For decades now the debate regarding who is currently the best fighter or who is the best fighter of all time continues to be one of the most talked about topics amongst fans and journalists.
The mythical pound for pound rankings are subjective and take’s fighters across different weight categories and eras and putting them together regardless of weight class.
At the present moment Floyd Mayweather Jnr is on top of the pile whilst the all time greatest pound for pound number 1 is widely recognised to be Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson will inevitability be named on just about everyone’s all time pound for pound list and rightly so, it is perhaps safe to say no one could make a case for any other fighter to earn that spot.
Who would then make up the rest of the top 10? Greats such as Muhammad Ali, Harry Greb, Willie Pep, Henry Armstrong, Benny Leonard, Sam Langford, Bob Fitzsimmons, Archie Moore, Joe Louis, Joe Gans, Sandy Saddler, Julio Cesar Chavez, Carlos Monzon, Sugar Ray Leonard or perhaps Rocky Marciano and Ezzard Charles without doubt would be on many people’s lists.
However, on the 23rd February 1968 a young man under the alias of El Cholo, who would later be called Manos De Piedra, made his professional boxing debut at the age of 17 in Colon City, Panama. Roberto Duran is a fighter that will also belong on many people’s lists, but how high? Top 10 is perhaps a guaranteed certainty, whilst the likes of ESPN have him at number 6.
Undoubtedly many will have their own list and will perhaps disagree, but I have Duran sitting number 3 on my all time list.
Duran’s lightweight reign of terror alone is enough to grant him all time great status. By the time Duran moved up to Welterweight he had completely cleaned out the lightweight division and had an entire career in doing so after notching up 63 fights with only one loss.
However it was what he achieved after moving up in weight, coupled with his lightweight achievements, that sets his place as perhaps the greatest fighter since Sugar Ray Robinson and Henry Armstrong.
Losses to the likes of Pat Lawlor (avenged 9 years later), Vinny Pazienza twice, Hector Camacho twice (one was controversial), William Joppy, Jorge Castro (avenged 4 months later) and Omar Eduardo Gonzalez could or perhaps should have hurt his resume and his final standing. Then again some of those losses came when he was past his prime and predominately fighting up at middleweight and super middleweight. The loss against Gonzalez took place up at light heavyweight.
His inconsistency, especially in the middle and more so in the latter half of his career, was what made Duran all the more special when he turned up in the mood. I’d imagine some will also look at his defeats post-lightweight and say that those defeats hurt his final standing. Some will also take into account the defeat to Robbie Sims but in my opinion those defeats do not take the shine off his legend as it was the manner of how he returned that cements his place in the upper echelons of boxing royalty.
Duran was feared and revered to such an extent that one of the greatest middleweights of all time Marvellous Marvin Hagler showed him so much respect that Duran became the first challenger to Hagler’s crown to last the distance. This version of Duran surprised many as the former lightweight stepped up to middleweight and was not only competitive but boxed beautifully throughout the fight, so much so it required Hagler to pick up the pace down the stretch to finally pull out the decision.
Roberto Duran fought some of the finest names during his era, beating some and losing to some, and he did so when his opponents were in their prime. From Lightweight to Middleweight he showed more than brute force, he gradually transformed into a puncher-boxer with a much underrated defence.
I have chosen fights from Duran’s career one’s that I believe to be significant to his final standing.
The Lightweight Years – 1968-1978
Ernesto Marcel – 10 round Super Featherweight Contest
Marcel originally started his career as a Bantamweight and won the Panamanian 118lbs strap and entered the Duran fight with a 24-2-1 record and for the one and only time in his career was stopped in the 10th and final round. Marcel would drop down to Featherweight and win another Panamanian title putting together a seven fight winning streak before travelling to Japan and fighting out a 15 round draw against 3 time World Champion and defending WBC Featherweight champion Kuniaki Shibata. Shibata had originally won the title against Mexican great Vicente Saldivar.
Significance of Fight: Duran was still in the infancy of his career and had not long moved up to fighting 10 round fights and the added incentive was this was an eagerly anticipated local fight. The win itself is significant due to what Marcel would go on to achieve in his career. After the draw with Shibata, Marcel would face Antonio Gomez and beat the Venezuelan over 15 rounds to win the WBA Featherweight title. Marcel would then go on to defend the title against Gomez in a rematch in Panama and stopping him in the 12th round. Marcel in the last defence of his WBA title beat the great Alexis Arguello over 15 rounds and in the process laid down such a terrific assault on Arguello that the referee was forced to ask the Nicaraguan at the end of the 7th round if he wanted to continue.
Hiroshi Kobayashi – Light Welterweight contest
Kobayashi entered the Duran fight as a former two-time unified WBC & WBA Super Featherweight Champion and had lost his WBA title 3 months previously to Alfredo Marcano.
Kobayasahi, as his record proved, was no bum and he came to fight however with a record of 69 wins, 9 losses and 4 draws he only had 10 wins coming inside schedule. As the fight started they didn’t take long to get acquainted as both fighters stood toe-to-toe throwing punches with Duran’s shots looking the heavier of the two even though Duran was shipping a few left hooks the 20 year old Panamanian favourite simply didn’t respect the Japanese fighter’s power.
As early as the third round Kobayashi was showing signs of tiredness probably brought on by the heat and humidity in Panama, however he continued to try and fight back and even had some success in round 4 but by now Duran was beginning to line him up and started landing some hurtful blows. The end final came early in the 7th round when Duran landed an overhand right followed immediately with a short left hook and straight right hand that knocked Kobayashi out.
Significance of Fight: For the 20 year old Duran it was his first proper test against a proven and more experienced world level fighter however it was Duran who looked as if he was the more experienced man as he out fought, out boxed and out moved the former world champion.
It would be this crushing performance against the veteran Japanese fighter that would make Ray Arcel, Duran’s eventual trainer, a firm believer that Duran was the real deal and set up Duran’s first world title shot some 8 months later.
Ken Buchanan – WBA Lightweight Championship
After two interim fights Duran finally got his chance to fight for the World Title against Scotsman, Ken Buchanan who was trained by the legendary Gil Clancy. Buchanan had originally been the unified WBA/WBC Lightweight Champion after defeating another Panamanian great, and idol to the young Duran, Ismael Laguna for the unified title in Puerto Rico by split decision in 1970 and subsequently won the rematch a year later. Buchanan had a legitimate claim to being the true World Lightweight Champion even though he was stripped off his WBC title due to sanctioning body politics.
Buchanan’s initial plan was to let the younger fighter punch himself out, however as the bell rung Duran swarmed all over Buchanan with the Scotsman attempting to box at range. Duran showed all the dirty tricks in his arsenal as he did everything except kick Buchanan. In close Duran would use the head on numerous occasions without warning and a few shots started landing below the belt. Buchanan however remained calm, even after a flash knock down in the opening round, believing that his time would come.
As the rounds ticked past there was no signs that Duran was going to punch himself out and even though Buchanan caused Duran some problems with his boxing skills the challenger was clearly ahead on the score cards. Controversy was just round the corner in round 13 when towards the end of the round Duran landed a low blow on Buchanan, which ultimately ruptured a vein in his testicles, causing the champion to sink to his knees and referee Johnny LoBianco called off the fight even though Buchanan had a valued objection of a foul.
Significance of Fight: Duran wins the World Lightweight title at the age of 21 which would mark the start of a 7 year title reign. Duran had beaten another accomplished champion and was starting prove that he was learning more about the professional game.
Esteban De Jesus I – 10 round Light Welterweight Contest
Esteban De Jesus was a 22 year old Puerto Rican with a record of 33-1-0 with 20 wins coming inside schedule. Duran had always bad mouthed Puerto Ricans as he felt they had an inability to take a punch. At the time De Jesus was the number 3 ranked Lightweight in the World and never really got the respect that his undoubted skills deserved and should he win then a title shot would be on the cards.
The fight took place at Madison Square Garden where there was an air of excitement with Duran fighting again in New York. That excitement turned to shock in round 1 when Duran was dropped by a trademark De Jesus left hook which badly hurt Duran. When he got to his feet he began to smile but also shook his head as if to try and rid himself of the effects of the punch. In round 2 Duran seemed to have regained his senses somewhat as he cut down the distance to nullify De Jesus punching room and perhaps nicked a close round but he was clearly having problems with De Jesus who would crouch before he sprang into action and began landing right hands on Duran.
In rounds 3 and 4 De Jesus clearly out boxed Duran and even landed the harder, cleaner punches as he rocked Duran again in the 4th with Duran perhaps shading the 5th on work rate and punches thrown but the problems continued. Round 6 could have been fought in a phone booth and De Jesus was getting the better of the inside fighting as he landed solid punches and again exposed Duran to the left hook as he landed 3 of them in succession. Round 7 was Duran’s worst as he was pushed back against the ropes and caught with left and right hands. In the final 3 rounds Duran piled in the pressure but in the last round he was out boxed again and was soundly beaten on all the judges score cards.
Significance of Fight: In his 32nd fight Duran tasted his first professional loss and had no one to blame but himself. After the fight he blamed his lacklustre performance on a car accident a few weeks previously but the Panamanian media and Ray Arcel knew better. Arcel told his charge that he had undertrained for the fight and that the fights were won in the gym. The press were more scathing on Duran saying that he was enjoying the nightlife a bit too much and that he needed to learn how to box more.
Duran broke down in tears after the fight and demanded an immediate rematch however his team refrained from making the rematch straight away waiting until Duran snapped out of the shock of the defeat. It would be 14 months before Duran would get his wish.
Hector Thompson – 2nd defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
After the De Jesus defeat Duran bounced back with 4 straight wins, 3 by knock out before defending his title against the Australian fighter Hector Thompson. Thompson was of Aboriginal descent and was the reigning Commonwealth Light Welterweight Champion, however Thompson carried a bit of baggage around with him. Duran was prone to say that he wanted to kill his opponents however in Thompson’s case he had actually killed someone. In 1970 Thompson knocked out Roko Spanja who would eventually die as result of the knock out.
Both fighters started the fight by trading blows and it was evident that Thompson, who was fighting outside of Australia for the first time, was a very competent boxer with a good ring IQ. Early in the fight Thompson landed some good shots but Duran boxed more and started using his jab more effectively and worked the body before getting back behind his jab.
In round 3 Thompson was dropped by a heavy left hook from Duran. Round 4 was Thompson’s best round as he landed a few heavy looking right hands and in round 5 Thompson and Duran went toe-to-toe with both fighters having their success’s, perhaps more so Duran but Thompson showed that he wasn’t going to be intimidated and was more than happy to oblige Duran to get into a punch up. Duran continued to box in the 6th and 7th he would slip Thompson’s punches but not all of them which would eventually cause a small mouse under Duran’s left eye.
In round 8 Duran started to get the better of Thompson as he battered him with every shot in the book even though Thompson was fighting back and landing punches of his own then Duran made the break through with a huge left hook followed by a straight right knocking Thompson down. Thompson bravely got to his feet, albeit unsteadily, Duran came in for the kill and landed a couple more shots forcing the referee to stop the fight.
Significance of Fight: In context this was a very solid performance from Duran. He boxed beautifully and was less intent on rushing his opponent and getting them to the ropes to work them over.
He worked his jab and showed that he was now developing his skills and becoming more a puncher-boxer than the puncher he was renowned for in the earlier half of his career.
Thompson would later go on to lose to Antonio Cervantes for the WBA Light Welterweight title and win the Commonwealth and Australian 140 & 147 straps.
Suzuki “Guts” Ishimatsu – 3rd defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
Suzuki had previously fought Ismael Laguna for the unified Lightweight title 3 years previously getting stopped in the 13th round. Once more he travelled to Panama to try and dethrone the current champion.
In the first two rounds Duran patiently boxed the challenger before upping the pace in the 3rd round and began to set about Suzuki but Duran didn’t rush in to force his opponent to the ropes instead he went back to boxing Suzuki. Suzuki seemed more intent on trying to fight off the back foot. As Duran constantly chipped away at the Japanese fighter he once again upped the pace in the 8th as Suzuki takes a lot of punishment.
In round 9 Duran dropped Suzuki with a short right hand. After the count Duran piled in with an assault which saw Suzuki take a voluntary knee right at the end of the 9th. In the 10th Suzuki came running out to meet Duran to make a final stand even landing a left and right hook, but it is a final effort as Duran continued to work him over and it appeared that Suzuki voluntary went to the ground again and then soon later takes a long right hand which sends him to the floor again which finally forces the referee to stop the fight.
Significance of Fight: To date Duran put on his best display of boxing, he controlled the fight from the offset and applied steady and intelligent pressure. A very clinical and punch perfect performance.
Suzuki would go on to win the WBC 135lbs title a few years later, defending and defeating Ken Buchanan before losing the title against Duran’s nemesis – Esteban De Jesus in 1976, however Duran again showed all the signs of big improvements in his all round boxing ability.
Esteban De Jesus II – 4th defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
Duran would fight three more times after the Suzuki fight in the space of 5 months before he entered the ring for the rematch he so badly wanted. This time his title was on the line as much as his pride.
Duran would, at that time, earn a career high payday of $125,000, whilst De Jesus would earn $40,000. Duran had made a couple of excuses for losing the first fight when in reality he was just completely out boxed by a terrific counter-puncher. De Jesus, since the Duran win, had also gone undefeated.
De Jesus weighed in at 134 ½ and was even taunting Duran in the build up to the fight. Early in the first round both fighters started to feel each other out then midway through the round De Jesus landed his trademark left hook which just popped Duran’s chin enough in the air dropping his right hand as De Jesus threw and landed a second left hook which dropped Duran. Duran must have had a sense of de ja vu as it was the exact same punch that dropped him in the first fight.
In the second round Duran fought hard and in the 3rd and 4th rounds they went toe-to-toe. Duran started more aggressively in the 5th round as they both traded punches and in the 6th Duran began to impose his will as he bossed the round. In the 7th Duran finally made the break through as he landed a left hook-right hand-left hook to drop De Jesus. In the 8th De Jesus was clinging on and by the 10th round De Jesus looked utterly spent and wanted to quit but was forced out by his trainer. Finally in the 11th a solid right hand from Duran backed up De Jesus, Duran marched straight in and landed a left hook to the body which dropped De Jesus for the count.
Significance of Fight: Duran exacts revenge on the only man to have ever beaten him up to that point and successful defended his Lightweight title against the number 1 contender.
The fight took place in stifling heat and humidity and it was a matter of who would yield first, as it was De Jesus’s team asked for the fight to be put back a week prompting allegations that De Jesus was struggling to make the weight.
Duran had now firmly established himself as the predominant Lightweight in the World. As for De Jesus he would eventually set up a rubber match with Duran for the Unified Lightweight title after beating Suzuki “Guts” Ishimatsu for the WBC title some 2 years later after having dropped a decision against the great Antonio Cervantes for the WBA 140lbs strap.
Ray Lampkin – 6th defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
Lampkin was a Lightweight contender in the 1970’s and had twice dropped decisions against Esteban De Jesus and in 1975 he travelled to Panama to challenge Duran. He had attempted to box Duran and keep him on the end of his jab but Duran would slip and weave his way past the jab to get inside and start working the body as he set a furious pace early on but as the fight wore on into the middle rounds the pace slowed and Duran only began to fight in spurts as his now apparent struggle to keep making the Lightweight limit began to show until round 12, 13 and 14 where he began to pick up the pace again and grabbed his second wind.
At the end of round 13th Lampkin looked spent but came out for the 14th round. Duran landed a short left hook inside which propped Lampkin’s body upright just enough as the Champion whipped in a murderous left hook that put Lampkin on his back and kept him there.
As Duran celebrated widely at knocking out Lampkin the American challenger lay twitching on the canvas and was rushed straight to hospital in convulsions. Thankfully he recovered and was released a few days later.
Significance of Fight: Duran’s apparent problems with making the weight showed in the middle of the fight but the 23 year old champion had enough ring intelligence and savvy to know when to hold and get in and fight dirty. Duran claimed he lost far too much weight prior to the fight and it certainly looked evident. However it was a fight that Duran didn’t get all his own way as Lampkin was more than willing to get dirty and was catching Duran with some solid right hands.
The American took a fair amount of punishment but not once did he stop trying and in the end the stronger man prevailed. Duran was later quoted as saying after the fight, “I didn’t catch with my best shot if I had he wouldn’t be going to the hospital he would be going to the morgue!”
The comment cemented Duran’s reputation amongst the press who felt he was a man without compassion.
Edwin Viruet I – 10 round Light Welterweight Contest
After the Lampkin destruction Duran took on 3 fights in the space of 3 months at Light Welterweight and won all of them by knock out in less than 3 rounds.
Viruet was one of three boxing brothers who was born in Puerto Rico and now lived out of New York, a very accomplished amateur Viruet was a bit of showman in the ring who possessed a long, stiff left jab, quick foot movement and was very hard to hit cleanly but lacked punching power.
The fight itself was quickly forgettable. Duran had a disdain for Puerto Rican fighters and fighting in Viruet’s backyard with Viruet’s style it only caused the Lightweight champion to get more and more frustrated and angry.
Viruet would run around the ring showing off to the crowd as Duran hunted him all over the ring, Duran finally realised it was pointless chasing him and decided to wait and by mid-way through the fight he had some success but he couldn’t discourage the brash talking Viruet from taunting him in the ring. Duran eventually won the unanimous decision but was absolutely livid of how things transpired.
Significance of Fight: The fight was not one of Duran’s greatest and even though he changed tactics mid-way through the fight and easily won the decision Viruet’s performance and Duran’s frustrations would serve as the blue print for another Duran opponent a few years down the line.
Lou Bizzaro – 8th defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
In May 1976 Duran made his first title defence in America in the boxing backwater of Erie, Pennsylvania against the Italian born, American raised Lou Bizzaro.
Bizzaro was a noted “runner” and when Duran arrived at the arena he noticed that the ring was huge which gave Bizzaro a better chance.
For the entire fight Bizarro moved and jabbed from side to side with Duran trying to be patient and make sure that when he did throw he landed. It was clear from early in the fight that Bizarro was there to last the distance and try and steal the title if he could.
Duran though had a lot of pressure on him considering it was his first title defence in America and wanted to impress the primetime American viewers, he constantly had to try and cut off the ring and finally by the end of the 2nd round Duran managed to land a meaningful uppercut that hurt Bizzaro.
Whenever the fight came in close, which wasn’t all that often except when Bizzaro tried to grab hold, Duran brought the street tactics into play, finally after running around for 10 rounds Duran caught up with Bizzaro with a left-right-left combination and dropped Bizzaro for a long 9 count, Bizzaro was dropped again prior to the end of the round.
In the 14th Bizarro was caught on the ropes and took a brutal right uppercut, Bizarro and Duran were separated only for Bizaro to get dropped again with another right hand. Bizarro bravely got to his feet at the count of 6 only for Duran to come in and land a tremendous right hand to the chin to fold Bizarro up for good.
Significance of Fight: Boxing News stated that “Bizarro fought the first 9 rounds with his legs and the next 5 with his heart”, but for Duran he was especially annoyed feeling that he was treated as a sideshow and that Bizarro was treated like a superstar and for that reason he wanted to kill Bizarro.
Either way Duran had made another successful defence and was now considered not only as one of the top pound for pound fighters on the planet but also as one of the number 1 punchers after having knocked out middleweights in sparring with 16oz gloves on in the build up to the fight against Bizarro.
Vilomar Fernandez – 10th defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
Fernandez was from the Dominican Republic and even though he entered the ring with an unimpressive record of 19-5-1 with 8 wins inside schedule he was a very good boxer, a short and feisty challenger, which he proved more than a few times in this fight against Duran.
Even though this was Duran’s 10th defence of his WBA title it was to be the first defence that was not shown live in his native Panama.
Duran did not get it all his own way early in the fight as the fleet footed challenger was able to time Duran as he bulled his way inside, however with Fernandez doing a lot of back peddling the referee eventually warned him that he had to start throwing punches in round 5, a decision that played right into Duran’s hands.
The warning was perhaps a little unfair as it was a very competitive fight and Duran started to find his target more in the 5th and Fernandez looked to hold and move however the warning clearly worked as in round 6 Fernandez didn’t peddle as much and stood his ground showing that he wasn’t afraid of Duran. In round 7 Duran was landing his trademark straight rights and uppercuts and left hooks before falling into a clinch. However Duran clearly had respect for Fernandez and in the 8th acknowledged a beautiful straight right hand from the challenger but Duran landed a few power shots of his own midway through the round which again forced Fernandez to hold on.
Round 9 was a punishing round for Fernandez as Duran made his legs dip at least 3 times and on one occasion during a clinch the camera caught hold of Duran’s eyes, it looked like the champion was possessed as he continued to rip in body shots with Fernandez bravely trying to fight back and landed a couple of over hand rights.
Round 10 saw Fernandez get punched left, right and centre on the ropes and across the other side of the ring. He done well not to go down, round 11 saw Fernandez peddling again but in fact he needed a Harley Davidson to just get away from Duran. The 12th saw further punishment being put on Fernandez as he took a low blow which resulted in the referee calling it a knockdown then in the 13th Duran closed the show.
Fernandez gave one finally flurry of punches as he was caught in the corner and then tried to get out of dodge, as Duran stalked him round the ring, half way through the round Duran landed a thunderous left and right hand to the body which dropped Fernandez for the count.
Significance of Fight: The Fernandez win was a very good win and a very good fight with Duran now being touted as perhaps the greatest lightweight that there had ever been in the history of the sport. It was now a question of when he would be moving up in weight and furthermore the fight increased his standing with the American boxing public but Duran was still looming in the shadow of Muhammad Ali.
As for Fernandez he would go on and lose another attempt at the world lightweight title against Hilmer Kenty 3 years later but would also fight the legendary Alexis Arguello twice (winning one and losing the rematch), dropping a 12 round decision against Olympic Gold Medallist Howard Davis Jnr and knocking out Monroe Brooks.
Edwin Viruet II – 11th defence of WBA Lightweight Championship
Duran headed for the Philadelphia Spectrum for his rematch against Edwin Viruet. These two men hated each other, this was a genuine grudge match, there was no acting up for the cameras there was real disdain between these two.
The weigh in had been moved to the Friday evening as the fight was taking place on the Saturday afternoon which the Viruet camp were not happy with. Duran made weight at 134 ½ however Viruet never turned up for the weigh in and an hour and half later he supposedly made 135lbs which Duran claims that Viruet never made the weight. However, what was clear was that Vireut’s camp were worried with the longer period that Duran had to rehydrate and recover his strength.
Viruet would adopt similar tactics has he did in their first meeting by clowning around making Duran miss, in the first round he tried to be the more flashier fighter whilst Duran looked to land with mean intentions. Duran landed the more meaningful punches in the 2nd round, in the 3rd Duran attempted to pile on the pressure but Viruet would back off when he could to make Duran miss and in the 4th Viruet had some success with a couple of left hooks however Viruet wasn’t a noted puncher with only 8KO’s up to that point.
After a some what quiet, and tired looking, 5th and 6th round from Duran he made a big effort at the tail end of the 7th and landed some solid shots on the inside against the ropes but as the fight progressed Duran seemed to try and resort to boxing from the centre of the ring and when he was able to get Viruet on the ropes he would let his power punches go.
In the 12th Viruet nailed Duran with a solid right hand and managed to force the champion to the ropes and kept him there. Duran was showing signs of tiredness, which in fact looked evident from as early as round 9, but still kept on fighting even though his best punch of the round, a left hook, didn’t deter Viruet, Duran was cut towards the end of the round which Viruet began to taunt Duran about.
Round 13 was an inside brawl as Duran, who looked to be fighting on instinct, began to school Viruet on inside fighting and in the 15th round Duran finally managed to stagger Viruet but was no closer to stopping his hated rival.
Significance of Fight: Although a genuine grudge match Viruet was the number 2 ranked lightweight in the world and like the first fight proceeded into a chess match. What was apparent though was that Duran was now on borrowed time at lightweight as rumours from the training camp were that the champion had to take a diuretic to help him make weight.
For the Fernandez fight Duran weighed in at 133 ¾ and afterwards fought two fights 142lbs then weighed in 134 ½ for the Viruet fight. The rumours of weight issues certainly seemed to be true in the middle and championship rounds in this fight but Duran dug in deep again and on the old 5 point scoring system won the unanimous decision 73-68, 71-65 and 73-65. Viruet contested the decision but there was no doubt that Duran was a clear and worthy winner with his cleaner, harder punches and workrate.
Esteban De Jesus III – 12th defence of WBA Title & Unified Lightweight Title
Four months after the Viruet fight the rubber match between another one of Duran’s nemesis’s Esteban De Jesus took place in Las Vegas.
De Jesus was the only lightweight left in the world that had a possibility of beating Duran. Duran would make $250,000 with De Jesus making $150,000 for the fight.
After their second fight De Jesus lost an attempt for the WBA light welterweight title against Cervantes he then moved down in weight and eventually won the WBC lightweight title against Suzuki “Guts” Ishimatsu and made 3 successful defences before setting up the fight against Duran for the undisputed lightweight championship of the world.
Both struggled to make the weight with De Jesus having to train up until the day of the fight just to make weight. At the weigh in things got rather heated with De Jesus telling Duran that he was weak at the weight and that he was going to kill him and scuffles broke out between both sets of entourages with Duran’s uncle being hurt.
The first two rounds saw Duran boxing and moving to his left to keep clear of De Jesus’ best punch – the left hook, Duran had obviously learned from the previous two encounters and watched how Antonio Cervantes fought De Jesus. In the 2nd round the fight threatened to kick off but it wasn’t until the 3rd round when Duran landed two straight right hands which prompted De Jesus to come firing back that the fuse was really lit and the two fought hard on the inside with Duran showing that he was physically stronger.
The 4th round was very conservative from both fighters then midway through round 5 they began to trade hooks and uppercuts then in the 6th round Duran landed a volley of punches that shook De Jesus and backed him up. Duran didn’t charge in instead he boxed his way in close and then unloaded with vicious hooks, uppercuts and straight right hands.
Round 7 saw a weary De Jesus looking to hold on, fighting off the back foot hoping to land his hook as Duran picked his moments to attack then in round 8 Duran methodically began to take De Jesus apart, it was now a question of whether Duran could get the stoppage.
Finally in the 10th Duran landed the most telling blow of the fight with a murderous right hand to the body that actually lifted De Jesus off his feet and into the ropes then in round 12 De Jesus ate a right uppercut come hook that sent him down in the middle of the ring. De Jesus crawled across the ring to the ropes to drag himself to his feet. Angelo Dundee, who was working commentary along with Gil Clancy, stated the fight was over there and then but De Jesus was allowed to continue. Duran steamed in with 15 unanswered punches dropping De Jesus for the second time and the fight was called off.
Significance of Fight: It was now official, as if we needed telling. Duran was now unequivocally the best lightweight in the world, if there had been any doubt before this fight then those doubts were laid to rest. Roberto Duran at age 27 was the Undisputed World Lightweight Champion and had blown away all the competition.
The move up in weight was now on the cards but it would be just under a year later in 1979 that Duran would vacate his Lightweight title.
Esteban De Jesus would continue fighting for two more years with his last fight against Saoul Mamby for the WBC Light Welterweight title which saw De Jesus being stopped in the 13th round but by that time De Jesus was in the clutches of drug addiction.
Duran and De Jesus would meet again but not in pleasant circumstances. One weekend in 1980 when strung out on cocaine De Jesus become embroiled in a traffic dispute whereby the former world champion drew a pistol and shot the person he had been arguing with. Robert Cintron Gonzalez was only 18 years old and died 4 days later in hospital.
De Jesus was convicted of 1st degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. Prior to going to prison De Jesus had been known to shoot speedballs and heroin and shared needles with his brother Enrique and other friends. In 1985 his brother died of AIDS and whilst in prison Esteban took the test that tested positive for the same disease.
With nothing left of him other than skin and bone De Jesus was pardoned and allowed to spend his last days at home with his family, it was then in 1987 that the two men would meet again. Duran showed many what they thought he was not capable of showing – compassion. Duran broke down in tears and began hugging and kissing De Jesus. At this time not much was known about AIDS other than you could catch it from another human being but Duran never bothered about the stigma attached to AIDS as he picked up his former foe from his death bed and embraced him. It was a gesture that finally won over the Puerto Rican public.
Esteban De Jesus would pass away one month after their final meeting aged 37.