last time – and what a legend it is. The third man ever to capture major titles in four weight classes (only Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard preceded him), Duran amassed a 103-16 (70) record and assembled a resume that included a then-record 10 consecutive knockouts in world title fights, enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007, nearly universal recognition as a top-two all-time lightweight and a consensus top-10 ranking in boxing history’s pound-for-pound list.

Not only was Duran a fantastic fighter, his persona was unlike any other because while his appearance – and our perception of him – changed over time, he possessed a competitive streak that was undeniable and a personality that was magnetic.

As a young lightweight, Duran was a tightly-coiled, fire-breathing aggressor who knocked his opponents back into the Stone Age with his “Hands of Stone.” As he matured, Duran added subtle defensive wrinkles to his game and expanded his offensive weaponry to the point that he became a strategic wizard. Following the infamous “No Mas” fight in his second bout with Sugar Ray Leonard in November 1980, Duran became a sympathetic figure capable of suffering great falls as well as summoning magical resurrections. As he fought deeper into his 40s Duran became a professor emeritus whose guile still allowed him to win more often than not. And now, as he prepares to enter the ring in Buenos Aires, Duran is a walking, talking monument to fistic greatness.

The following list will relive 10 of Duran’s greatest performances in terms of execution, circumstance and level of opponent. For the younger generation it will serve as a primer as to why he is so highly regarded by their elders while for older readers it will allow them to re-live the high points of a supremely unique athlete.

 

10. Oct. 16, 1971 – KO 10 Hiroshi Kobayashi, Gimnasio Nuevo Panama, Panama City, Panama

Just 34 days after an electrifying 66-second knockout of Benny Huertas in his Madison Square Garden debut, the 20-year-old Duran returned home to take on his best opponent yet in terms of world-class experience.

Up until three months ago, the 27-year-old Kobayashi had been a two-time 130-pound titlist who, during a four-year tenure that began with a 12th round KO of Yoshiaki Numata, defeated Antonio Amaya twice, drew with Rene Barrientos and out-pointed future titlist Ricardo Arrendondo, whose younger brother Rene would win a 140-pound belt more than a decade later. His 61-9-4 (10) record illustrated his great experience but also exposed a severe shortcoming – a lack of world-class punching power.

Kobayashi entered the Duran fight on a down note, for the classy Venezuelan Alfredo Marcano dethroned him with a come-from-behind 10th round knockout in Aomori, Japan. Kobayashi hoped beating Duran on Duran’s home turf in his lightweight debut would earn him an immediate crack at either WBA titlist Ken Buchanan or the winner of the following month’s WBC title fight between Mando Ramos and Pedro Carrasco, which was to be held in Carrasco’s native Spain.

The battle lines couldn’t have been more stark: Kobayashi’s plan was to use his technical skills to pick Duran apart and pile up points while Duran’s was to exert pressure and crack Kobayashi with his “hands of stone,” a nickname inspired by the Huertas demolition.

Interestingly, it was Kobayashi who landed the fight’s first hard punch. A hook to the jaw drove Duran back a couple of steps and let him know he was in with a higher class of fighter. Duran received that message loud and clear, then acted accordingly. Duran trapped Kobayashi on the corner pad and bombed away but the Japanese got in several quick counter rights to the face as well as a stunning hook that had Duran holding on. But Duran recovered quickly and he ended the high-energy first round by landing a hard one-two to the face.

Armed with the proper respect, Duran operated from longer range in the second and proceeded to land spearing jabs and sharp powerful counters over Kobayashi’s wilder swings. Duran also ducked under and pulled away from Kobayashi’s spurious offerings and he capped the round by landing two robust rights.

Duran seized command of the fight starting in the third as his quicker hands sliced through Kobayashi’s guard. The variety of Duran’s attack was impressive for someone so young and at one point he blasted through three consecutive right uppercuts. The heat and humidity also were taking a toll on the ex-champ and Duran’s rights raised a swelling over Kobayashi’s left eye. The younger Duran exerted subdued but ceaseless pressure while Kobayashi resorted to fighting in spurts.

By the sixth Duran was in full command and he let everyone know how confident he was by rolling his hands and upper body, bouncing on his toes and smacking Kobayashi at will from numerous angles. While Kobayashi managed to land counters from time to time, they lacked sufficient force to bother Duran.

Going into the seventh Duran led 59-57 on the scorecards of referee Isaac Herrera and judge Harmodio Cedeno while judge Juan Carlos Tapia had Duran tossing a 60-56 shutout. It was here that Duran decided to put the hammer down. A lead right to the chin was immediately followed by a flush left-right to the face that swiveled Kobayashi’s head and caused the best of his body to spin to the canvas. With the local crowd screaming themselves hoarse, Kobayashi could do no more than roll meekly onto his side by the time Herrera counted him out at the 30-second mark.

The Duran fight was fated to be the last of Kobayashi’s career, but his conqueror would go on to climb – and conquer – far higher summits.

(Click on the NEXT button at right to read Nos. 9 through 6.)

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