20-20 vision – The greatest fighter from Panama: Roberto Duran
Most countries have produced at least one or two special boxers whose ring exploits have been etched permanently in our collective memory. That includes tiny nations like Puerto Rico and behemoths like the U.S. and Mexico, as well many in between.
In this feature, The Ring looks closely at 20 countries with strong boxing traditions and selects the best fighter from each.
The process wasn’t easy. First, we had to select the 20 countries, which proved to be painstaking. Some nations that have produced memorable fighters didn’t make the list. And, second, choosing a single boxer from the countries that did make the cut was easy in some cases – Panama, for example – but excruciating in others.
The countries will be rolled out in alphabetical order one day at a time at The Ring.
Notes: The “five more” listed at the bottom of each capsule were among other fighters in the discussion for each nation. … Some boxers lived in more than one country. We assigned each to the country where they spent their formative years. For example, a fighter who left one country as a small child was assigned to his second country.
Birthdate / place: June 16, 1951 / Panama City
Years active: 1968-2001
Record: 103-16 (70)
Major titles: RING and WBA lightweight (1972-79), WBC lightweight (1978-79), RING and WBC welterweight (1980), WBA junior middleweight (1983-84), WBC middleweight (1989-90)
Greatest victories: Iran Barkley, Ken Buchanan, Pipino Cuevas, Esteban De Jesus (twice), Sugar Ray Leonard
Background: “Hands of Stone” fought from 119 to 176 pounds over an epic 33-year career filled with great accomplishments and devoted fans worldwide, who were taken with his sublime ability combined with a temperament so fiery it seemed he would explode at any moment. Duran could’ve retired after his remarkable seven-year run as lightweight titleholder in 1978 and been considered an all-time great. After all, he was 63-1 when he moved to welterweight and arguably the greatest 135-pounder ever. Instead, many of his greatest performances lay ahead. Perhaps his best took place in June 1980, when he fought undefeated American star Sugar Ray Leonard for a 147-pound title in Montreal. Duran had used insults to goad Leonard into a fire fight and the former Olympic champion paid a price, losing a close decision. Leonard got his revenge in the immediate rematch, the “No Mas” fight. Leonard’s stick-and-move tactics and showboating humiliated the proud Panamanian, who decided to quit rather than endure more embarrassment. Afterward, he was vilified by some fans – even some back home – but he was able to rebuild his reputation, although his career was up and down after that point. He lost back to back fights against fellow Hall of Famer Wilfredo Benitez and Kirkland Laing but bounced back to stop Pipino Cuevas and Davey Moore in succession. He then gave Marvin Hagler more trouble than expected in defeat before he was brutally knocked out in two rounds by Thomas Hearns. Duran was finished, right? Wrong. He was 37 and two decades into his career when he was allowed to challenge Iran Barkley – who had just stopped Hearns – for his middleweight title in 1989 in Atlantic City. Duran turned back the clock one last time, outboxing and outslugging the naturally bigger man to win a split decision and add a middleweight championship to his collection. “I am like a bottle of wine,” Duran said. “The older I get, the better I get.” Well, not necessarily. He fought for another decade-plus, accomplishing little, but he was already a legend. Duran’s name is still spoken with reverence.
Quote: “I am not an animal in my personal life,” Duran said. “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 and pushing me forward. It is what makes me win. It makes me enjoy fighting.”
Five more from Panama (in alphabetical order): Al Brown, Ismael Laguna, Anselmo Moreno, Eusebio Pedroza, Hilario Zapata
Next up: Philippines
Ones you missed:
Argentina: Carlos Monzon
Australia: Jeff Fenech
Canada: Sam Langford
Cuba: Jose Napoles
France: Marcel Cerdan
Germany: Max Schmeling
Ghana: Azumah Nelson
Ireland: Barry McGuigan
Italy: Nino Benvenuti
Japan: Fighting Harada
Mexico: Julio Cesar Chavez
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