9. March 2, 1975 – KO 14 Ray Lampkin, Gimnasio Nueva Panama, Panama City, Panama
As Duran closed in on his 24th birthday, he was approaching the peak of his powers. As a fighter there were few better pound-for-pound, as his 48-1 (41) record suggested, but he also was growing into his savage persona. The seasoned Duran was now a sneering, swaggering force of nature that sported a lean, mature, athletic physique and a Manson-esque stare that shook opponents to their cores. When Duran chose to wear a goatee, his visage was almost satanic, though his opponents would argue that Duran was the real thing.
Going into this fight Duran was on a knockout tear; he had stopped his last four opponents and his last three in the first round. One of that unfortunate trio was title challenger Masataka Takayama, who suffered three knockdowns before being flattened in 100 seconds.
Standing in the other corner was Ray Lampkin, a talented 27-year-old Oregonian who came into the fight with a 29-3-1 (12) record. Interestingly, Lampkin’s world-class credentials were shaped by two 12-round defeats to Esteban DeJesus. In the first fight in Puerto Rico, Lampkin overcame a first-round knockdown and a slippery canvas to last the distance while the rematch at New York’s Felt Forum saw Lampkin lose a hotly disputed decision despite fighting with inflamed gallstones.
Despite the defeats, Lampkin proved to himself he could compete at the highest levels. Since losing the DeJesus rematch, Lampkin had won six straight and along the way he captured (and defended twice) the NABF lightweight title. Although he had to fight the fearsome champion in his home country, Lampkin had reason to feel confident. First, speedy boxers like DeJesus and Ken Buchanan threw off Duran’s timing and second, if DeJesus could beat Duran, why can’t he?
“They were trying to make Duran out to be this Superman character,” Lampkin told author Christian Guidice in the Duran biography “Hands of Stone,” “He was human, and when you cut him, he bled, just like I did. They were acting like he couldn’t be beat, and I saw Esteban do it. They tried to intimidate me and tell me that if I beat Duran, I probably wouldn’t leave there alive. I told them that if I die, then I would be a dead champion, because if I beat him they were going to have to kill me.”
As was usually the case, the outdoor arena was awash in heat and humidity, conditions that only amplified the advantages Duran enjoyed. But Lampkin opened the bout positively; he boxed well enough to establish his long-range game yet slugged often enough to show the champion he was willing to engage. In round two, the feisty Lampkin dug several hard rights to Duran’s ribs, then won a wild exchange at ring center as the ringsiders roared.
The pair set a torrid pace with Duran moving forward behind fast, power-laden punches and Lampkin engaged in purposeful retreat. Duran appeared to have an edge through the early rounds but Lampkin hung tough and fired back whenever possible. But it was apparent that Lampkin’s best right hands lacked the steam to move Duran and that fact guaranteed a long, hard slog would be necessary to pull the massive upset.
It wasn’t to be. Duran’s ceaseless pressure and superior firepower gradually wore down the challenger, who nevertheless continued to battle despite his deterioration. Duran picked up steam in the bout’s second half and by the 12th Lampkin sported a mouse under the left eye and a weary expression. By answering the bell for the 12th Lampkin achieved a victory of sorts by passing DeJesus as Duran’s longest-lasting challenger to date and though he was clearly tired it appeared his fighting heart might be enough to carry him the entire 15 round distance.
Duran had other ideas – frightening ideas. Less than 30 seconds into the 14th Lampkin moved toward the ropes, where Duran whipped over a whistling hook that connected flush with the challenger’s jaw. Lampkin fell back first and his head hit the canvas with sickening force. There was no getting up for Lampkin and the aftereffects were harrowing – Sports Illustrated reported Lampkin was out for 80 minutes (Giudice’s book indicated 30 minutes) and that the challenger was hospitalized for five days. One media report indicated that Lampkin had died but while Lampkin was (and still is) alive and well, the fall did leave his left leg temporarily paralyzed.
After the bout Duran uttered one of his most famous – or infamous – quotes: “I was not in my best condition. Today I sent him to the hospital. Next time I’ll put him in the morgue.”
The quote fit the deed, for the Lampkin knockout was arguably the most damaging, sensational one-punch knockout of Duran’s career.