Roberto and Chaflan: Refusing to Leave Each Other’s Side

By Christian Giudice on December 3, 2013
Roberto and Chaflan: Refusing to Leave Each Other’s Side
Chaflan nudged little Roberto Duran away from the corrosive temptations of the streets.

Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel proved invaluable; but when it came to shaping Duran as a young man, there was only one Chaflan…

“I made a promise to him and I kept it.”—Roberto Duran on his friend, Chaflan

It’s one thing for someone to stick by when everything is going well. However, a true friend vows to stick around during the most difficult times. Growing up in Panama City, Roberto Duran relied on only a select few within his inner circle whom he could trust.

Often searching for food and money through odd jobs such as singing in the streets, selling newspapers or shining shoes, Duran had to learn to be fiercely independent early on. He had eight siblings and dropped out of school at age 13. It was during these times and later in his adolescence that Duran forged some of the friendships that he still cherishes to this day. One individual who served as guardian throughout Duran’s childhood was a peculiar man named Natalio Candido Diaz or “Chaflan.” Chaflan, a wise, yet affable figure in the community, nudged little Roberto away from the corrosive temptations of the streets.

When it came to guiding his career, wealthy landowner Carlos “Papa” Eleta was instrumental in shaping Duran as a fighter; when it came to polishing the fighter’s skills that Duran’s first trainer, Nestor “Plomo” Quinones, began to develop, Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel proved invaluable; but when it came to shaping Roberto Duran as a young man, there was only one Chaflan.

“Chaflan would do all sorts of pirouettes, tricks with his hands and all the kids 10-12 years old would follow him,” said Duran. “So one day he said that if we would exercise with him he would feed us lunch. So we would do what he told us and walk on our hands, exercise and do flips in the air. Afterwards, he would make us clean off in the ocean; then all covered in sand, he would put us to wrestle because at that time a lot of wrestlers would come to Panama.”

As a young boy with jet-black hair and unbridled energy, Roberto charmed every family in the neighborhood. He channeled his energy into the passions that he shared with his brother, Toti, which included a love for Mexican wrestler, El Vampiro, cartoons, and King Kong. In fact, Roberto even started off as a wrestler under Chaflan’s tutelage. Wherever Chaflan went, the kids followed. To them, he was a hero, someone who refused to abandon them when everyone else would.

Most people who try to remember their first encounter with Chaflan all recall a similar version of the man.

“The first time I met Chaflan, I was in a hotel restaurant and this man comes on the table with Duran and starts dancing right on the table,” said Panamanian legend, Ismael Laguna. “It was crazy. Then I gave him twenty dollars and you should have seen his face. He thanked me—‘Oooh’—it was like I was his best friend. Back then, Duran was still young and wasn’t known yet.”

Back then, if Chaflan was nearby, young Roberto wasn’t far behind.

“Mira. We would leave with Chaflan and would wake up in a newspaper factory on (July 4th Ave.) The newspapers would come out around 5 am. We were like seven or eight kids who wouldn’t go back home and (we would) stay with Chaflan,” said Duran. “There was a little window, they would give us a ticket, the first one would get the papers and would sell the papers fast. But since we were so young, we couldn’t keep up with the bigger kids and we couldn’t sell the papers fast enough. I was always following Chaflan.”

Not everyone maintained his faith in Chaflan, but Roberto never lost his. In fact, even though they had grown apart when Roberto began to train seriously for the professional ranks, the fighter never forgot the one promise he made. If Roberto ever fought for the world title, Chaflan would be by his side. Several years later, both Roberto and Chaflan’s dream came true.

“For my world championship fight with Ken Buchanan, I asked (Carlos) Eleta to bring Chaflan,” Duran recalled. “I came a week before the fight to train at Grossinger’s Gym (and) Eleta brought Chaflan over. I was in New York staying at the Mayflower Hotel. I was very happy to see him because it was a promise I made to him and I kept it.”

New York quickly became Chaflan’s playground, as he immediately was entranced by its nightlife. Duran allowed his friend to see a world beyond the Panama streets. Chaflan, who passed away nearly seven years after that historic lightweight championship bout, never forget his friend’s gesture.

Ultimately, Chaflan showed Roberto how to survive in the dangerous streets of Chorrillo and beyond. The lessons that he taught the young boy would pay dividends later on as Roberto grew into an international legend.

When Chaflan died in 1979, Roberto was training for a welterweight bout with Carlos Palomino. His team waited until after the bout to give Duran the news. Duran broke down immediately. He lost a piece of himself and one of the best cornermen he ever had.

But more importantly Chaflan showed Roberto that in the face of adversity he would always have a friend, a smiling face to promise, “It’s going to be okay.” 

Back then that was just what he needed.

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Roberto Duran vs Ken Buchanan.



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  1. MisterDreamer 12:45pm, 12/15/2013

    This is the best boxing website out here. Excellent writing, interesting stories and the comments are entertaining and informative. I’m truly pleased to be part of this boxing community. I truly enjoy the sport of boxing and especially appreciate the all time great fighters and their riveting life stories. Duran is one of my all time favorites along with, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, Rocky Marciano, Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore, Alexis Arguello just to name the top fighters in my book.

  2. Pete The Sneak 12:22pm, 12/04/2013

    By the by,  ‘Brutal’ CG as in Clarence George (not Christian Guidice)...Peace.

  3. Pete The Sneak 12:18pm, 12/04/2013

    Another example of why Boxing.com Rocks. You find things here concerning your favorite fighters that you wouldn’t learn about on any other site. Never heard of ‘Chaflan,’ but obviously he was a special person in Roberto’s life…Nice read Christian….CG, that was brutal man, just brutal..lol…Peace.

  4. Ted 07:45pm, 12/03/2013

    OMG!

  5. Clarence George 07:39pm, 12/03/2013

    Roberto Duran is heterosexual to the soles of his shoes…to the point of a remarkable obtuseness.

    “Chaflan would do all sorts of pirouettes, tricks with his hands and all the kids 10-12 years old would follow him,” said Duran. “So one day he said that if we would exercise with him he would feed us lunch. So we would do what he told us and walk on our hands, exercise and do flips in the air. Afterwards, he would make us clean off in the ocean; then all covered in sand, he would put us to wrestle because at that time a lot of wrestlers would come to Panama.”

    Yeah…I can’t help but wonder if Chaflan had another reason for wanting the boys to wrestle. 

    Blame it on Ted.  I’m now hyper alert since he pointed out that my comment on another article—“Greek on my shit list”—could be taken two ways.  Oh, jeez, I’m stopping while I’m infinitely behind.  D’oh!

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