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From the Archive: When The Ring first discovered Roberto Duran

Photo from The Ring archive
Fighters Network

Editor’s Note: This feature originally appeared in the January 1972 issue of The Ring. It is being presented verbatim.

By Eduardo Guerrero 

In the semi-final to the world lightweight championship fight in which Ken Buchanan defeated Ismael Laguna for the second time, a lightweight named Roberto Carlos Duran, from Panama like Ismael, appeared to spectacular advantage.

Duran knocked out Benny Huertas, from Brooklyn, in the first round. Huertas was no stiff.

Huertas deserved better matchmaking. But there it was. Benny started flamboyantly. Duran soon got going and in 66 seconds had Benny completely out.

Many of the 13,000 onlookers wondered how Buchanan and Laguna would have fared against a power puncher like Duran.

Madison Square Garden officials lost no time in assuring themselves of another demonstration by Duran at an early date. Teddy Brenner, matchmaker, signed him to an open contract with assurances that Roberto soon would be on display again, importantly.

There is a strong belief among certain experts that Duran is headed for the world lightweight title. Roberto, who is 20, having celebrated his birthday just before stopping Huertas, says he will have the title by the time he is 21.

“My idol is Muhammad Ali, my favorite South American fighter is junior lightweight contender Antonio Amaya and my hobby is dancing and the music that goes with it,” Duran said on his recent visit here.

“I like to fight. I like to train. I like money. I know that to get money, the kind I am after, I have to be the world champion. So I will have to be that.

“I have one sister and two brothers. I am not from a fighting family.

“I owe a lot to my manager, Carlos Eleta, who does not handle me for the money he sees in me. He had plenty of dough. He is the top stockholder of Panama Lines and TV Channel 4 in Panama, and he has big interests in Iberian Airlines.

“Eleta also owns the Marboros baseball team, which has sent four players to the major leagues.

“Having a manager who is interested in your career and not in the dough he can squeeze out of you is quite a break.”

Excerpt from January 1972 issue.

Duran plays the drums with a Panamanian bongo-combo. He said that one of his hobbies is cock-fighting, which goes big in Panama and South America, but is not legal in the U.S. The unbeaten fighters owns a couple of champion birds, gifts from his manager.

It developed that for stopping Huertas, Duran got $3,000. He turned down a $13,000 guarantee for a fight with Chango Carmona in order to get the more valuable chance in New York.

Duran’s immediate plans call for fights with Hiroshi Kobayashi and Miguel Velasquez, of Spain.

Born on June 16, 1951, in the town of Guarare, province of Los Santos in Panama’s Interior, he was baptized as Roberto Duran Samaniego (Samaniego is his mother’s maiden name), the 20-year-old power-puncher is the second of nine children. His mother, Clara, was also born in Guarare about 170 miles from Panama City. His father, Osvaldo Duran, is of Mexican origin.

Roberto began fighting at the age of 14 on the streets of Panama City, borough of Chorillo, where he grew up. In Chorillo, a tough district, he had to fight to survive. In that neighborhood you’ve got to do or die. Duran wanted to stay in one piece. He felt he was too young to die, so he learned to fight, and fight hard. Roberto’s education was limited to the elementary level because he had to cut short his schooling to help support his mother and younger brothers and sisters.

He shined shoes, caught fish in small native dugouts, known as “cayucos,” and even danced on street corners to earn nickels and dimes. He had to do a lot of fighting to hold on to the fish he caught.

At the age of 16 he was taken to the Maranon Gym, a dingy little “sweat box” located on the Panama City waterfront, by a former national boxing champion, Sammy Medina, who once wore the bantamweight and featherweight crowns. Medina first became impressed with Duran watching him handle himself in street fights.

Medina decided that Roberto was too good to waste his time on street fights so he launched him as an amateur boxer.

As an amateur, Roberto lost only three of 16 bouts. As an unbeaten pro he has won 25 of 25 encounters, 24 of them via kayo. He has never been knocked down.

Roberto turned professional in 1967 at the age of 18, when he fought a tough veteran named Carlos Mendoza whom he decisioned in four. He closed out that year with a 5-0 record, four of his victories coming by knockout.

It was at this stage that he drew the attention of Carlos Eleta, a prominent businessman, industrialist and sportsman who decided to manage this kid with the explosive fists. Roberto, whose trainer since his amateur days has been Nestor (Plomo) Espinoza, is a natural lightweight, usually tipping the scales at 133 or 134 pounds.

Included in Duran’s record are 11 first-round knockouts. He TKOed New Jersey lightweight Lloyd Marshall in the sixth round of a match set for ten. Two months before, Marshall had lost a decision to former world lightweight king Ismael Laguna after he dropped the ex-champ for a mandatory eight-count in the second round.