Lee Groves

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

2. June 16, 1983 – KO 8 Davey Moore, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York

Ever since the “No Mas” fight, Duran’s career and standing within the boxing community had spiraled into a deadly tailspin. Two uninspiring wins over Nino Gonzalez and Luigi Minchillo in 1981 was followed by a horrific 1982 that saw back-to-back losses against Benitez and Laing as well as the lackluster 10-round win over Batten on the Pryor-Arguello I card.

But through all the years Duran proved that when properly motivated he was capable of producing magical performances. When promoter Bob Arum arranged a crossroads fight with Pipino Cuevas in January 1983 Duran responded with the his best performance in years. He proved beyond doubt that something special still resided within and that he was worthy of a chance at redemption. Duran’s reward for beating Cuevas was a chance at capturing a third divisional championship and the target was WBA junior middleweight titlist Davey Moore.

Moore-Duran was originally scheduled for Sun City, Bopthuthatswana in South Africa as part of a championship doubleheader with WBA lightweight king Ray Mancini versus Kenny Bogner that was packaged with a Frank Sinatra concert. That event was canceled when Mancini broke his hand in training, so Arum moved Moore-Duran to Madison Square Garden. It was a natural fit, for Moore was a native New Yorker while Duran was a hero to the city’s Latin community. Moreover, the date of the bout – June 16, 1983 – just happened to fall on Duran’s 32nd birthday.

Moore was a cocky, well-muscled 24-year-old with great athletic talent. Despite taking up boxing at age 15, Moore became one of the rare fighters ever to capture four New York Golden Gloves championships and had he not clowned away a potential decision victory in the 1980 semi-finals he had a good shot of becoming the first man to win five. Mark Breland would earn that distinction a few years later.

As a pro Moore achieved historically instant success, for in his ninth pro fight he shockingly won the WBA junior middleweight title from Tadashi Mihara on Mihara’s home turf of Tokyo via sixth round TKO. At first Moore was seen as a paper champion but over the next 16 months he gained respect by beating top challenger Charlie Weir, former titlist Ayub Kalule and Gary Guiden – all by knockout. Entering the Duran fight, Moore had stopped his last nine opponents and he fully expected to make Duran number 10.

“Duran was a great lightweight, a good welterweight and a mediocre junior middleweight,” Moore told UPI. “There’s a big difference fighting people at 135 pounds and fighting them at 154. Not only can’t he be as physical, he’s a lot older now and he’s not as strong. I don’t think it will be all that tough a fight. He passed his peak a long time ago and I’m still getting close to reaching mine.”

The bettors agreed with Moore as they installed him as a solid 5-to-2 favorite. But Duran, who promised he would retire if he lost to Moore, warned observers that appearances could be deceiving.

“Forget about those last few fights before Cuevas,” Duran said in the same UPI story. “I’m not the same person. I worked hard for the Cuevas fight because I knew it meant so much and I’ve worked even harder preparing for this one. I’m not fighting this fight for the money. I want to prove that I’m a champion. I’m doing this for the glory.”

“I never lost my punching power,” Duran continued. “The only difference was that I wasn’t training right. I wasn’t losing the weight properly. I was trying to take it off too fast and getting weak. This time my weight has been down for quite a while and I feel very, very strong.”

The weigh-in was revealing: Moore initially scaled 156 and was forced to boil down to 154 while Duran was a hard and ready 152½. Although Moore was fighting at home, most of the 20,061 that packed the Garden – the first sellout at MSG in 10 years – came to cheer their Latin legend.

The fight began slowly as each man probed with jabs and circled each other in tight arcs. Moore had expected Duran to come straight at him but instead Duran threw off his timing with sage head and shoulder fakes. But with 10 seconds remaining in the opening round, Moore’s effort to slip Duran’s jab resulted in Duran’s thumb striking the champion’s right eye. Upon impact Moore, clearly bothered, squinted and lifted his glove toward the injury.

As the fight continued Duran’s blueprint emerged: Dart inside Moore’s punches and rip short blows to the jaw and ribs to soften up the champion over time. It didn’t take long for the damage to surface: Just five-and-a-half minutes into the fight Moore’s eye was swollen, his legs were tottering, his nose was leaking blood and most of his punches flailed harmlessly off target. Meanwhile, Duran had turned back the clock to the pre-”No Mas” version of himself: Fast, fluid and ferocious. Every punch he landed seemed to hurt Moore and the champion’s agony only served to feed the beast that made Duran a legend in his own time.

“It looks like a master against a kid with 12 fights,” Gil Clancy exclaimed at ringside. “He’s taking him apart.”

As Duran’s successes mounted, so did the crowd’s frenzy. They chanted “Doo-ran! Doo-ran!” as the challenger repeatedly nailed Moore with flush power shots. Duran, who knew the sting of being a pariah, clearly fed off the crowd’s positive energy as well as the prospect of regaining everything he had lost in the Leonard rematch — money, power and respect. He was the perfect blend of science and savagery as he took Moore apart piece by piece. Every lesson he had learned in 80 professional fights was converging into a perfect storm, and Moore was its sole victim.

With 16 seconds left in round seven, a massive overhand right sent the beaten and exhausted Moore to the floor. With his right eye now completely shut, a blank-faced Moore pushed himself up at nine and the round ended without another punch thrown.

In his excitement, Duran accidentally sat down on Moore’s stool and a Duran second rushed across the ring to escort him to the correct corner. It was a comic moment in an event that had the potential to turn tragic. That’s because Moore’s manager/trainer Leon Washington chose to send his battered charge out for round eight.

“I had discussed stopping it with Davey the round before,” Washington told KO Magazine’s Steve Farhood. “I got a little concerned after the knockdown, but I hoped he would come out of it.”

By this point Moore could do no more than meekly wrap both gloves around Duran’s head. His hunched body was held up by legs that could barely function. For Moore it was the ultimate boxing nightmare: He was at the mercy of a fighter whose legend was built on a lack of mercy.

Duran smashed Moore’s head and body without pause and soon the cheers turned into pleas for compassion. Both Moore’s mother and girlfriend had fainted and referee Ernesto Magana not only allowed the carnage to continue, he actually warned the semi-conscious Moore about pushing.

“This is disgraceful,” CBS blow-by-blow man Tim Ryan declared. “I cannot understand or condone this referee’s activity and Moore’s corner should stop the fight.”

Just as he said that, Duran teed off with yet another flush right to the face. New York State Athletic Commissioner Jose Torres was among those who screamed for Magana to stop the carnage but the referee inexplicably remained a spectator. Finally, with a little more than a minute remaining in the eighth, a blood-soaked white towel fluttered into the ring. While Magana still didn’t stop the fight, it provided the cue for other officials to intervene and Duran’s corner to storm the ring.

With the victory, Duran joined Bob Fitzsimmons, Henry Armstrong, Tony Canzoneri, Barney Ross, Alexis Arguello and Wilfred Benitez as three-division champions. But for Duran it meant vindication, replenished riches and more chances to write his own fistic legacy.

The post-fight scene was unforgettable: As the crowd chanted his name, a teary-eyed Duran stood on the ring apron and joined in. Then Duran was serenaded with an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday.” The object of their affection couldn’t have imagined a better way to celebrate the start of another year on earth.

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