Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Roberto Duran: Redemption and Legacy

By Randy De La O

Something I learned years ago, both as an old adage and as a life experience is that “To err is human”, and perhaps the best example of this is Roberto Duran's second fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, when he uttered the now infamous words “No Mas!”, literally translated “No More!”

Duran, at his peak, was the epitome of Latin Machismo. Unrelenting, primal and savage. His behavior inside and outside the ring was often times crude. He conceded nothing. Yet, the very second he spoke those words, all that he was, was no more. His career was thought to be over. He was expected to never fight again. For a time, it seemed the entire boxing world; fans, sports writers, contemporary boxers and everyone capable of expressing an opinion, turned their collective backs on Roberto Duran. Even trainer Ray Arcel turned his back on Duran, never again working the corner for Duran. No other fighter in boxing history, to my knowledge, had fallen so far. Even Mike Tyson's biting of Evander Holifield's ear pales by comparison.

We may never really know why Duran quit that night in New Orleans but the fact remains he did and it is beyond dispute. Maybe he needed a bowel movement, or maybe it was just complete frustration, or maybe it was something sinister. I don't know. No one does. Everything is just pure speculation.

What I do know, what I am absolutely certain of, is that Roberto Duran is no coward. This is the man who moved up to welterweight after a seven year reign, as perhaps the greatest lightweight champion that ever lived, to pursue the Welterweight title, beating west coast favorite former welterweight king, Carlos Palomino, and tough Monroe Brookes, before finally securing a title fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, and winning that fight. He had already proven himself countless times.

He would prove himself again, after the second fight with Leonard, but not before being humbled by Wilfredo Benitez and Kirkland Laing. The year immediately following his 1981 loss to Leonard was a dark time for Duran. For Duran 1981 and1982 was a short visit through hell.

After his back to back losses to Benitez and Laing Duran fought and beat Jimmy Batten. His next fight, in January of 1983, would be at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles against legendary puncher and former welterweight champ Pipino Cuevas. Duran stopped Cuevas in four and secured a fight with Junior middleweight champion Davey Moore, stopping Moore in eight rounds, and finding some redemption in the process. The world was ready to forgive and Duran was once again in the business of being Duran. Maybe not the same old Duran of the past, some of the fire was gone but it was enough to take Marvin Hagler, later that same year, to the 15th round and giving him an education in a close losing effort. Cuevas, Moore and Hagler in the same year. It just doesn't get any better than that.

In his next fight, he would be stopped by Tommy Hearns, in what has to be considered the most devastating loss of his career, he would have many more fights before winning the Middleweight title from Iran Barkley. The Barkley fight would be his last hurrah. He would have his last fight at the age of fifty, losing a 12 round unanimous decision against Hector Camacho.

Today boxers are fighting well into their thirties and forties but back in the day, the late twenties were considered old, or at least the beginning of old age for a fighter. That makes the later stages of Duran's career all the more remarkable. At that stage, with no catch weights (unheard of) Duran moved up and fought Carlos Palomino, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Iran Barkley and at an even later stage, Vinnie Pazienza (twice and Hector Camacho (twice).

Yes, quitting is a cardinal sin in boxing and Duran has paid the price. A sin is like a stain on a fine piece of furniture, it can't be rubbed out or sanded out, it cannot be erased, it will always be there. There are some that will see nothing but the stain regardless of the beauty of the furniture and there will be others that will see that fine piece of furniture for what it is, weathered, worn and with a fine patina to it. Hardened by the years Duran has worn that stain like a man.

When I think of Roberto Duran, I don't think about the man that quit in the 8th round of his fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. What I think about is a man who by one single act, destroyed his career and then found it in himself to rise up again, to persevere, shouldering the abandonment of friends and peers and even his country, to fight his way back to the top, stains and all. No fighter ever fell lower and no fighter ever climbed higher. That is his redemption and that is his legacy. Roberto Duran a quitter? You decide.

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