Postcard From Panama: Duran’s Place

By Michael Schmidt on March 19, 2012
Postcard From Panama: Duran’s Place
Our waitress, in a moment of inspiration, refilled our cold drinks and asked about dessert

One hundred and nineteen of those battles and still here, still a pistol, and in great shape this GRAND CHAMPION DURAN…

Feb. 27, 2012—La Tasca de Duran. Duran’s Bar and Restaurant, Calle Alberto Navarro, Panama City, Panama

Mr. Carlos Varela Jr., whose father was one of the original trainers of Alexis Arguello, and who like father like son is one of the better trainers and cutmen in Canada, is asking over breakfast, “Schmeeet, what you wanna do today.” We have nothing planned out before the next evening’s WBA awards dinner. I suggest we go over and visit the Panama Canal up close, hit the old-school Gym of Champions and then go over to Roberto Duran’s restaurant. This is the heart of boxing in this lovely country of Panama and our experience starts early. As we ride the escalator to the top of the visitation center at the Panama Canal a chap at the bottom, getting on in age, is yelling at me in Spanish.

“What the f—- is that all about Carlos?” I ask. Boxing crazy indeed. “Schmeeet, he recognize us, on TV working the corner from the big title fight card last year, and he yelling your fighter’s name.” As we leave the boxing gym later, it is that feeling, of boxing legends, of boxing stories, of the GRAND CHAMPION DURAN, that has me excited to go over to Roberto Duran’s restaurant for lunch.

For me Duran will always be number one. Yes, I know of the greats, Robinson, Armstrong, Pep, Ali, Louis. It is the fact that I grew up, 10 years the younger than the GRAND CHAMPION DURAN, watching his career, first, at the age of 11, being the one-minute five-second Madison Square Garden introduction/demolition of Benny Huertas, all the way along. The memories, outside of boxing but connected nonetheless, attached to watching with my Dad, brother or friends, the fights of the grand fighter that Duran was all those years, those five decades of fighting from the age of 16 forward. One hundred and nineteen of those battles and still here, still a pistol, and in great shape this GRAND CHAMPION DURAN.

We have started with a light salad and a platter of different meats and it is superb. The setting is cozy Spanish, for lack of a better description, with a fresh air outside area somewhat secluded by a decorative metal grill shading and a further door inside to a separate bar/restaurant setting. “Schmeeet this place like a museum my friend. The Champion Duran photos, robes, trunks, belts.” Varela is speaking to our taxi driver in Spanish, who having patiently waited two hours in a sweltering boxing gym early in the day, certainly deserves the hospitality of lunch on us at this relaxed setting. I ask what the driver is saying and I am informed that the Champion, when in town, is often here and on Friday and Saturday night he and his band perform music. I have visions of Duran doing his own big Latin beat music mix, Xavier Cougat, Tito Puente, Desi Arnaz, Gypsy Kings all wrapped long long into the night, bongo drums rejoicing the neighborhood… “DOO-RAN, DOO-RAN, DOO-RAN” salsa, mix mambo mania big Latin beat.

Big Latin beat the GRAND CHAMPION DURAN did put down, year after year. Visions of the rhythm, the coordination that had him moving Carlos Palomino, angles, head feints, eye feints, from one corner of the ring to the other as he pitched a virtual shutout. Of the young Duran, in only his 17th pro fight, beating another great fighter, Ernesto Marcel. I mention to Varela that I do not like the word “museum.” To Varela I jokingly mention, “From the looks of the Roberto Duran we met last year at Roberto Duran Stadium, and the one we met in Nicaragua the year before, museum does not sound right. Of various polls, including The Ring magazine having him number five all-time pound-for-pound, and ESPN having him at number six, he is one of the few in the top ten all time (Ray Leonard, a few notches below Duran, and Ali being the other) that is still alive and besides, and you would agree, he looks great. He has got to be back down to around 160 lbs. and is moving like a damn cat.”

We have moved onto New York steak, a fresh fish, Chorillero from Chollo’s place I jokingly say, and a superb Serrano Ham from Spain. In the inner bar area there is a continual TV loop of the first Duran vs. Leonard fight and for me—“Schmeeet” the fan, “Schmeeet” the sometime cornerman and fight strategist—that was the peak. Duran, having already etched himself into the lore of boxing legend as one of if not the best lightweights ever, having at the age of 21, shortly after his birthday, at Madison Square Garden, chased another great, Kenny Buchanan, 43 wins and 1 loss, from post to post. It was not an easy fight and Buchanan was firing back up until the unsatisfactory ending of Buchanan hitting Duran after the bell and Duran unfortunately responding with a blow that fell low of the border. There was the superb rubber match with Esteban De Jesus with Duran showing that he had a full arsenal by way of boxing and establishing an outside jab early and methodically breaking another great fighter down with a perfectly timed long lead right hand uppercut. There were the savage one-punch annihilations of Lampkin and Bizzarro and a host of other vivid masterpieces of boxing artistry mixed with the savagery of a street fighter.

Duran was not in his prime perhaps by the time the Leonard brawl in Montreal took place. He was 29, was 71 wins and 1 loss and had 12 title defenses spread over six and half years at that point. In short, a lot of mileage for any fighter, yet it was all there that night: the fast foot movement to get to the target, the hand, head, shoulders and eye feints, that wonderful rhythm, the power leaving Leonard hurt early and as often as the second round, and most importantly the desire. Leonard and Duran, both in their prime, both in great shape that night, and Duran doing what no other fighter would do, or ever did, in beating Ray Leonard at his utmost prime. The second fight was not that same Duran. He had climbed the mountain. His weight had gone up in between the first fight and that desire, those dark eyes of gladiator hatred and that sneer, all gone. Indeed, immediately after that second fight Duran flat stated he no longer would fight, that he no longer wanted to fight. Strikingly the scorecards, much against the grain of Leonard rhetoric revisionist history, hardly pointed to a whitewash at the point of ending but an infamous ending nonetheless.

Our waitress, in a moment of inspiration, has refilled our cold drinks and brought out the dessert menu and we finish what is, the aura of a boxing fan/diner aside, a wonderful meal in a great and relaxed setting. A small dessert just right. As for Duran there of course would be his own further moments of inspiration, not often, but oh so memorable in what he could do when the Duran act was bang-on for the fistic festivities, and finishing desserts. There was another Madison Square Garden Mecca of Boxing birthday present in the form of a career ruining destruction of Davey Moore for a junior middle title. There was the quick destruction of Pipino Cuevas. There was the Fight of the Year war with Iran Barkley, astonishing by the sheer size disparity (in fact having met Iran Barkley for the first time at Gleason’s Gym in December of last year, and having met GRAND CHAMPION DURAN a few times, I was astonished at how much bigger “The Blade” was), with the GRAND CHAMPION DURAN winning a Middleweight Championship over a fighter who indeed set his own mark in knockouts of Thomas Hearns. And certainly one could not forget the 15-round battle with another pound-for-pound great, Marvin Hagler. Later that evening I was sitting by the bar with Varela and friend, former fighter, writer, judge, ref, supervisor Guy Jutras. I mentioned to Varela that if Hagler vs. Duran had taken place today, in a 12-round fight, it is entirely likely that Duran would have become the Middleweight Champion.

Varela looks surprised until I mention that our friend, Guy Jutras, was one of the judges in a fight that Guy scored for Hagler by two points and two other judges scored for Hagler by one point. Guy, during a lively and wonderful evening that lasted until 2:00 in the morning, reminiscing of boxing agrees with me that Duran simply ran out of gas against the bigger Hagler, who certainly needed the last three rounds to secure the win. In fact it was Hagler, cut and bleeding, running in the 11th round and Hagler tiring in the 12th and running again. At the end of the fight Duran, with barely a facial mark, humorously yelling at Hagler, “Antuofermo, Antuofermo” in reference to Hagler’s less-than-spectacular performance in his first fight against Antuofermo.   

We could have stayed for hours at this relaxed setting; a hot Panama day outside, a cool breeze blowing, a great meal finished, a few drinks at the table. The GRAND CHAMPION DURAN’s son lets us know that his father, who is otherwise within walking distance, is out and about and can’t get over to greet us but will see us later in the day at the hotel. As I get up to leave our Panamanian taxi friend notes that I am looking at a picture on the restaurant wall of Manny Pacquiao and Duran together, smiling. He asks who would have won between these two. I know I will alienate my Pinoy friends. I was a huge Pacquiao fan long before he hit the mainstream but this taxi driver, yes, he will have my answer.

“My friend,” he said, “I always remember an interview Duran gave in response to a fight against the young prodigy-to-be that never was to be, Tony Ayala Jr. Duran responded that yes, Ayala was a bull, that he had power and desire but yes, he too, Duran, had power and desire. He, Duran, would welcome the bull forward, ‘Let the bull come to me, we both have power, desire, but we shall see who is the better technically, the smarter fighter.’” And that is what forms my answer. “Manny has gotten hit a lot in his career. His fights with Marquez have also exposed problems he has with good technical fighters. Duran, you must remember, in his prime, rolling with punches, bobbing, moving his head and body, rarely got hit. He was in his own level up to and including the first Leonard fight. You must also remember that, in response to all this talk of Manny moving up all the weight, Duran started as a bantamweight. In fact up to his fight with Marcel he fought as a feather. In Duran’s post-Leonard I, moments of brilliance of fighting bigger men, it is hard for me to imagine Manny fighting his present-day Hagler, that being Sergio, much less fighting his present day Barkley; perhaps an Andre Ward. In fact Duran had the balls to fight those guys and quite simply Manny is not going to fight those guys and in fact and fairness given the type of paydays he is getting, he should not. No my friend, I suspect, and in due respect to both great fighters, I think Roberto would, prime to prime, have knocked Manny out in around eight rounds. Too easy a target. Duran too skilled and too technical.

I step out onto the sidewalk to take a few pictures and recall Larry Merchant, in his own unique Merchant wax boxing philosophic way, during the late rounds of the Palomino Madison Square Garden night: “I think what Duran is showing tonight is that he is one of the best pound-for- pound fighters that ever lived.” He is a national treasure down this big Latin beat way. He is a pound-for-pound living treasure. Pound-for-pound this is a great restaurant—a place to enjoy great food in a great but relaxed setting with friends. Boxing fan, or not, a great spot to drop in. DURAN’S PLACE. YES, DURAN’S PLACE, NUMBER ONE.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 1)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 2)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 3)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 4)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 5)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 6)

Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I (part 7)

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  1. MIKE SCHMIDT 04:19pm, 03/25/2012

    One number that Sugar Ray would not lie about (and he should be given full thumbs up for his sportsmanship in that regard ) is the fact that he clearly admits that Tommy won the second fight.

  2. johnwriter60 03:32pm, 03/25/2012

    just witnessed tv special on Arturo Gatti and his ultimate demise, the downhill skid that ended when he pulled the plug on his own life. he lost his boxing poise to drugs and alcohol, and basically couldn’t live as the man he’d become.

  3. the thresher 02:22pm, 03/25/2012

    Numbers don’t lie

  4. mike schmidt 08:28pm, 03/24/2012

    And if one includes longevity at the top of one’s division—12 title defences, six and half years- -Leonard got hit way too much for that type of long 71-1 career run—-DOORAN,DOORAN,DOORAN

  5. MIKE SCHMIDT 08:23pm, 03/24/2012

    Leonard including Duran forward 9-3-1. Hardly killer numbers- -Don’t know much of anybody at MGM for Pac vs JMM 3 who had Pac winning—certainly in the media room post fight general thought by far was that JMM won the fight—Little man Duran fighting big big guys—Fantasy fights are fun to think about and certainly if promo is going to say that Pac won a 154 lb title—then fight the Sergio types as Duran did in his era—I agree totally with Mr. Varela on that thought.

  6. the thresher 05:01pm, 03/24/2012

    Duran came up empty when he lost to SRL twice, Hearns, Hagler, Benitez. Fcat is, in the great round robin bewteen these guys, he finished dead last.

    Manny’s record against JMM is 2-0-1.

    Neither guy got exposed. Both were/are great. Fantasy fights suck big time.

    Both fought great opposition.

    The 1980 loss to SRL changed things for Duran. Up till then, he had only lost one fight. After that, he lost 14.

  7. Brett 10:01am, 03/24/2012

    Great article Mike!
    As much as I do like Pacquiao, you are right when you said he got exposed fighting Marquez and having problems with technical fighters. I think that Duran would beat Manny and probably KO him in 6 rounds. Glad you had fun there. Made me hungry just reading this!

  8. MIKE SCHMIDT 01:59am, 03/24/2012

    Mr. V. you are right on of course

  9. Carlos Varela Jr. 07:55pm, 03/23/2012

    You get the most dominant Middleweight of our era in this case Bernard Hopkins and you put him to go 15 rounds with the Pacman what do you think what ill happen or get the most dominant supermiddleweight of our era and make him go 12 rounds with the pacman in this case Calzage what do you think will happen pacman do that I will be the first one to vote for him, I rise my case, God Bless

  10. mike schmidt 08:36am, 03/22/2012

    Hey hey—we really got em weighing in now—where is Austin Trout, where is Austin Trout…..and the new, and the new WBA Middleweight Champion of the world… Adam Trupish—go get it sir—and the very best on the Shaw Festival Boxing Show next month—a great show set up as a trust to generate well spent money on the Shaw Festival Theater in scenic Niagara on the Lake in tribute to the Tunney Family and long standing friendship between Champ Gene Tunney and George B. Shaw—great book out by son Jay Tunney on his dad and his dad’s relationship with Mr Shaw—keep on punching Trupe and for anybody that has not had the pleasure of seeing a real one-punch warrior—well well, google Adam Trupish youtube and I rest my case—UNDEFEATED AND MOVING IT IN A HURRY!!!!!

  11. Adam Trupish 08:30am, 03/22/2012

    My personal all time favorite boxer. Hands of Stone!.....

  12. the thresher 03:54pm, 03/21/2012

    Are you the tony pep from Canada? If so, you gave the fans lots of great thrills.

  13. mike schmidt 12:34pm, 03/21/2012

    Hey hey Champ Pep- was just talking to Fitz Vanderpool and Marvin “the weasel”  last week and your name came up regarding your fights over in jolly old England-who says hello- Well lads there ya have it from Canadian, Commonwealth, WBF and IBO champ- fought Floyd Money May, Ricky Hatton etc etc all the best to you Champ and thanks for the weigh-in on this one

  14. tony pep 11:59am, 03/21/2012

    great story just a shout out to carlos my long time friend i agree duran kos manny before six even at a catchweight hahaha

  15. the thresher 11:21am, 03/21/2012

    SRL beats Manny. He hurts him and then closes with a combo. He was on e of the very best closers in history.

    In the unofficail rond robin, he won iit 4-1-1. Duran went something like 1-4.

  16. johnwriter60 11:09am, 03/21/2012

    Mike, I’d have to go w/Leonard. slicker, bigger, heavier fists…

  17. the thresher 11:02am, 03/21/2012

  18. mike schmidt 10:03am, 03/21/2012

    Ezzard Charles, 25 loss record, Archie Moore 23 loss record, Ike Williams 24 loss record, EVEN Eric Esch, fast starter and all, 9 loss record (and one hell of a MMA fighter- watched him get punched clean in the snout up here on a MMA - man I hate to use or say that) and smile and knock a guy out) good old Butterball as wife continues to use wrong name. Thresh you and Mike C. - did you guys do Lou’s pub crawl last weekend!!!! Butterball ?????

  19. the thresher 05:34am, 03/21/2012

    Butterbean was a fast starter

  20. mikecasey 04:51am, 03/21/2012

    None of the guys named here had the speed, skill, grace and punching power of Butterbean.

  21. MIKE SCHMIDT 03:33am, 03/21/2012

    And of course we must not forget…....Henry Armstrong, 21 losses. All in the spirit of friendly banter and respect Ted but you really lost me on this point.

  22. mike schmidt 03:08am, 03/21/2012

    Yes according to your logic—19 losses are 19 losses—how do you then evaluate Sugar Ray Robinson Ted. How about Ali—that big loss to Berbick!!!!!!!

  23. MIKE SCHMIDT 03:01am, 03/21/2012

    In this case Ted I have to say—RIDICULOUS—I guess we should weigh in Ray Leonard getting slapped around by Terry Norris and Camacho—NOT- or better yet—WOW SUGAR RAY ROBINSON—NINETEEN LOSSES AND LOSING TO STAN HARRINGTON AND MIKE LEAHY???? I certainly don’t look at that type of thing at all of course. Mr. Varela my friend you make a valid valid point and Mosley as a lightweight—that was a dannnnnngerous man

  24. Carlos Varela Jr. 02:44am, 03/21/2012

    Roberto Manos de Piedra Duran will KO the pacman in 6 rounds just check the KO ratio of Duran at that time as a lightweight and the pacman KO ratio as a lightweight not even close plus Duran fought a legit middleweight for 15 rounds to a very close fight and a legit lightweight knock him down twice Manos de Piedra the best lightweight of all times as a lightweight the only man that comes close to Duran record was sugar Shane Mosley believe it or not check the records..

  25. johnwriter 01:31am, 03/21/2012

    I’d wager Manny over Sugar, the sweeter, not as savage of the two…

  26. Fitz Vanderpool 07:46pm, 03/20/2012

    Awesome work on this story Schmidty ...You did your research on Mr Roberto Duuuran.
    I like the part where he had that fight in his 43ish against the Paz man .. Very inspiring .
    Well done ...

  27. the thresher 06:44pm, 03/20/2012

    Manny has not lost 16

  28. the thresher 06:43pm, 03/20/2012

    Mike, I guess I just am too dumb here. But Look, I don’t worship Duran like some do. He had a great run, but then he faded.

    You asked for my opinion. That’s all it is—an opinion. If I call someone an ATG, I don’t know what else I can say. He is an ATG and is high up on my list of top 100.

    74-1 is great but 16 losses are 16 losses and unlike most, I am one who loooks at an entire body of work.

  29. mike schmidt 04:29pm, 03/20/2012

    It’s sailing right over your noggin so far—will try again—the Duran, 29 years of age 72-1. The stuff after that, he comes he goes—and the goodies you point out are way up in age and disinterest—let’s see what Manny would look like age 40 and 90 fights in—NOT NOT

  30. the thresher 04:04pm, 03/20/2012

    16 Losses and ask Jorge Castro how consistent he was. Or Kirkland Laing. Or Robbie Sims. Of course, Hearns sent him to Panamanian Dreamland. He stayed around too long and messed up a part of his great legacy. SRL did the same.

    But not Manny so far.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think he is an ATG; I just am asnwering the question YOU posed,

  31. mike schmidt 01:35pm, 03/20/2012

    I don’t know about this inconsistancy business Thresh. I think if you take Duran at 72-1 or as a lightweight—no way Manny. Manny has some interesting notes to his career that Duran does not—getting knocked out by body shots not once BUT TWICE on way to title, split draw with Marquez, and rubber match highly questionable, loss to Eric Morales—if you argue that was before his prime then the latest is sprinkled with some wonderful matchmaking—Marquez (backfire- he lost but JMM 38—sure took long enough to make that one, Mosley 39, Margarito damaged goods, Oscar done done done done, Cotto as per your review of second Margo fight—on the backslide of career—only really good one was Hatton and quite frankly Ricky came out and fought a damned stupid fight right off the dinger. Don’t get me wrong—I am a huge Manny fan but he is no Duran in my book, not evern remotely close. There is a tendancy to put the flavour of the decade at the top of the heap—now laugh as you may Bull but I think how he handles a real live young tough, mentally tough guy (even though the gun is not loaded with 12 guage) Bradley will determine for me a whole lot—and a guy who naturally can fit that welterweight jacket on…...Dooooran, Dooooran, Doooran

  32. The Thresher 11:51am, 03/20/2012

    Pete, I was there as well and that was a very infamous night of violence as Resto mugged Irish Billy and Duran almost killed Moore. The ref in the Duran fight was unreal. He suffred from decision paralysis.

  33. The Thresher 11:49am, 03/20/2012

    Manny vs SRL is a hard call for me. But Manny is too fast for Duran IMO. It would be close and if they fought 10 times, it would probably be 6-4. Duran was too hot and cold. You never knew which one would show up. Manny is more consistent.

    A prime SRL, however, would get inside Manny and finish him.

  34. mike schmidt 11:43am, 03/20/2012

    Let’s play this out another way—and yes I know different styles make different fights—what do you think happens to Manny, at his best, again Ray Leonard at his best—Thresh, Johnwriter—what say ya lads—I am interested to hear….

  35. johnwriter60 10:48am, 03/20/2012

    both near the finish line of their amazing careers. factoring in age and body’s ability to go it again, I favor the Pac Man over the fists of steel. Five years ago my choice would have been reversed…

  36. mike schmidt 08:01am, 03/20/2012

    Nahhhh -not even close—last few years, yes the Pacman has looked great- fighting ollllllld guys—by the by—if he did not loose the last fight (I had him loosing and it sure seemed like most the people in the building had him loosing, and most the media that night, by far and away had him loosing, then it sure was close. I just don’t see him beating Duran, any which way—but hey it is fun to discuss and think about it- all with respect Bull, from Bullschmidt.

  37. the thresher 07:48am, 03/20/2012

    Pacman beats Duran

  38. mike schmidt 07:12am, 03/20/2012

    Thanks much Sneak—very much-that memory you capture is exactly one of the ideas I was trying to catch—pick one of his fights that captured you and it probably is enough to bring a flood of memories along with it—get on down to the Isthmus my friend—they are boxing crazy—the city is booming with a skyline to match any big city and the people are great—and in question from a close friend—“Yeah but was the food good.” Answer, ” No, IT WAS GREAT.” —adios and thanks again AND PS—I am envious I was not in the Garden for that birthday bash!!!!!

  39. Pete The Sneak 06:31am, 03/20/2012

    Great Piece Schmeeety on one of my all time faves, Manos De Piedra Duran. I think you may have just decided my next vacation destiny for me, Panama City Panama….Que Chevere!

    Thresh, I was at the Garden for the Davey Moore fight and it was total unabashed pandamonium as Roberto beat poor Davey from Pillar to Post. Have never experienced any such thing since in any fight I’ve attended. Incredible. Peace.

  40. mikecasey 04:12am, 03/20/2012

    I loved Duran and always will. People sometimes get a little pedantic when discussing different eras and measuring greatness. I think Roberto would have kicked up a storm wherever time had placed him. He learned how to handle different styles and adapted his own superbly as he grew older. He was the consummate pro. On a lower level, Sergio Martinez has a similar ability to think as he goes along.

  41. john coiley 01:31am, 03/20/2012

    Roberto…lightweight to middleweight, guns ablazing…Wow!

  42. mike schmidt 01:21am, 03/20/2012

    If I recall right on that first Paz fight Thresh Duran was 43ish and Paz 32 and it was the first time Paz had hit the canvas-clean knockdown-I might be wrong on that but that is my recollection-What say you Thresh-dream fight -Duran vs. Pacman????

  43. the thresher 07:50pm, 03/19/2012

    My 2 favorite Duran fights were against Moore and Barkley. The crowd roarded “Duuuuran, Duuuran.” It was great. The Moore fight was pure violence.

    He also got stiffed in one of his fights with Paz and in one with Camacho.

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