The Last Of The Great
Old School Fighters
by Bobby Franklin
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.
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!
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.
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 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.