Roberto Duran ‘The Hands of Stone’: A Biography

Roberto Duran
Date of Birth:June 16, 1951
Place of Birth:Guarare, Panama
Gym: Neco de La Guardia Gym. Main Street Gym
Location: Panama. Los Angeles
Trainer: Ray Arcel
Boxing Career: Amateur, Professional, Promoter and Film Star
Nickname: Manos de Pierdra (The hands of Stone), El Cholo, Rocky
Height: 5 Ft 7 inches. 70cm
Reach: 66 inches
Stance: Orthodox
Weight Class:Super Featherweight. Lightweight, Light Welterweight, Welterweight, Light Middleweight, Middleweight, Super Middleweight
Professional Record: Total Fights: 119, Wins: 103, Wins by KO: 70, Losses: 16, Draws 0 
Notable Fights:“The Brawl in Montreal” Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I, “No Mas” Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard II, Roberto Duran vs Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran vs Marvin Hagler and “Uno Mas” Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard III

Roberto Duran : Overview 

Roberto Duran was a Panamanian professional boxer who competed at the very top level of professional boxing for a span of 5 decades (1968 to 2001). Known by the nicknames ‘El Cholo’, ‘Rocky’ and most famously ‘The Hands of Stone’ (Manos De Piedra) Roberto Duran won boxing titles at four different weights to become: lightweight, welterweight, junior-middleweight, and middleweight champion of the world. Famed in infamy for his ‘No Mas’ surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard Roberto Duran nevertheless could never be described as anything less than a boxing great.

Roberto Duran: Early Life and Amateur Career.

Roberto Durán Samaniego was born on the 16th June 1951 in the Barrio slums of ‘El Chorillo’, Panama. The district known as – ‘La Casa de Piedra’ or the ‘House of Stone’ (perhaps inspiration for his most famous nickname) was just 200 meters from the Panama Canal. Born into a life of poverty Roberto Duran shined shoes and sold newspapers from the age of 5 to help support his family. Duran’s father, Margarito, an American of Mexican heritage, (hence another Roberto Duran nickname was ‘El Choro’) was stationed in Panama for the U.S. Army at the time of Roberto’s birth but left soon afterwards.

Not quite verbatim but from Roberto Duran’s own words in the documentary film ‘I am Duran’ the reason he became a boxer was ‘My family didn’t have money to eat, we slept in an entrance way, that’s why I became a boxer.’

Roberto Duran learned to box early in life at the Neco de La Guardia Gym and turned pro at the age of 16. This obviously left little time for an amateur career though he did have one; recorded as 29-3 or 18-3 or 13-3 dependent on source. All sources however reported the 3 losses occurred during Roberto Duran’s first three fights as an amateur.

Roberto Duran: The Professional

Roberto Duran’s career was so long and varied it would be impossible to adequately cover it in one article so I will analyse his rise to fame before specifically selecting some of his most notable fights at different weights (whilst mentioning others) versus the most famous of opposition to illustrate just how good Roberto Duran was in an era that heralded the ‘best of the best’.

A mean and hungry Roberto Duran powered his way up the rankings as a young fighter winning his first 31 professional fights. On the 26th of June 1972, Roberto Duran albeit a 2/1 underdog would win his first World Title, defeating Scotsman Ken Buchanan by TKO in round 13 to claim the WBA lightweight championship. Respected boxing commentator Springs Toledo remarking, ‘Duran fought Ken Buchanan like he had just mugged his mother’. Roberto Duran however would suffer a first loss after 31 wins in a non-title light-welterweight fight vs Esteban de Jesús in November of the same year by unanimous decision, but would avenge that defeat on the 16th March 1974 by stopping de Jesús in Round 10 en-route to another 41 consecutive victories. 

Roberto Duran: Technique & Incredible domination of the Lightweight Divisions 

Roberto Duran combined impressive speed with fearsomely powerful punches that earned him the nickname “Manos de Piedra” (Hands of Stone). Duran was not just a hard puncher however, he was technically very good, even incorporating the ‘Fitzsimmons shift’ into his hard hitting style as well as a good defence, though this often got missed such was the surprise if Roberto Duran did not knock someone out. The clamour around the KO’s overshadowing a great technical ability. An excellent article which illustrates just how good Roberto Duran was in this respect can be seen here.    

Indeed, Roberto Duran would literally rule the lightweight classes from 1968 to 1978 as he obliterated all before him, amassing a record of 62 Wins and 1 loss. Just take a look at his phenomenal record here! 

Overall, Roberto Duran would make twelve successful defences of his title during this period (eleven by knockout) the last defence occurring in 1978 when he fought a third unification match with De Jesus whereby Roberto Duran once again knocked out De Jesus. After defeating de Jesús again to add the WBC lightweight title to his collection, Roberto Duran gave up the undisputed lightweight belts in order to move up to the welterweight division, whereby he quickly proved he could handle bigger opponents with a win over former champion WBC welterweight champion Carlos Palomino and Zefereino Gonzales (among others). This set the stage for a boxing match which would come to be seen as the pinnacle of his career. A fight against the then undefeated WBC Welterweight Champion Sugar Ray Leonard.

Roberto Duran: and the Legendary era of the ‘Four Kings’

Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard I 

‘The Brawl in Montreal’ (Welterweight)

On the 20th of June, 1980, Roberto Duran fought Sugar Ray Leonard at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. Roberto Duran came into the bout with simply astonishing pedigree: A former undisputed World Lightweight Champion for 6 ½ years with a record of 71 wins and only 1 loss. Roberto Duran was the #1 Welterweight contender and widely considered the best ‘Pound for Pound’ fighter on the planet!

This fight really needs no rehashing as it was quite simply a dominant display from Roberto Duran over a boxer of such talent that few expected it would occur. Indeed, respected sports journalist ‘Bill Nack’ summed it up succinctly with the following appraisal

“It was, from almost the opening salvo, a fight that belonged to Durán. The Panamanian seized the evening and gave it what shape and momentum it had. He took control, attacking and driving Leonard against the ropes, bulling him back, hitting him with lefts and rights to the body as he maneuvered the champion against the ropes from corner to corner. Always moving forward, he mauled and wrestled Leonard, scoring inside with hooks and rights. For three rounds Durán drove at Sugar Ray with a fury, and there were moments when it seemed the fight could not last five. Unable to get away, unable to counter and unable to slide away to open up the ring, Leonard seemed almost helpless under the assault. Now and then he got loose and countered—left-right-left to Durán’s bobbing head—but he missed punches and could not work inside, could not jab, could not mount an offense to keep Durán at bay.”

Duran correctly winning the fight by unanimous decision: 145–144, 148–147, 146–144 and in doing so elevating his stock to a level probably thought not possible, even in his own wildest dreams. Highlights of the fight are available here

Roberto Duran: The Panamanian Playboy!

On reaching the ‘big time’ the street kid turned good did not handle fame well from a boxing perspective, playing hard and partying harder! In his own words Duran spent ‘3 weeks just drinking and eating’ after his victory over Ray Leonard. Boxing greats such as Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton later attested as to his prodigious ability in this regard! De La Hoya reminiscing how they never paid for anything when he would visit and they would go out partying, so famous and loved in Panama was Duran. Ricky Hatton recalling visiting Duran who turned up airside before marching Hatton straight through immigration and waiving away calls by soldiers for Hatton’s passport with a sweep of his hand!     

It was fun, it was flamboyant but it was foolish. Roberto Duran’s manager signing a contract for Ray Leonard II leaving Duran with only 6 weeks to get down from the 190lbs he then weighed to the 147lbs he needed to for the fight.

Roberto Duran vs Sugar Ray Leonard II 

‘No mas in New Orleans’ (Welterweight)

Billed as “Stone vs Sugar” the rematch between these two great fighters was held on the 25th of November, 1980 in New Orleans and would come to be seen as the absolute nadir of Roberto Duran’s career. Ray Leonard in scintillating form changed tactics and forced a surprisingly fit Duran to quit in the eighth round. Leonard (unlike the fight in Montreal) using his speed and movement to outbox and confuse Roberto Duran. 

Nevertheless, it was the humiliation that Ray Leonard began to impart from round 7 which ultimately did for Duran. Leonard taunting, testing and teasing him. Amongst other, Leonard threw perhaps his most memorable punch – a version of the Bolo Punch. Leonard winding up his right hand as if to throw it, before snapping out a left jab and catching Roberto Duran flush in the face. Leonard continuing the humiliation by constantly sticking his chin out for Duran to hit before ducking out the way. For a street kid who just wanted to fight this was more than Roberto Duran could stomach and indeed by the closing seconds of the eighth round, Roberto Duran couldn’t take it any longer. He turned his back on Leonard and quit, saying to referee Octavio Meyran, ‘No Más’ or ‘No more’ in English. 

Roberto Duran’s ‘No Mas’ Fall Out

Roberto Duran would go on to claim he quit because of stomach cramps and whilst later in the night he would be admitted for an overnight stay in hospital for stomach pains, it was an excuse that ‘washed’ with few. Especially as he retired from boxing directly after the match.

Universal condemnation followed, Duran’s veteran trainer Ray Arcel so angered, he stated

“That’s it, I’ve had it. This is terrible. I’ve handled thousands of fighters and never had anyone quit on me. I think he needs a psychiatrist more than he needs anything else.” 

Roberto Duran’s manager, Carlos Eleta honestly admitting, “Duran didn’t quit because of stomach cramps. He quit because he was embarrassed”. 

For Roberto Duran his biggest shame was yet to come; and occurred on his return to Panama amongst the outpouring of outrage that was felt there. Previously treated as nothing short of a ‘Demi-God’, Duran recalls in the movie ‘I am Duran’ how he was trapped inside his own home and could not even go out. His wife recalling how stones were thrown at their home with Roberto Duran himself stating, ‘it was the only time he ever felt lonely’.

Roberto may have quit and sadly will forever largely be associated with doing so, but he was not a quitter ‘per se’ and would rally himself to further put on show the boxing skills that had made him a great. Once again Roberto Duran moved onwards by moving upwards. Stopping Davey Moore on the 16th June 1983 (Roberto’s 32nd Birthday) in 8 rounds to win the WBA light middleweight title. 

Three further fights against the Four Kings would ensue. During which Roberto Duran would gain enormous credit for taking a largely unstoppable ‘Marvellous’ Marvin Hagler the distance in November 1983. Suffer an absolute two round destruction at the hands of a brutal ‘back to his best’ Thomas Hearns the following June (1984). Before ultimately losing a deciding bout aged 38 against Sugar Ray Leonard in December 1989, by some margin 120–110, 119–109, 116–111.

Roberto Duran: Other notable fights

It should be noted however that prior to his final ‘4 Kings’ fight, Roberto Duran in his own never say die style, returned to prominence by outlasting Iran Barkley over 12 rounds to win the WBC middleweight title on 24th February, 1989 in a bout widely regarded by boxing experts as one of Roberto Duran’s greatest achievements and performances. A fight named ‘Fight of the Year’ by The Ring.

Thereafter, Roberto Duran continued to fight gamely on as a slightly tarnished record shows. At the age of 49 even winning a 12-round decision over Pat Lawlor to claim the super middleweight title from the fringe NBA organisation. A title he would subsequently lose in what turned out to be his final fight against Héctor ‘Macho’ Camacho on July 14, 2001. Duran suffering broken ribs and a punctured lung in a car accident later that year, and officially retiring in January 2002. Boxing experts in agreement that all things aside, at the height of his career, Roberto Duran was one of the 20th century’s finest fighters.

An eclectic assortment of that fabulous career can be seen in the following highlights reel.

Roberto Duran: Personal life and interesting trivia

  • Roberto Duran cited the following reason for his inspiration behind his outstanding KO record. ‘I wanted to win as quickly as possible so I could go out drinking with my friends’.
  • Out of the ring Roberto Duran met his father for the first time after a 1976 fight in Los Angeles, and they forged a good relationship.
  • Mike Tyson is on record as stating Roberto Duran’s first fight with Ray Leonard inspired him to become a boxer after Duran apparently acknowledged him in the crowd.
  • Roberto Duran use to regularly play pool against General Noriega at his home in Panama.
  • After his fight with Davey Moore, Roberto Duran stated ‘Noriega had the Power, I had the people’
  • Roberto Duran was Sylvester Stallone’s sparring partner in the film Rocky II (1979)  
  • He also starred as a Drug Lord in, Season 2, Episode 19 of the hit 80’s Television show Miami Vice.
  • Roberto Duran remained active as a boxing promoter after retirement.
  • Roberto Duran starred in the ‘Hands of Stone’ biopic (2016) as well as ‘I am Duran’ (2019) and ‘The (Four) Kings’ (2021). 

Finally in late June 2020 Roberto Duran showed he was a fighter in and out of the ring in beating Covid19 and recuperating at his home in Panama.

Roberto Duran Living Legend

There is no doubt that Roberto Duran led an interesting life and had a brilliant career. Some of his finest achievements are summarised here: 

  • Roberto Duran held titles in four different weight classes.
  • Roberto Duran was only the second fighter after Jack Johnson to fight over 5 decades.
  • ‘The Ring’ magazine (2002) voted Roberto Duran the 5th greatest fighter of the last 80 years. 
  • Boxing historian Bert Sugar rated Roberto Duran the 8th greatest fighter of all time.
  • Associated Press voted Roberto Duran the best lightweight of the 20th century.

Pound for pound, one of the most ‘heavy handed’ and hard hitting punches of all time Roberto Duran was inducted into the International Boxing Home of Fame in 2006.

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