Tag Archives: Old school boxing

Roberto Duran

The Last Of The Great

Old School Fighters

by Bobby Franklin

Duran's Fist
Duran’s Fist

On May 16th “Hands of Stone” the movie biographic of Roberto Duran opened to mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie is scheduled to premiere in the United States in August. I am looking forward to seeing it. Duran is played by Edgar Ramirez with Robert De Niro portraying trainer Ray Arcel. Former boxing champion turned actor John Duddy steps into the role of Ken Buchanan.

While anticipating this movie I have been reflecting on the career of Roberto Duran. Not just his fights but his attitude, training methods, and amazing skills. I believe Duran was the last of the great “Old School” boxers. Roberto had a total of 119 bouts in a career lasting 34 years and in which he fought in five different decades. In that time he won five championships in four weight divisions. He began his career at 119 pounds and fought through the different classes going as high as light heavyweight. He was, of course, at his best while fighting lightweight where he dominated the division and will always be considered an all time great. He is ranked as the best ever by many boxing experts, and they certainly have a good argument for that view.

Leonard v Duran 1
Leonard v Duran 1

Duran won the Lightweight Championship from Ken Buchanan on January 26, 1972 and remained champion until 1979 when he vacated the throne in order to take on Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in Montreal, Canada. In a superb fight, Roberto out boxed and outslugged Leonard over fifteen rounds and came away with the belt. It was the highpoint of his career. The great lightweight champion had proven he could step up in weight and defeat the best.

Of course, the glory was short lived as Duran foolishly agreed to a rematch just five months later. Roberto had not even finished celebrating his victory, and celebrating was something he did with as much passion as fighting, He had ballooned to 180 pounds and had to trim down very fast to make the weight for his title defense. He also was not mentally prepared for the fight. Many believe Leonard, along with his very shrewd manager Angelo Dundee, pushed for the quick rematch knowing Duran would not be at his best in such a short time.

The rest is history as Duran would forever have to live with the words “No Mas” after quitting in the 8th round. To this day there has never been a definitive explanation given as to why the fearless Duran just threw his hands up and relinquished the title. Duran has said different things at different times, but I don’t think he is even sure why he did it. My belief is he just was not up for the fight, got frustrated by Leonard’s brilliant boxing and decided to call it a night. It was one of those crazy moments that was completely out of character for the great champion. As a side note, Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!

Duran never actually uttered the words “No Mas!”

Now why do I call Duran the last of the great old school boxers? First off, unlike today’s overly cautious so called champions, Duran fought often and against everyone. After winning the Lightweight Championship he was back in the ring for a non-title bout just three months later. He fought an additional two times that same year including dropping a non-title ten round decision to top contender Esteban DeJesus. Instead of then avoiding DeJesus, Duran went on to give Esteban two shots at the title, stopping him both times.

From the time he won the Lightweight Crown until he gave it up in 1980 Duran fought 43 times in both title and non-title fights. He defended the championship twelve times. Over that period he absolutely dominated the division and was, next to Muhammad Ali, the most followed fighter. Every time he stepped into the ring there was excitement in the air.

Duran trained “Old School” and was taught “Old School” methods by Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown. He also had abundant natural talent, which made him reminiscent of Jack Dempsey. When you watch Duran in action you are not just seeing a brutal punching slugger in there, you are also seeing an artist at work plying his craft. He had the moves of a cat, the punch of a mule, and the cunning of a fox.

Duran v Hagler
Duran v Hagler

Look at almost any Duran fight and you will see brilliance. While watching him at his peak is always a pleasure for any boxing aficionado, I particularly enjoy viewing his 1983 match against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Here was Duran long past his prime fighting way above his best weight against one of the greatest middleweight champions of all-time. On paper this should have been an easy win for Hagler, but Duran reached into his tool box, or perhaps I should say artist’s palette, to come up with an array of boxing moves that have not been seen since. He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He used body and head feints to confound Hagler.

He would work his way inside and appear to be about to go for a clinch when he would suddenly unleash a combination to the body. He was rolling with and slipping punches. He knew how to take breaks in order to catch his breath. Going into the 13th round Duran was actually ahead on two of the judges cards. Just amazing. Marvin, with his eye swollen, had to fight hard in the remaining rounds to secure the victory.

In my opinion, that loss made up ten times over for the “No Mas Fight”. Duran continued fighting until 2001and even managed to win the WBC Middleweight Title in 1989 by defeating Iran Barkley.

Duran was an all time great lightweight, an all time great pound for pound fighter, and a true “Old School Boxer”. It is doubtful the moves he executed in the ring will ever be seen again. For all the talk of him being a slugger, it must be remembered how difficult he was to hit. He had amazing defensive skills. Watching film of him gives you an idea of what great fighters used to do. I have included a video of Roberto teaching some young boxers in a gym in England. It is an absolute Master Class in boxing. You will learn more about the Fine Art of Boxing just watching this video than you will  from two or more years in most modern boxing gyms. “Old School Boxing” has become a lost art form. Carefully watching Roberto Duran in action will teach you a lot. Watching him giving pointers in a gym is pure gold.

Roberto Duran meets Brighton & Hove ABC from South Coast Productions on Vimeo.


Jim McNally: Teaching Old School Boxing To A New Generation


by Bobby Franklin

Gentleman Jim McNally
Gentleman Jim McNally

Driving up to Jim McNally’s gym in North Reading on a cloudy Tuesday in April I am on the phone with the former professional boxer explaining why I am running late. In the course of our brief conversation I find out Jim’s father Bernie, who was a hard punching heavyweight fighting out of Cambridge during the 1940s, trained at the Cambridge YMCA. My father, who was a professional wrestler, worked out there at the same time. We spent some time going over mutual acquaintances our father’s had and soon realized they must have known each other. Another of those it’s a small world experiences.

I arrive at Jim McNally Boxing a short while later. The sign outside of the former industrial building says Old School Fitness. Jim greets me as I enter and I immediately feel as if we have known each other for years. He looks like he’s at his fighting weight and could go ten rounds without a problem.

Jim McNally
Jim McNally

Gentleman Jim, as he was known during his fighting days, had an impressive professional career racking up 19 wins against only 1 loss. His quest for glory came to an end due to an injury received in an auto accident. Before turning pro Jim had an outstanding amateur career, He won the NE AAU heavyweight title in 1975 and 1976, then won the light heavyweight title in 1977 which took him to the National Finals in Hawaii. Yes, I was feeling just a bit envious. Jimmy also lost a split decision to future World Heavyweight Champion Tony Tubbs in the 1976 Calgary Games. Not bad for a local kid.

After ending his boxing career McNally went to Northeastern University then on to serve 4 years with the Wilmington Police Department, 7 years with the Secret Service, and finally a 22 year career with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF). After his years of public service Jim opened the boxing gym, returning to the sport he had never lost his passion for.

Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin
Jim with Gene Beraldi and Danny Cronin

As we continue our talk, gym members start showing up for their workouts. Jim tells me he doesn’t have a firm schedule for classes, “I run a class every four minutes” he tells me. What I observe is something not seen in a lot of boxing gyms today, something that is much more old school. As each aspiring boxer comes into the gym he or she goes right to work. They wrap up their hands and start going through the boxer’s workout. Shadow boxing, heavy bag, speed bag, calisthenics, skipping rope. I am impressed by how self-motivated they all are, but I am not surprised as Jim has instilled that drive in all of them.

As I listen to a couple of young students drumming the speed bag with a steady rat-a-tat, I ask Jim how long they have been training at his gym. “Just a couple of months for one and a little longer for the other.” They look like old pros as their hands move in rapid fashion against the small bag.

I mention to Jim how many boxing gyms either do not have any speed bags or, if they do, discourage the use of them.

This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.

“This sport is rhythm, your own rhythm.You learn rhythm on the speed bag.” I couldn’t agree more.

The McNally Boxing Gym has a regulation size canvas floored ring in which I observe trainer Gene Beraldi doing pad work with a number of the members. I am not a big fan of the punch mitts, but the trainers at McNally’s are not just standing flatfooted in front of the boxers letting them plant punches. Instead, they are moving around the ring forcing them to use footwork and accuracy. That’s the old school touch.

As I look around I see an familiar face from years back. It is Danny Cronin who is here training his sons. Danny and I go back to the New Garden Gym days and we immediately start to reminisce about the old times. Danny was a very successful pro and one of the hardest punchers to ever lace on the gloves. Jim chimes in to say how his mother told him

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

“Boxing made your nose look better, it was kind of pointy.”

The young people who come to McNally’s Gym not only get to experience what it is like to be in an old school boxing gym, they also learn lessons bout life, which is something boxing, when taught properly, instills in people. I like very much something Jim said while we were talking,

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”

“Boxing is about overcoming obstacles – obstacles you put in your own way.”That statement is true on so many levels.

As the time winds down for my visit I ask the young pugs who have just finished working out how they feel about the workout. “It’s fun.” “I feel tired but good.” I can tell by the smiles on their faces they have all had a great time. I can also see the admiration they have for Jim McNally who has time for all of them.

Jim With His Mother and Father
Jim With His Mother and Father

Jim, who has been going through some tough times with the loss of one brother and a cancer diagnosis for another tells me “Thank God for my gym. If I didn’t have this I don’t know what I’d do.” In almost Buddhist fashion, the good Jim gets from his gym is returned by him a hundred fold to those who come there. McNally, who sparred a couple of hundred rounds with Marvin Hagler, proved his toughness years ago. Everyday he shows his goodness.

Jim McNally’s Gym is located at 48 Main Street, North Reading. For more information call 978-664-1900. People of all ages are welcome.