A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

By Ted Sares on November 19, 2012
A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words
Roberto Duran (belying his fierce ring image) hugged and kissed De Jesus in his deathbed.

Duran said, “I’m not going to fight a Puerto Rican in Puerto Rico, with a Puerto Rican promoter, Puerto Rican judges and a Puerto Rican referee…”

The life of Puerto Rican boxer Esteban “Vita” De Jesus was full of twists and turns; some ironic, some controversial, and some joyous. He was a training mate of equally tragic Wilfredo Benitez and, in fact, was trained by Wilfredo’s father Gregorio Benitez. The joy of Vita’s first fight with Roberto “Manos de Piedra” Duran and the happiness associated with his later winning the world championship would be more than offset by cascading controversy and grave problems that finally ended his short life.

In the end, Esteban De Jesus finished his remarkable career with a 57-5 record. Each of his five defeats came at the hands of a present, past, or future world champion. De Jesus was a crafty boxer and a hard puncher who earned his title by winning a 15-round decision over Ishimatsu “Guts” Suzuki in Puerto Rico in 1976. Suzuki was making the sixth defense of the WBC lightweight title he won in 1974, while the 24-year-old De Jesus was a 5-foot-5-inch power-pak with an impressive 46-3-0 (26 KOs) record at the time.

The Trilogy

Vita successfully defended his newly won title three times, but he is best known for his trilogy with the great Roberto Duran that began in November 1972 at Madison Square Garden in a non-title affair. After decking Duran (31-0 coming in) with a thunderous left hook in the very first round, Vita went on to capture a convincing unanimous decision and break Duran’s undefeated streak and aura of invincibility. The loss to De Jesus was Duran’s only defeat in the first 13 years of his career.

Vita would lose the next two bouts in the trilogy in 1974 and 1978. Regarding the third match, “Papa” Benitez stated that he wanted Duran for a rubber match with De Jesus, but not in Panama. “Once in New York, and once in Panama,” Papa said. “Now he has to come to Puerto Rico, to give us a fair deal.”

Never one to sugarcoat, Duran replied, “I’m not going to fight a Puerto Rican in Puerto Rico, with a Puerto Rican promoter, Puerto Rican judges and a Puerto Rican referee. I hate those dirty cockroach loving people.”

A peak Duran (62-1) stopped Vita in the 12th round in their third and final bout held in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas on January 21, 1978. Duran also took Vita’s title.

Vita then ran off six solid wins (including an SD against Edwin Viruet) before losing to Saoul Mamby in an action bout in a bid for the WBC light welterweight title in 1980 after which he retired from boxing.

A little over a year later, De Jesus was convicted of murder after killing a 17-year-old over a traffic dispute and was sentenced to life in the Rio Piedras State Penitentiary. He soon turned to religion, became a model prisoner, and turned his life around, but then in 1985, he learned that his older brother with whom he had shared needles while using drugs early in his boxing career had shockingly died of HIV/AIDS.

Esteban tested positive for the virus and the dreaded symptoms began to appear. Some have mistakenly reported that De Jesus was infected by the disease while in prison, but that is manifestly wrong. He had been infected earlier but had contracted it later and while incarcerated. But be that as it may, it was academic because it had become sadly apparent that Vita’s days were numbered.

Roberto’s Compassion

De Jesus was pardoned by Governor Rafael Hernandez Colon to spend his remaining time with his family. Among his many celebratorial visitors was none other than his old ring rival Roberto Duran.

In an astonishing expression of compassion and deep respect during the visit, Duran (belying his fierce ring image) hugged and kissed De Jesus in his deathbed and told his daughter to do the same. This moving event was witnessed by the late José Torre and captured in the above photograph.  Little was known about HIV/AIDS at the time and whether or not simple human contact could lead to spreading the disease, but Duran didn’t care as he embraced his rival and friend.

Esteban De Jesus died one month later; he was 37 years old.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Esteban DeJesus Knocks Down ROBERTO DURAN

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban De Jesus - II - Part 1 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban De Jesus - II - Part 2 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban De Jesus - II - Part 3 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban De Jesus - II - Part 4 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban DeJesus - III - Part 1 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban DeJesus - III - Part 2 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban DeJesus - III - Part 3 of 4

Roberto Duran vs. Esteban DeJesus - III - Part 4 of 4

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  1. nick 12:38pm, 11/29/2012

    When Duran fought DeJesus in Panama it was with Panamanian judges. I think that DeJesus thought he would have to knock out Duran to win, though the third fight in Las Vegas, I didn’t find the fight all that competitive. I think that Duran showed many how he became more mature as a person and a far better human being than he might have shown previously. Had it not been for Duran, I believe DeJesus would have been considered one of the greatest Lightweight Champs of all time. He also I would suggest deserves to be in the Hall Of Fame.

  2. Tex Hassler 05:21pm, 11/28/2012

    DeJesus was a magnificent fighter and one I well remember as I saw some of his fights on TV. Duran had a compassionate side as clearly demonstrated in the picture. Great article Mr. Sares and keep up the excellent work. Shake hands and come out writing at the sound of the bell.

  3. the thresher 05:47pm, 11/20/2012

    Thanks, John.

    I’d love to have each of the Boxing.com writers link to what each considers one of his (or her) best articles. Then I’d like to put them in a book and call it, “The Best of Boxing.com edited by Ted Sares.”  Just a fantasy but It would be a blast.

  4. the thresher 05:45pm, 11/20/2012

    Pug, Yes, I met him 3 years ago when I had my subdural hematoma and told him to f—k off.

  5. John 12:11pm, 11/20/2012

    A touching piece, Ted. One of your best! Thanks for sharing such a great story.

  6. pugknows 11:15am, 11/20/2012

    Bull, you have come close to meeting the reaper as I recall. LMFAO!!

  7. the thresher 11:03am, 11/20/2012

    Broner already did his wax job. Bill, you are a day late and a nickel short!!

    I’m looking for Hatton to win in a tough one that may make him make him rethink his comeback. He has picked a tough customer for his first comeback fight.

  8. MR.BILL HARDCORE-XXX 09:37am, 11/20/2012

    I’m scheduled to be at the bros. ranch this holiday weekend. I am looking forward to the return of Hatton on Showtime more so than Broner’s slated waxing of whoever they got lined-up to be clocked out on HBO…...  I’m serious too….

  9. the thresher 09:11am, 11/20/2012

    Thanks, Matt, Bob, CharlieN, rax, and NYIrish. I enjoyed writing this one.

  10. the thresher 09:08am, 11/20/2012

    I could not agree more. I manage my investments 4 hours every morning starting at 7:30 AM. I work out 3 times a week with a trainer Bench pressing and dead lifting righteous amounts of weight. I golf every possible day the the weather permits. I hike my forest land with my dog and wife frequently. I write articles whenever the mood strikes me which is often. I love to read, listen to music, and visit Canada. Up until recently, I have been extremely active in local politics.

    So yes, I attribute my being fit and ready to activity. I am not yet ready to be embalmed in Florida or incinerated in some f—king scam oven and have my ashes thrown out in the garbage.

  11. MR.BILL HARDCORE-XXX 08:40am, 11/20/2012

    But, too many aging boxers and fighters have taken that notion too literally….. There is nothing wrong to keep writing away in your older age if you like to do it and keep fresh with it, etc….

  12. MRBILL-HARDCORE-XXX 08:38am, 11/20/2012

    Clinical tests have proven that by remaining active in things that you like to do as you age, has been a proven key to longevity, etc…

  13. the thresher 06:21am, 11/20/2012

    Pug, I never quite thought about that but now that you bring it up, I suppose it’s possible but that’s a bit like being the second tallest midget in the circus. Jerry Izenberg (one of my all-time favorite writers) is in his 80’s but he is no longer active. I don’t know how old Ronnie Nathinson (Pinoy writer) is, but I am 75 heading for 76 so I just might be. Hmm, maybe I’ll put that on the bottom of my articles from now on… :)

  14. pugknows 09:24pm, 11/19/2012

    Ted the Bull, is it possible that you are the oldest active boxing writer in the world?

  15. raxman 02:23pm, 11/19/2012

    thanks ted. probably my favourite duran story is this one, the old foe, his young daughter, this horrible new disease. duran proves the duality of man - to be so fierce yet capable of such compassion beggars belief.
    nice work.

  16. NYIrish 02:11pm, 11/19/2012

    Great piece. No shortage of heartbreak in boxing.

  17. pugknows 10:44am, 11/19/2012

    This one invoked tears.

  18. CharlesN 08:29am, 11/19/2012

    Fine work Ted, Great trilogy. Unfortunately, many kids or even adults today will remember Duran today for “No Mas” rather than his “Hands Of Stone” efforts. Thanks.

  19. Bob 02:16am, 11/19/2012

    I was not aware of Duran’s visit to a dying DeJesus or this wonderful photograph which speaks volumes of Duran’s character as a human being. Very touching story about the decency of Duran that many people don’t know about.

  20. Matt McGrain 02:16am, 11/19/2012

    Nice wee effort this.

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