|Born||June 16, 1951
El Chorrillo, Panama
Roberto Durán (born 1951) is a former professional boxer from Panama. He fought successfully in several weight divisions and was known for his versatility. His strong punching power brought him the nickname of “Hands of Stone.”
However, he is also notorious for walking out of a fight against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980. Durán fought on for many years thereafter, eventually retiring in 2002. He was chosen by the Associated Press as the best lightweight boxer in history.
Durán was born in the Panamanian slum town of El Chorrillo on June 16, 1951, the son of a United States Army soldier who had immigrated from Mexico. A short time after the boy’s birth, his father was transferred to Arkansas, where the family continued to live in poverty.
In order to raise money for his family, Durán became a hustler, performing menial tasks such as selling newspapers and shining shoes, and even dancing for money in the street. He quickly gravitated to the La Guardia Gym in order to learn the art of boxing, and showed promise even as a young teenager. By the time he was 16, he had turned professional.
Building a Boxing Career
Durán quickly made a name for himself as a boxer, becoming the WBA lightweight champion in June of 1972 with a TKO defeat of Ken Buchanan. He had won more than 30 fights by the time he was first defeated by Esteban De Jesús in a light-welterweight bout that did not count as a title fight.
This proved to be a lone aberration, as Durán then went on an amazing winning streak, racking up 41 back-to-back wins. It was at this time that he won his “Hands of Stone” nickname, thanks to a combination of heavy punching power and terrier-like tenacity. He won a rematch with De Jesús to become WBC lightweight champion, but in 1979, he decided to move up to fight as a welterweight.
Triumph and Disaster
In 1980, Duran experienced both great highs and desperate lows. In June, he faced Sugar Ray Leonard, who was at the time undefeated in his entire professional career. They met in the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. In a gripping 12-round contest, Durán fought Leonard almost into the ground and won the WBC welterweight belt.
The November rematch at the New Orleans Superdome was the hottest ticket in town, but ended in controversy and shame. As the eighth round began, Durán – usually renowned for his refusal to give in – declined to enter the ring. It was reported that Durán stated “no más” – meaning “no more” – although he has always denied that this happened. Whatever the truth, Leonard regained the title.
Moving to Light Middleweight
Durán decided to move classes again, this time to light middleweight, where he again quickly found success. On his 32nd birthday in 1983, he won a match over Davey Moore to claim the WBA championship at that weight. His first title challenger was “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler in November of the same year, and Hagler’s brutal strength took the world championship away from Durán.
In 1984, Durán fought Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, but he was knocked out in round two. Again Durán moved up a division, and by 1989 he had beaten Iran Barkley to win the WBC middleweight crown. Yet another weight gain saw him lose a rematch with Leonard at the super middleweight level, but he continued to be a useful boxer for some years.
Later Career and Retirement
In 2000, only one year short of his 50th birthday, Durán chose to fight for the super middleweight belt offered by the NBA, a generally ignored and marginalized body. After 12 rounds, he won a points decision over Pat Lawlor to achieve his final boxing championship.
Two years later, in July of 2001, he defended the title, but lost to Héctor Camacho. This was Durán’s last bout as a few months later he was involved in a car crash that resulted in a punctured lung and several broken ribs. In January of 2002, he officially announced his retirement with a record of 103 wins, including 70 by way of knockout, and 16 losses.
Once he had retired for good, boxing pundits could properly assess Durán’s career, and he was generally placed near the top of the all-time pound-for-pound rankings. He had fought in five separate decades, something previously achieved only by the legendary heavyweight Jack Johnson, and had been a champion in four weight divisions.
Durán remained involved with boxing after his retirement, working as a promoter. In 2006, he was inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame, with membership of its International rival following one year later. A movie about his life is in production and is expected to appear in 2015.