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Roberto Duran faces fight against Covid-19 - 40 years after 'No Mas'

by Marina Tullipan (2020-07-10)

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Roberto Duran never fitted in boxes or ran with crowds, he bucked trends and stood alone.
He has been on the wrong side of history and been dealt unfavourable hands before but that has never stopped him.

Duran is an exception in every sense of the word.

An old-school tough guy who emerged right out of the Panamanian slums to become a four-weight world champion in a career which spanned across five different decades. It was 19 years ago that the curtain came down, but now he faces another fight against a new and menacing opponent. 

Duran's son confirmed last week that the legendary boxer, now 69, is in hospital suffering with coronavirus.

It would be typical of the man who has hands of stone and the will of steel to meet this fight head on as he did so many times in past battles inside the ring, but the boxing world will be keeping its fingers crossed for the recovery of one its favourite former kings.

Roberto Duran (right) is currently fighting coronavirus in a hospital in Panama

The Panamanian great is one of the most revered and well-known boxers in the sport's history

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The Panamanian was one of the famous quartet with Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hitman Hearns who revitalised boxing in the Eighties.

Unlike his counterparts, who came through more traditional routes, Duran was, as Barry Hearn put it to Sportsmail, 'bang off the streets' and relied on an incomparable toughness and determination to prosper in the hardest game. He was a warrior of a truly bygone era.

'Basically he was one tough b******,' Hearn says.
'Normally those types of fighters are used and abused. You look at Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti, they don't usually last as long as Duran did so he is very unusual and special in that respect.'

That is why there is a sad irony that Duran's defining impression on boxing will always be the moment that he quit.

It is 40 years ago this November that Duran waved his gloves at the referee and muttered 'no mas' [no more] after eight rounds of being humiliated and taunted by a fitter and slicker Leonard in their rematch in New Orleans. 

Duran, who still refutes that he ever said 'no mas', had pulled off the finest performance of his career to defeat Leonard and capture the WBC welterweight title earlier in the same year.

He had spent months on end partying after that victory and weighed 200lbs when his manager Carlos Eleta phoned him in late September to tell him the rematch was on for November. 

'Are you f***ing crazy? I can't drop all that weight in a month,' he shouted back down the phone.

Duran took diuretics and spent hours in saunas just to get down to the 155lb limit. Depleted, drained and beset with stomach cramps, he knew before the first bell he was going to lose. 

Duran had great battles with Sugar Ray Leonard but is most famous for his loss in the rematch

He famously said 'No Mas' in the eighth round after being outclassed by a fitter Leonard

To the millions unaware, his act of resignation in the eighth round came like a bolt from the blue.

Duran's stock further fell when he lost his next world title challenge against Wilfred Benitez two years later before British fighter Kirkland Laing claimed a split decision victory over him in one of boxing's major upsets.

Tasked with rebuilding Duran's profile was legendary promoter Bob Arum, who began working with him in 1982. Duran's first fight under Arum was against British champion Jimmy Batten, a man cut from a similar cloth.

Batten was diagnosed with brain damage six months before being offered the chance to face Duran but still took the fight and went the full distance with him, dropping a close points decision.

'I was told before the fight I wasn't going to win, that plans had been made for his future.

But I didn't care, I just wanted to fight,' Batten says. 'It was a hard night's work against him. He broke three of my ribs in the second round... I was just pleased to be fighting someone that good because I always thought I was in that grade myself.

'If I could return to fight Duran tomorrow, I would and I'm sure he'd do the same.'

After outpointing Batten, Duran defeated Pipino Cuevas and then stopped Davey Moore to become a world champion again and restore his reputation. He would go on to have super-fights with Hagler and Hearns next but would come off second best on both occasions.

It will come as no surprise that the fight with Hagler - a man who was often avoided - came about by his own making. 

Bob Arum (M) promoted Duran after the 'No Mas' fight and gave a fascinating insight into him

British boxer Jimmy Batten put up a valiant effort against Duran in their fight in 1982

'I remember he was training for the fight with Moore,' Arum tells Sportsmail.

'And Bob Hope had a Christmas special on television and he was going to do a skit: The fight that will never happen between Hagler and Leonard - this was obviously way before it did - and Leonard got appendicitis and so they called me to get a substitute and I suggested Duran.

'The producer was in favour but Howard Cosell threatened to boycott it, but we convinced Cosell and that's when Hagler and Duran were in the same dressing room and Duran said in Spanish to his manager: "Look, look at him, he's not so big. I'll fight him next after I beat Moore." And that led to the Hagler-Duran fight, which was extraordinarily successful.'

Duran would win one more world title, in 1989, after edging out Iran Barkley in a ferocious contest and lose to Leonard in a trilogy fight before his retirement in 2001 following a serious car crash which almost cost him his life.

Even in the years after he stopped fighting, Duran remained more revered than any other person in Panama.

'I am not God - but I am something similar,' he once said. It may sound like the declaration of a deluded egotist, but that was genuinely his reality. In Panama, people never forgot that Duran offered them hope during times of strife and he remains a cultural symbol even today.

Duran restored his reputation after the 'No Mas' fight by knocking out Davey Moore

'No one has made us cry with joy and sadness like Duran has.

There is no one like him. His fights helped us forget about our problems in tough times,' Panamanian sports journalist Karol Lara says.

Under the yoke of US imperialism, Duran was travelling to America and beating hometown fighters on their own soil.
At a politically tumultuous time and when tensions between Panama and the US were reaching boiling point, there was some significance in that. 

Much like how Muhammad Ali stood up for the civil rights of the African-American movement before him, Duran was also doing the same for the poor and underprivileged in Panama.

It is another reason why there is a statue of him standing not far from his home and why he remains a national treasure.

'Duran is almost untouchable. If you were to talk bad about him you will face a whole country,' Lara adds. 'He is loved because he treats everyone the same and people identify with him. He exemplifies what it is to be Panamanian: fun, strong and spontaneous.'

Duran was known to burn through money on various excesses after big fights

The former world champion was a huge inspiration for heavyweight great Mike Tyson (M)

It was that Duran charm and charisma which endeared him to a wider audience.

He would inspire future world champions in Mike Tyson and Ricky Hatton to take up boxing while Barry McGuigan idolised him so much that he named his dog after Duran. 

There was an aura about him but also a darker side. He often struck fear into his opponents' hearts and was known by many as 'The Devil'.
Heavyweight great  Joe Frazier was once asked at ringside if Duran reminded him of anyone. 'Yeah,' the former champion replied, thinking of a mass-murderer. 'Charles Manson.'

'Roberto Duran was a scary human being in the ring, he was like a monster,' ring announcer and fried David Diamante tells Sportsmail.

'He won a lot of fights before he even stepped in the ring because guys were just petrified of him and rightly so. 

'I always think of Animal from the Muppets when I think about Duran because he just never stopped. It's almost like to me Mike Tyson back in the day.
He scared his opponents so bad before they got into the ring, they had already lost the fight. In many ways though I rank him higher than Tyson because when someone was able to match him mentally and physically he still came through whereas Mike did not.'

One person who certainly wouldn't have allowed Duran to intimidate him is Nigel Benn.

The former middleweight and super middleweight champion was in talks to face Duran in 1990 but the fight never materialised.

Duran fought Marvin Hagler after sizing him up during a TV skit he was doing with him

In Panama, Duran was more revered than any other person and remains a very popular figure

'Regretfully that fight was never close to happening,' Benn's former promoter Barry Hearn says.

'That fight would have been a spectacle. It would have been one of those wars we would have talked about in the same way we talked about Hagler-Hearns because neither of them would have taken a step back. It would have been a battle of the macho men, I would have paid a lot of money to have seen that fight!' 

Outside of the ring Duran was a man of virtues and vices.
Legend has it that once, when drink and gambling was involved - as it so often was - that Duran knocked out a horse with one punch.

'That is probably true because Duran was a party animal,' Arum says. 'I remember visiting him once in Panama with my then wife.

He had this house which started out as a small house with this grotto in front that they had built up and he took me to the back and there must have been 50 maybe 100 people eating caviar, drinking champagne with steaks cooking on the BBQ. Roberto was footing the bill, obviously.
He couldn't hold on to a nickel that man. As soon as he got money, it would be gone.

'He was hilarious though. Had a great sense of humour and was always very generous.' Batten remembers Duran as being 'arrogant' and refusing to shake his hand on several occasions before their fight, but says in the times he's seen him since, he has always enjoyed his company.

He won world titles in four weight divisions and beat Iran Barkley in a ferocious battle in 1989

'I've seen him a few times since our fight and it's always great to see him.

We went on tour to Cardiff and then down to Manchester and London. I remember Ken Buchanan had had a good drink and was trying to wind him up on the tour đài loan từ hà nội bus, saying he thought he cheated against him because of that low blow. Duran didn't really understand and was just laughing.
Him and Ken were both great fighters.'

Duran might have resembled a malevolent force in the ring but showed great compassion to one of his fiercest rivals in Esteban de Jesus, who was the first person to defeat him.

Duran despised that he had lost his unbeaten record to De Jesus and would avenge that loss by beating him in their next two fights.

De Jesus died from Aids in 1989 but a month before his death, and at a time when the disease was still shrouded in misinformation, Duran embraced and kissed his former rival after travelling to Puerto Rico to visit him. 

Duran had a fierce rivalry with Esteban de Jesus, who was the first person to beat him as a pro

Duran showed great compassion to De Jesus by hugging him a month before he died of AIDS

'The story between him and Esteban De Jesus is such a beautiful one because there was a real rivalry between Duran and almost like the whole state of Puerto Rico because he just talked so much crap about them,' Diamante says.

'There was so much vitriol between them, they just did not like each other and Puerto Rico did not like Duran, at all.

'So for him to show that great act of comradery and mercy, that kind of opened up the floodgates of love and especially Latino love for Roberto Duran because he showed so much respect to their champ and their country.

'There was so much bad blood between the two but when he was fighting the real battle of life, he was like: "You are my brother." And the fact that he hugged him and kissed him and had his daughter do the same thing as if to say: "We are not scared of this and we are going to show you love." I think that was a real beautiful moment.

'Duran was a special fighter and a special human being.

He's a one-off.' 

No kidding. 

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