Roberto Duran: “Manos de Piedra”

By Norman Marcus on December 9, 2012
Roberto Duran: “Manos de Piedra”
Red Smith wrote that “anything short of pulling a knife is regarded indulgently" in boxing.

“I am not an animal in my personal life,” said Duran. “But in the ring there is an animal inside me. Sometimes it roars when the first bell rings…”

Roberto Duran Sananiego started life as a poor boy in “La Casa de Piedra” (The House of Stone) District of Chorrillo, Panama. His mother, Clara Sananiego, had no money for a doctor when her time came. The baby was delivered into this world by his grandmother. Roberto’s father, Margarito Duran Sanchez, was a Mexican immigrant from Arizona, but the young boy never knew him. He left Panama before Roberto was born. There was little food for the family in those days. As a child Roberto did whatever he could to provide for his mother and siblings. He shined shoes, sold newspapers, and even sang and danced at local saloons and brothels. There was no safety net in Panama, no welfare or Social Security. If you were lucky enough to find work, you could eat. It was a constant struggle to survive.

Eight-year-old Roberto started hanging around the Neco de La Guardia Gym where his older brother boxed. He realized even at that age that becoming a boxer was his ticket to a better life. Duran turned pro at the age of 15 and won his first 21 fights. Businessman Carlos Eleta bought out his contract for $300. Once Eleta became his manager, Roberto finally got the equipment he needed. New gloves, hand wraps, shorts and good high-laced boots were finally provided. No shortcuts here, no Olympic medal or PR campaign to speed his way to a title. The everyday hard work of the gym, the training, literally the “school of hard knocks,” slowly made the name Duran popular with the Panamanian people. Eleta hired Ray Arcel as Duran’s trainer and Freddie Brown as his cutman. They taught him a simple defense and smoothed out his rough edges. Duran soon extended his record to 30 straight wins without a loss and 27 KOs.

Duran was still a product of the streets and so had street values. He began to buy expensive suits, jewelry and cars, and fancy women to along with them. In many ways he was the stereotype of a boxer. Duran lived for today and let tomorrow take care of itself. That lifestyle, as it often does, was to catch up with him in later years.

On June 26, 1972, he fought lightweight champion Ken Buchanan at New York’s Madison Square Garden for the WBA title. Duran knocked down the champ 15 seconds into the first round and continued to dominate him well into round 13. With Buchanan on the ropes being pummeled by Duran, referee Johnny LoBianco roughly pulled Roberto away from the champion. That sudden tug on Duran’s arm caused his last punch to land low. Buchanan howled in pain and the crowd was in an uproar. The fight was stopped and Duran was awarded a TKO and the title. Red Smith of the New York Times wrote that “anything short of pulling a knife is regarded indulgently” in American boxing. Duran was accused of a foul, but videotape showed that it was the fault of the referee, manhandling Duran at the break.

Duran was 21 years old and the new WBA lightweight champion of the world.

Roberto made 12 successful defenses of his title. On September 17, 1978, he stopped Esteban De Jesus in 12 rounds to win the WBC version of the title. Duran gave up his WBC and WBA titles in February of 1979.  He moved up in weight and won his next eight fights campaigning as a welterweight. Sugar Ray Leonard was now in his headlights.

What type of fighter was Roberto Duran? What exactly spurred him on through his career? Duran tried to explain it this way: “I am not an animal in my personal life. But in the ring there is an animal inside me. Sometimes it roars when the first bell rings. Sometimes it springs out later in a fight. But I can always feel it there, driving me forward. It is what makes me win. It makes me enjoy fighting.” Roberto was far from being just a banger, though that was his reputation. He could adjust his style as a fight evolved. If he had a runner in front of him he was smart enough to cut off the ring and close the deal. If the other guy was a puncher, Duran could trade punches. “Getting hit motivates me,” he once said. “It makes me punish the guy more. A fighter takes a punch, hits back with three punches.” You could say that his one weakness was his lack of discipline outside of the ring. He would eat far too much, neglect the gym and generally not take good care of himself. Later, when he would go back to train for a fight, he would stick to the prescribed routine. But this yo-yo life style did him no good.

Sugar Ray Leonard was not a fighter like Duran. He was a classic boxer. Ray’s skills mirrored the likes of his namesake, the original Sugar Ray Robinson, or perhaps a young Gene Tunney. These boxers could stick and move with agility and could take a punch. They knew how to slowly wear down an opponent, until he is ready to fold or fall.

The “Brawl in Montreal” was set for June 20, 1980, with Duran challenging WBC welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard at the Olympic Stadium, the same stadium where Leonard had won his Olympic medal in 1972. Duran was bitter because Leonard was getting four times more money for this fight than he was. Ray’s trainer Angelo Dundee warned him to box Duran. But Ray stated, “I will not run.” He would fight Duran.

Bill Nack described the action this way: “It was, from almost the opening salvo, a fight that belonged to Duran. He took control, attacking and driving Leonard against the ropes…scoring inside with lefts and rights. Unable to get away, unable to counter and unable to slide away to open the ring, Leonard seemed almost helpless under the assault. He missed punches and could not work inside, could not jab, could not mount a defense to keep Duran away.” Roberto walked away with a unanimous decision and Ray Leonard’s title.

The two men met again on November 25, 1980, at the Superdome in New Orleans. Only five months has passed between the two fights, but the rematch proved to be a different matter. For the second fight, Duran got more money than Leonard, $8,000,000 to Leonard’s $7,000,000. Ray came to box this time, no more banging with Roberto. Plus, in the interim, Duran had done himself a disservice by eating himself into the size of the Goodyear blimp. He had to work and sweat off around 60 pounds to make weight, so Duran was weak when he entered the ring. This time Leonard listened to Angelo Dundee. He jabbed, he moved, and Duran couldn’t catch him. “I snapped his head back with a jab,” Ray said. “I snapped it back again.” In the seventh round Ray was taunting Duran and mugging for those on the audience. Late in the eighth round, Duran had had enough. He turned his back on the showboating Leonard and told referee Octavio Meyran “No mas.” (No more.) In an attempt to save face, he later claimed severe stomach cramps forced him to quit. Leonard had regained his WBC welterweight title.

Duran’s trainer, a disgusted Ray Arcel said, “That’s it, I’ve had it. This is terrible. I never had anyone quit on me. I think he needs a psychiatrist more than he needs anything else.” Manager Carlos Eleta said, “Duran didn’t quit because of stomach cramps. He quit because he was embarrassed. I know this.” Roberto was embarrassed and did not return home to face the people of Panama for a long time.

Duran fought on for 20 more years. He moved up in weight again and on January 3, 1982 lost toWilfred Benitez to win the WBC light middleweight title. On June 16, 1983, he fought and beat Davey Moore for the WBA light middleweight title at Madison Square Garden. Roberto then challenged Marvin Hagler on November 10, 1983 at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for his WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight belts. Duran lost a unanimous decision after 12. The next year, on June 15, 1984, he took on WBC light middleweight champion Tommy Hearns, also at Caesar’s Palace. Duran was stopped in round two by the Hitman.

For the next five years Roberto was active but he was slowing down, and so was the quality of his opposition. He still had a name that drew the people in but real contenders weren’t interested. And as far as the media was concerned, he was yesterday’s news. Luckily he got a match with Iran Barkley, who held the WBC middleweight title. Perhaps the champion’s people thought it was a safe tune-up fight. They couldn’t have been more wrong. The bout took place on February 24, 1989 at the Atlantic City Convention Center and turned out to be The Ring’s Fight of the Year. The old man pulled out a win against Barkley in a SD12 to claim the title. Duran even knocked Barkley down in the 11th round. Duran had a middleweight belt once again.

This blast from the past set up a third meeting with Roberto’s nemesis, Ray Leonard, who held the WBC super middleweight title. Here was a chance for him to redeem himself for quitting during their last meeting. So it was at the Mirage Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas on December 7, 1989 that Duran reached back one more time in an attempt to square things. But it was not to be. Ray boxed Duran, just as he did in their second fight, and won a unanimous decision after 12 rounds. He had learned his lesson in Montreal. No banging with Hands of Stone.

For the next 11 years Duran continued to box. It seemed his fortune had slipped away. His record was good but spotty against some solid but mostly unknown opponents. Roberto fought 26 times during the 1990s. He lost eight of those 18 bouts. His last fight was on July 14, 2001, at the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado against Hector Camacho. The Macho Man decisioned Duran in Atlantic City in 1996. The result in Denver was no different.

Roberto was involved in a serious automobile accident soon after the second Camacho fight. He was 50 years old at the time and had to walk away from the square ring for the final time.

Duran’s record stands at 103-16 with 70 KOs.

(To read more on Duran at “Postcards From Panama: Duran’s Place”)

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Ken Buchanan vs Roberto Duran - June 26, 1972 - Rounds 1 - 4

Ken Buchanan vs Roberto Duran - June 26, 1972 - Rounds 5 - 8

Ken Buchanan vs Roberto Duran - June 26, 1972 - Rounds 9 - 12

Ken Buchanan vs Roberto Duran - June 26, 1972 - Round 13 + Interview with referee

Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran I.avi

Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard II FULL FIGHT

Roberto Duran vs Wilfred Benitez

Roberto Duran Vs Davey Moore (Full Fight)

Marvin Hagler Vs Roberto Duran - Full Fight - 10 Nov 1983

Thomas Hearns vs. Roberto Duran Full Fight KO

Roberto Duran vs Iran Barkley

Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Roberto Duran - 3

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  1. Michel Taguay 04:17pm, 10/15/2015

    Research was sloppy.  Léonard won gold in 1976.  Duran was robbed of a decision against Camacho in 96.    Duran beat Léonard fair and square in Montréal. Can’t people just accept it ?  What’s Léonard compared to Duran ?

  2. bikermike 11:05am, 12/17/2012

    Jethro’re not alone….lotsa leonard bag lickers around…even today ...
    How much time between the complete thrashing leonard got from Duran in Montreal…and the ‘NO MAS’.....just a few months.
    Duran….not a sophisticated , nor educated man..raised in the streets of Panama.  It was common knowledge Duran would feast and party after his victories…..and the short time between leonard Duran 1 and II says a lot .  Duran and his management were hustled into a rematch far too early…Duran had to lose sixty pounds to make Welter ffs.

    Duran will always be rated ahead of leonard ...cuz leonard..the true Welterweight ...and champion at the time….was beaten badly by Duran…who was coming up from Light Weight… jr welter bullshit…Duran…the smaller man truely mauled the flashy leonard

  3. Jethro Tull 04:12am, 12/14/2012

    “Duran came to fight, Leonard (who can never beat Duran by actually boxing and punching) came to run, run, run, and his sophomoric buffoonery. “

    As opposed to Duran just walking away in the middle of the fight, this isn’t buffoonery.

    In fact, the reverse is true. Duran would not have beaten Leonard in the first match if Leonard hadn’t announced beforehand he was going to fight Duran’s fight.

    The third fight was 12 rounds of the utterest drivel with both men in safety first mode and lining their pockets. The biggest loser in that match was Tommy Hearns who didn’t even fight and was screwed of a rubber match.

    “The ref should have disqualified him on the spot.”

    Nothing that Leonard did in New Orleans is against the rules while Duran’s quitting means that he automatically lost.

  4. Eric 06:41pm, 12/11/2012

    A true P4P all-time great right up there with Henry Armstrong, Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Bob Fitzsimmons, and Sam Langford. However, I do feel Duran owed Buchanan a rematch after the controversial ending to their first and only bout in which Duran took Buchanan’s world lightweight title. Dominated Leonard in their first bout, a bout that was ridiculously close on all scorecards. Was never the same Duran after the Leonard fight even though he would go on to win titles in the junior middleweight and middleweight division to become world champion in 4 weight divisions. Had a prodigious and legendary appetite between fights and would often balloon up to 170-180lbs between lightweight title defenses. Later on as a welterweight, jr. middleweight, and middleweight it wasn’t uncommon for the 5’7” Duran to weigh 200lbs between fights. Suprised everyone by actually going the distance with the great Marvin Hagler, although the fight wasn’t as close as the judges called it, Duran was very competitive all the way to the end with the larger Hagler. Perhaps the most shocking victory of Duran’s illustrious career came when he beat and dropped the much larger Iran Barkley to win his fourth title and become middleweight champion. Carried on much too long and fought till he was 50 years old losing to fighters who would have been lucky enough to be Duran’s sparring partners in his prime.

  5. Tex Hassler 06:33pm, 12/11/2012

    Duran in his prime was one of the hardest punchers of all time. He would have beaten Pacquiao, Marquez and Floyd Mayweather. He was a class above them. Perhaps far above them. He could make the other guy fight his fight.

  6. Don from Prov 05:19pm, 12/11/2012

    The Duran who beat Leonard would’ve, IMO, beaten both Manny and JMM—

    Big time!

  7. Mike Schmidt 05:40pm, 12/10/2012

    You got it right on Frank—as on the link at the end of this article—my “Postcards from Panama” article let’s not forget that the Duran that fought Leonard the first time—BOTH GUYS IN SHAPE-already had seventy plus fights, was twenty nine years old and had a long six and half year title run—he was not at his prime for the first fight by that time BUT HE KICKED RAY’S ASS.

  8. Frank 05:18pm, 12/10/2012

    Thank you for this article about Roberto Duran. However, the whole controversy over Duran v. Leonard is hugely overblown and totally biased. Duran came to fight, Leonard (who can never beat Duran bu actually boxing and punching) came to run, run, run, and his sophomoric buffoonery. The ref should have disqualified him on the spot. But, of course Leonard the darling of The Ring, HBO, and Sports Illustrated got away with it, as well as in the third fight. The last two fights could have been memorable like Marquez v. Pacquiao but Leonard severely damaged his legacy. “No Mas,” is now an adjective for no guts, integrity, and heart on the part of Leonard, not Duran.

    As for the Camacho first fight, Duran beat him up big time. The northeast judges gave Camacho a totally corrupt gift win, as they did to Vinnie Pazienza (who was actually knocked down twice) by at that time a very old Duran. God bless you Robert Duran! You will be remembered and admired long after we totally forget some of your rivals.

  9. Mike Schmidt 12:33pm, 12/10/2012

    Bikermike- tab my name and go to PostCards From Panama:Durans Place and I think it says it all

  10. Jethro Tull 11:37am, 12/10/2012

    “I noticed Ken Buchanan didn’t want to mix it up again with Duran”

    Actually, Buchanan did want to fight Duran again but Duran didn’t want to.

    It’s in Christian Giudice’s book ‘Hands of Stone’.

    “Leonard and his team scooped Duran’s title…by having the contract dictate when the fight would take place.”

    No, Duran lost the title by ballooning after the match. It’s all detailed in the book I mentioned earlier.

    “He could never have beaten him on the up and up… he beat him dirty with contracts and flash”

    Actually, Duran would never have beaten Leonard again in a million years. Leonard lost the Montreal match before it even began by saying he would stand toe-to-toe.

    Leonard beat Hearns fair and square in their first encounter, btw. The fight was stopped with an exhausted Hearns taking punches without reply. Leonard retired after one more fight though Hearns was robbed in their second encounter.

    Also, the article states that Benitez beat Duran at 154lbs.

  11. bikermike 10:51am, 12/10/2012

    It was said that some fighters had a great amateur career….Olympic medals…etc…

    Duran was a tuff little fuker that needed to eat..and did it by fighting….as it paid better than selling papers or singing and dancing at brothels….

    Duran made it to the top by his talent ...beat all of his opponents.  Lost to Esteban de Jesus….and beat the guy later.

    Boxing doesn’t get these guys anymore….due to the corruption of promotion and the system of Pro Boxing

  12. bikermike 10:47am, 12/10/2012

    Duran vs Hagler…Duran vs “The Blade’ Barkley….and dozens of others….Duran wasn’t a guy who hung around…..DURAN was a threat almost every time he went into the ring.

    True…due to his lack of worldly knowledge….Duran was taken advantage of.  i don’t know if the gentleman could read nor write…....BUT HE WAS THE TUFFEST MO’FUKER IN THE VALLEY ...and has the belts and wins to prove it

  13. bikermike 10:43am, 12/10/2012

    Duran was the best fighter of his time…..lightweight to lt heavy weight…..He was like a modern day Mickey Walker.

    Duran beat leonard ...fair and square…..and Duran came up from Lightweight to Welterweight , to do that….leonard was the Welterweight Title holder…..beat cleanly by Duran in Montreal…

    leonard and his braintrust knew how unsophisticated Duran was…and preyed upon that

  14. bikermike 10:39am, 12/10/2012

    I noticed Ken Buchanan didn’t want to mix it up again with Duran…after his loss of Title
    Duran didn’t hit him low….but I’m not saying Duran wouldn’t have .........;.By the way….Buchanan…a fine Champion as well…...was known to put some hurt on his opponents below the belt and after the bell as well….Ken never could deal with his defeat ....Most guys at that level have such pride….

  15. bikermike 10:35am, 12/10/2012

    leonard had a lot of investment behind him…and legal sophistication as well.
    Duran was a street kid from Panama…who fought his way out of the barrio..and to the top of the Boxing world.

    leonard and his team scooped Duran’s title…by having the contract dictate when the fight would take place.

    I saw no effort by leonard’s team try to get a rematch with Tommy Hearns after their first encounter(ref stopped the fight too soon…with Hearns ahead) 
    leonard was good for boxing…but he hustled Duran…he could never have beaten him on the up and up… he beat him dirty with contracts and flash

  16. mike schmidt 04:26am, 12/10/2012

    31 wins, 27 knockouts and those came up to the first loss to Esteban. Adios

  17. MIKE SCHMIDT 04:23am, 12/10/2012

    30 -0 with I think 27 knockouts. Not 30-0 with 19 ko’s. Big Duran fan here of course -nice

  18. Lee 03:28am, 12/10/2012

    Another fine article slightly marred by some sloppy research-Duran stopped DeJesus in the 12th not second of their 3rd fight,and LOST to Benitez as I am certain the video you have thoughfully provided below will demonstrate.

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