Duran...the best fighter since Armstrong and Robinson; Part 4

The Long Goodbye 1983 – 2001 Part 1

Marvin Hagler – World Middleweight Championship

The mere thought of a showdown between the undisputed middleweight champion and Roberto Duran around 1982 would have sounded absurd however after the complete destruction of Davey Moore the potential for the fight happening was now a serious possibility.

In the ring after his return to glory Duran and Hagler stood together where it was noted that Hagler was not that much bigger. In fact Hagler stood at 5’ 9” and Duran stood at 5’ 7” however Hagler possessed a 9” reach advantage.

One month after the Moore massacre the fight for the middleweight crown was announced; it would take place at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on 10th November 1983.

At the press conference to announce the fight at the Felt Forum in New York some 1,500 people turned up with the vast majority of support shown for Duran. When Hagler took to the podium he was roundly booed when he stated that he was going to “destroy” Duran.

For Duran this was going to be his toughest fight of his career. In the grand scheme of things Duran had never faced a fighter as tough and rugged as Hagler, whilst for Hagler he had never faced a fighter like Duran; a bone fide legend, a dead cert for the Hall of Fame and widely recognised as the greatest lightweight in history.

Hagler was still yearning for the respect that he felt he deserved. His greatness was still in question because there was no worthy challenger to truly test him to prove his greatness.

Hagler claimed the WBA & WBC titles after beating Alan Minter in London in September 1980 then three years later added the IBF title by beating Wilfred Scypion to become the undisputed champion.

Seven defences followed and all seven opponents failed to last the distance. Hagler had cleaned out the competition.

Boxing politics sometimes blighted Hagler’s career and more politics reared its head in the build up to the fight. The fight itself was to be administered by the WBA however the WBC made an objection when it transpired that South African referee, Stanley Christodoulou was to officiate the fight.

The WBC objected on anti-apartheid grounds. Other alternatives were found and duly rejected and a Nevada State referee wasn’t allowed to officiate the fight as the WBA rules at the time precluded assigning a referee that was the same nationality as a contestant in a world title fight.

Finally after days of wrangling Christodoulou was found to have Greek ancestry and could claim dual citizenship. His passport was over nighted from Athens and on fight night he was announced as Stanley Christodoulou from Greece.

Hagler had a lot of respect for Duran, he knew he was gutsy and would fight anyone and even admitted as such.

However there was something about Duran that slightly unnerved Hagler. Perhaps it was his desire for violence, the comebacks, beating Leonard or perhaps it was something behind the eyes either way something showed up in Hagler’s performance that he hadn’t shown too many, if any, of his opponents; respect.

Duran was a loud, wild animal whilst Hagler was rock steady and didn’t bother if he bored you to death with this style of fighting so long as he won. Duran on the other hand just wanted to kill you or knock you out or both!

At the official pre-fight press conference 2 days before the fight both fighters had to be pulled apart after Duran, no doubt trying to psych Hagler out, put his fist under the champions and chin and asked, “we fight now?”

At the weigh in Duran tipped the scales at 156 ½ lbs whilst Hagler came in at his lightest since the Hamsho fight at 157 ½ lbs. Duran looked prepared with no fat that had shown up in the Batten and Laing fights whilst Hagler was rocklike looking.

Both fighters started the fight looking to box from the outside with Hagler landing a few jabs and Duran landing a few right hands in what was a quiet opening round.

The jab of Hagler’s was his most effective weapon as he continued to land it during the second round as Duran looked to pick his moments to attack.

The old master though showed why he was to be respected in the third round as Hagler launched a wild left hook which Duran countered with a small step to the right, slipped and then countered with a crisp two punch combination. The combination didn’t hurt Hagler nor did it deter him but it was a wee reminder that Duran still had his ring smarts about him.

During the third round Hagler was getting the better of any inside work and he looked to pop in the right uppercut but Hagler looked tight and Duran was only too willing to let his hands go on the inside but knew he couldn’t mix it for too long with the naturally bigger Hagler.

At the start of the fourth round Duran immediately closed the distance but both fighters started fencing one another, Hagler though was using more lateral movement making sure to keep off the ropes. As the round transpired it seemed that Hagler was perhaps a little wary of engaging and his corner told him that he had to loosen up.

Hagler looked a lot looser in the fifth as he managed to land a few punches and seemed to be having more success when he switched to orthodox. Hagler looked to boss the round but Duran came back with a few solid right hands of his own.

Early in the sixth round Hagler attacked with a combination, which ended with a left hook, that looked to stagger Duran, but the Panamanian was off balance and shook his head as if to say, “you didn’t hurt me!” As a result Duran launched into Hagler on the inside however Hagler seemed to turn the table when he turned rightie and appeared to go through the gears. Duran being Duran refused to back down but it was perhaps Hagler’s clearest round of the fight so far.

Hagler appeared to get annoyed with Duran during the seventh after pointing to him stating that he felt Duran tried to thumb him. Duran wasn’t a man to give any sympathy instead he just sneered at Hagler which seemed to fire Hagler up. Hagler went at Duran and gave him all he could handle but he just couldn’t seem to dominate his opponent.

The signs of war were now beginning to tell but not on the challenger. Instead Hagler’s corner had to work on swelling beneath the left eye. Rounds eight and nine both went to Hagler as he seemed to do the better inside work and land more combinations however when Duran did land they simply didn’t have any effect on Hagler.

At the start of tenth both fighters came out winging punches at each other and it continued throughout the round with Duran ending the round standing in a pose staring at Hagler with a look of “you can’t hurt me!”

The eleventh saw Hagler use the full size of the 20 foot ring as he once again used lateral movement to keep on the outside of Duran’s power, a move that started to frustrate the crowd. Hagler looked to try and frustrate Duran and draw him in but it was ultimately a round where both didn’t throw anything of note with Duran looking to push the fight.

Immediate infighting broke out during the twelfth with Duran spitting defiance at the champion as he elected to go toe-to-toe. Hagler’s left eye now showed huge swelling as he caught a few heavy punches in what was a clear round for Duran.

Hagler started doubling up on his jab as Duran huffed and puffed, clearly tiring, as he looked to dodge the jab and was successful with a couple of right hand leads. A stare down ensued at the end of the thirteenth and prior to the start of the fourteenth Duran’s corner implored him to keep it up.

Hagler though started the round like a man on a mission as he went straight for Duran’s body. Duran though taunted the champion, sneered and twice feigned to throw punches which backed Hagler off. It was one of the defining images of the fight, that the fearsome and rugged champion showed that type of respect for his opponent. As Hagler again dominated the inside work it was Duran who managed to draw first blood as he opened a cut over Hagler’s left eye.

Prior to the start of the last round the defiance that Duran had shown all night once again appeared as he pounded his chest and told Hagler to “come to me.” Hagler duly obliged as both remained in close and exchanged punches. Hagler sensing that the fight must be tight on the score cards poured it on but Duran would not be discouraged as he kept throwing punches right up until the final bell where Duran stood and glared at Hagler who simply turned away and held his hands aloft.

The decision though unanimously went in Hagler’s favour however all 3 score cards were ridiculously close with scores of 144-142; 144-143 and 146-145.

Significance of Fight: Duran not only boxed well against a dominant champion he became the first challenger to the Hagler’s crown that had lasted the distance and Hagler had known that he had been in a fight and didn’t need a mirror to confirm it.

Duran had landed more punches and caused Hagler more damage than he raked up in total during his previous 7 title defences.

“The better man won,” stated Duran, “but I wasn’t disappointed. Hagler didn’t do anything special. He’s just a strong fighter.”

The fight proved that the old lion still had enough teeth in him to cause even the greatest champions enough problems however the press were less than kind to Hagler. Some felt that Hagler carried Duran whilst Manny Steward felt that Hagler was intimidated by the smaller man, others felt that Hagler should have taken apart the blown up lightweight.

Hagler’s reputation took a battering. He had allowed the fight to become a cautious chess match instead of bludgeoning Duran to reinforce his destroyer image that he had cultivated.

Duran on the other hand had escaped the Hagler fight largely unhurt other than a swollen right hand he would be back in the ring 8 months later in another mega fight which promised another big payday.

Thomas Hearns – WBC Light Middleweight Championship

As a welterweight Thomas Hearns was regarded as a freak of nature. Standing 6 feet 1” he continued to make 147lbs for the first 4 years of his professional career until he lost his welterweight unification showdown against Sugar Ray Leonard.

With a reach of 78” he had one of the best jabs in the world however that was nothing compared to what came behind his jab; his right hand was devastating in every sense of the word. When he landed his right hand his opponents usually never got back up unaided. He had knocked out 32 opponents in 39 fights prior to entering the ring against Duran.

After losing to Leonard for welterweight supremacy Hearns moved up to light middleweight and dethroned Wilfred Benitez in December 1982 for the WBC title. However, Hearns broke his right hand in that fight and would remain in plaster until April 1983. He returned with two decisions wins against Murray Sutherland and Luigi Minchillo.

It had been nearly a year since Duran had defended his WBA light middleweight crown that he had won against Davey Moore and the pressure was now on him to make his mandatory defence against Mike McCallum.

Duran wasn’t interested in facing McCallum and was seeking a big money fight. After months of talks both Duran and Hearns signed contracts however the fight would not be a unification fight as the WBA refused to sanction the fight and stated the title would become vacant the second Duran stepped into the ring.

How much the WBA title was worth without Duran’s name attached to it was undisputable when Mike McCallum fought for the vacant title against Sean Mannion. The fight went to purse bids which was won by Top Rank with a bid of $75,000 and the fight was stuck on the under card of Marvin Hagler’s rematch against Mustafa Hamsho.

The fight was originally meant to take place in Nassau in the Bahamas but after local backing fell through the fight was moved to Caesars Palace and set for 15th June 1984.

Duran had lapsed back into old habits with his drinking and late nights rather than training. Duran’s ultimate aim however was a third fight against Sugar Ray Leonard as he felt if he was in the best of condition he would beat Leonard.

Further rumours continued that Duran had only trained for three weeks to fight Hearns. He had set up camp in the Bahamas and had fallen ill and therefore couldn’t train properly. By the time he arrived in Vegas for the fight he was still 6lbs overweight and had to sweat it off in the steam room, by fight night he wasn’t in the greatest condition but made the divisional limit of 154lbs whilst Hearns came in 153 ½ lbs.

Luis De Cubas, Duran’s ex-manager, confirmed that making weight for the Hearns fight was “the hardest experience of Duran’s life.” Duran though never thought about postponing the fight especially as both parties had letters of credit paid into their bank accounts 2 weeks previously.

Hearns’ guarantee was $1.8 million and Duran $1.6 million.

Hearns already had one eye on a showdown with Marvin Hagler and in order to get the fight he stated that he needed to be “devastating” against Duran.

Manny Steward was very happy with his charge in camp and stated the camp was the best ever of his career with many of the Los Angeles Olympic team training at the Kronk. Hearns sparred everyday with Mark Breland whilst also having had a few sparring sessions with Frank Tate, Pernell Whitaker and Steve McCrory. Other sparring partners included Mike McCallum, John Collins, Milton McCrory and Hilmer Kenty.

As the date of fight neared Steward explained, “No one has ever really tried to hurt Duran but Tommy will. Tommy’s hand speed is a lot quicker than Marvin’s, but the biggest difference is that Tommy’s a gambler. Hagler had Duran in trouble a couple of times but he had so much respect for him that he didn’t seize the advantage. Tommy won’t worry about getting knocked out and his hand has healed and he won’t be afraid to cut loose with it.”

At the last minute instructions from the referee before the fight it was clear to see the physical advantages that Hearns had over Duran and it were little wonder that the Panamanian started the round tentatively and circling the ring looking to find a way past Hearns’ massive reach difference.

Both never threw much early in the first round except the odd jab here and there. Duran attempted a looping right hand that missed and was immediately countered with a left hook which backed Duran off. Hearns, sensing that he had now got the upper hand pierced Duran with a right hand that pushed Duran into the ropes where Hearns began to let his hands go.

Duran, as was his custom, attempted to come right back at Hearns and even landed a right hand but it was best he could manage and he again began circling Hearns.

Duran though was fighting too straight instead of crouching and rolling his way in he stood tall and he paid for it seconds later as a downward right hand from Hearns landed and dropped Duran.

Hearns came steaming in after the 8 count and began another bombardment which ended with a left uppercut to the body that dropped Duran again, who was now also cut above the left eye, with 5 seconds left in the round. Duran had just entered uncharted waters.

At the end of the first and the start of the second rounds the fighters showed their respect for each other as they touched gloves but the respect was quickly forgotten as Hearns again backed Duran up and unleashed his punches that forced Duran to grab hold.

As they separated Hearns continued with his assault as Duran grew more desperate and was fighting back out of pure instinct as he attempted to bob, weave and slip the punches that were coming at him in rifle format.

Against the ropes Duran dropped his hands and moved his head to the side to slip the punches but as Duran fell into the ropes and managed to get himself straight his world dramatically collapsed.

Hearns feigned a left jab to the body, Duran’s left hand was not protecting his chin and Hearns delivered a momentous right hand that landed flush against Duran’s cheek bone.

In 80-odd fights Duran had never felt anything like it nor had he reacted like it before. As soon as the punch landed Duran went down like a felled tree chopped down by a logger. It was dramatic in the extreme. Duran was knocked spark out for the first time in his professional career and he was out cold before he hit the canvass.

Significance of Fight: After the fight many believed that they had just seen the end of Roberto Duran, essentially there was nowhere else for him to go after getting obliterated inside two rounds and the fight he so coveted against Ray Leonard was now further away than ever.

After the humiliation against Leonard and Laing and the destruction from Hearns he would have to rebuild for a third time but no one gave him a chance. The boxing scribes had already penned his obituary. To them and other onlookers it really looked like that it is was the end.

Duran had only been knocked down twice in 82 fights, both against Esteban DeJesus, against Hearns he was down twice in three minutes and then removed from his senses minutes later.

Duran announced his immediate retirement from boxing and flew back home to Panama where he was promptly thrown in jail from the military authorities that ran the country. The reasons for his incarceration are not fully known but it was believed that it was either because the authorities weren’t happy at the poor showing or that a disgruntled bettor had lost money on the fight and wanted to take revenge.

Whilst in jail however the troops were afraid to go near him as he threatened them with violence if they so dared come near him. The guards were unable to control him so they called Colonel Paredes who was informed that they were unable to control him and were worried in case they had to kill him. Paredes decided to release him.

In retiring Duran would leave behind a fantastic legacy after having amassed an 83 fight career with a handful of losses over 17 years he would undoubtedly be classed as one the greatest fighters ever.

He had equalled the record for lightweight title defences, had won world titles in 3 weight classes and was the only fighter, at that point, to have beaten Sugar Ray Leonard.

He could be happy with what he had achieved and besides everyone said it was over…or so they said!

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Tags: Duran, Roberto


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