Interview by JUAN C. AYLLON
Editor's note: This interview originally appeared at the Cyber Boxing Zone's online magazine, 'Wail!' in September 2006)
Roberto Duran ruled the lightweight division with the cunning and savagery of a great white shark feasting on seals off of California's central coast. Nicknamed "Manos de Piedra" -- or "Hands of Stone" -- Duran shocked the world on June 26, 1972, with his ferocious stoppage of WBA lightweight champion Ken Buchanan.
In November 1972, Duran lost a nontitle bout to Esteban De Jesus, but crushed him in two subsequent rematches.
As such, Duran remained a fixture atop the food chain of the waters of the lightweight division, circling, terrorizing, and savaging opponents for roughly five and a half years. In the process, he established himself as perhaps the best lightweight champion the world had ever seen. Then, fresh out of competition, he decided to move up in weight class in search of larger prey.
On June 20, 1980, Duran astounded the boxing world by upsetting media darling and 1976 Gold Medalist Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal by unanimous decision over 15 rounds.
An incorrigible partier who struggled with weight loss issues throughout his career, five months later, Duran pulled the infamous "no mas" incident, where, sickened from too much weight lost over too little time, he turned his back on his antagonist and quit at 2:44 into the eighth round.
On January 30, 1982, Duran lost a unanimous decision to two-time world champion Wilfredo Benitez for the WBC Light Middleweight Title and, in November of that same year, lost by split decision to Kirkland Lang in Ring Magazine's "1982 Upset of the Year."
Nonplussed, Duran came back to win the WBA Light Middleweight Title over highly-touted Davey Moore by TKO in the eighth round on June 16, 1983. Later that year, he lost a unanimous decision in a rousing challenge to undisputed Middleweight Champion of the World, Marvelous Marvin Hagler on November 10.
Duran lost the WBC Light Middleweight Title by TKO to Thomas Hearns in two rounds in June 1984, then he won the WBC Middleweight Title four years later in June 1988 over powerful Iran Barkley -- who'd knocked out Thomas Hearns -- by split decision.
And, on January 1989, he lost his third bout against Sugar Ray Leonard by unanimous decision for the WBC Super Middleweight Title.
Duran's final bout was a meaningless one, a 12 round unanimous decision loss to Hector Camacho on July 14, 2001. All told, over a career that lasted over 33 years, Duran racked up a record of 103-16 and 70 knockouts. (Click here to view Roberto Duran's record.)
Since retirement, Duran became a partner in a boxing promotional concern called DRL. Its principals consist of Dan Wise (the "D" in that acronym), Roberto Duran (R), and Luis De Cubas (L). According to Arturo Sanchez, director of operations for DRL, De Cubas picked up Roberto Duran as a promoter when many thought he was washed up and "got him the fight with Iran Barkley, opened up the Mirage, and made him more money than Bob Arum and Don King combined."
DRL's stable currently includes Julio "Baby Face" Cesar Garcia (38-2, 33 KO's) -- who allegedly cracked Jose Luis Castillo's ribs in sparring and thus torpedoed Castillo's efforts to make weight for Castillo-Corrales III -- and Joel Casamayor (33-3-1, 21 KOs), who will be fighting Diego Corrales (40-3, 33 KOs) in a rubber match on October 7th at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Casamayor and Corrales had split a pair of bouts previously.
As with many greats in boxing, Roberto Duran began life in a rough and tumble neighborhood. Duran was born in El Chorillo, Panama, on June 16, 1951 to Margarito Duran and Clara Estelle Samaniego. He grew up with eight brothers and sisters in a time that, according to Duran, was "when the invasion started, when the Americans came in." Continuing, he said, "Growing up, it wasn't as tough as it is now. I used to get in a lot of fights as a child."
Some of his siblings are, as Duran put it, "fighters right now, some of them are musicians and just local people at the house."
When pressed further on personal matters, Duran was quick to put up a defense. His daughter, Dalia Duran later confided that Roberto was very guarded about his personal life. Moreover, he had just completed a long day of media interviews for an upcoming fight card. And, as Roberto pointedly put it, he wanted to save something for a future movie.
Nevertheless, in an exclusive interview, Duran demonstrated great candor as he talked at great length about various aspects of his fabled career. A fierce and fiery fighter inside the ring, Duran's passion boiled over at times, leading him to preempt his interpreter, Arturo Sanchez, and speak directly to me in broken -- and sometimes mixed -- English and Spanish. And, as you will see, Duran's pride in his boxing career speaks volumes for itself.
JUAN AYLLON: How are you?
ROBERTO DURAN: Everything's fine. I only have a little headache from all the interviews I've done today with the Julio Caesar Garcia fight [coming up], but everything's okay.
How did you get into boxing, and how successful were you when you first started?
At the beginning of my career, I was going into boxing because of my brother. It wasn't about money or anything like that. I didn't win any money at the beginning of my career; it was more about the love and passion for boxing.
Were you disappointed about not going to Winnipeg for the 1967 Pan Am games?
At that time, I wasn't upset because they used to send the military, even though I had won a right to represent my country at the Pan American Games, they chose to go ahead and put the military boxing team in front of me. But, I wasn't upset about that. I think it was politics, and I didn't get involved into those kinds of things.
Tell us about your experiences with Ray Arcel and how he helped you become a better fighter.
I met him through my manager, Carlos Eleta, but for me, I had other, more experienced people in my corner than Ray Arcel -- Freddie Brown and Nestor Quinones. That's Nestor Quinones, who's also training Joel Casamayor now; he's also helping train Casamayor.
Did you also study any of Arcel's fighters?
You know, after my career with them, and I moved on, I really didn't keep track of them. And, yeah, I know they passed away, but it was during that period they were with me and, after that, we sparred a ways -- quite a ways.
Tell us about the best fighters you ever fought at any division. Did you have any idols growing up?
You know, they've all been good. I fought everybody. They're all good. The only difference was, that I was a class above them, but there was no difference. Once you're at that level, everybody's the same. You know, everybody looks the same, feels the same. It's a little bit different. [Directly to me] I fought everyone, si!
[Through the interpreter] While I was growing up and even though I moved up in different divisions, some of the best fighters I have ever faced were some of the fighters growing up in Panama. It was a different time and a lot of them, unfortunately, didn't get up to the level that I eventually got up to. But, some of the earlier Panamanian fighters that I used to fight were some of the best fighters that I have ever fought. They were the toughest fights. They were the more aggression fights. They knew everything. They were just more skillful fighters than what I was facing later on in my career.
But, even afterward, after that, everybody in my division was just a tough opponent. You know what I mean? Everybody who's a professional, who's at that level, is always going to be a tough opponent. So, it's really hard just to single out just one person. They're all tough. But, I can definitely remember growing up and moving up, that the early Panamanians were the toughest.
What other fighters did you admire in boxing?
The only fighter I admire, besides myself, is Bernard Hopkins. Look what he was able to accomplish, even as he was older, look what he did!
Tell us about your fight against Ernesto Marcel, and Marcel as a fighter.
[Directly to me]: Too long a story! [Through the interpreter]: That's too long a story with that particular fighter.
Is it true that you knocked out an opponent, and then his girlfriend when she entered the ring and began attacking you?
What really happened is I fought this Nicaraguan fighter and after I knocked out the boyfriend, the girlfriend came on top of the ring, and I just simply pushed her out of the way, not to get in a scuffle with her, and it ended up that she fell out of the ring. And the Nicaraguans wanted to get back at me. But, I never punched her. She just happened to come toward me and I just pushed her out of the way.
Now, after you knocked out Ray Lampkin in the 14th round of your fight, you said that if you fought him again, you said that you'd kill him, or put him in the morgue. Was that a case of being caught up in the moment, or a true reflection of your feeling at the time?
I had to come down in a lot of weight, and I knew that I was a better fighter, a more complete fighter. He just certainly caught me on a day that I was out-trained and I wasn't up to par. But, I knew that if it was any other circumstances -- a lot of times, you know, in those circumstances when writers are asking you questions of what you feel at the time, you say what you feel at that precise moment. But, I really do feel I was a better fighter, a complete fighter and he just caught me off guard that day. I lost a lot of weight and I was moving down in weight, and I was caught off guard. It was one of those days he caught me and it was just his day.
Speaking of which, when you were lightweight champion of the world, you were renowned for letting your bodyweight go up to 185 pounds, then starving to get down to the 135-pound limit and being very belligerent and edgy during those times. Was this by design? What actually happened?
It's quite the opposite, actually. It's a fact that when you're starving yourself, you have less energy. You have less energy to exude. So, obviously, that wasn't working to my advantage, if that was what my inclination was. You know, obviously, if that's what happened during that period, I would to knock out that fighter quickly or, if not, just try to box with him and try to keep in the game with him. But, that was never to my advantage. Any time you're starving yourself, you're a fighter with less energy, you start hallucinating more toward things, you don't see clearly, you don't rationalize, so it definitely wasn't an advantage to get my weight up and try and lose it by starving myself.
That was never the game plan. What happened was the game plan was to try to knock him out quickly or simply by trying to hang with him, and hopefully, I would get the knockout punch, which, many times it happened, but never, never working to my advantage as far as starving myself. That was never an advantage.
When you're at a young age, you have a high metabolism like I used to have, especially during the beginning of my career. Then everything is easy. A lot of times, I would starve myself and work hard on trying to lose weight, that a lot of the punches that I took in the ring [during sparring sessions] -- which were a lot harder than the actual fight itself -- I would take in the ring.
When I was in the ring, like in an actual fight, I would not allow him to actually hit me. So, when I was sparring, a lot of the fighters I would spar would hit me a lot much harder than in the fight itself. And I was always prepared that way, mentally and physically.
So, when you're a lot younger, your weight comes off that much faster and it's a different type of metabolism.
You never gave Ken Buchanan a rematch, although he lobbied strongly for one. Why not? And if you had, how would you see the rematch playing out?
My management team never told me that he wanted a rematch. If not, if they would have told me, I would have given him a rematch that much quicker, simply because I knew he was afraid of me, and the power I possess, and it wouldn't be any problem. I would have knocked him out that much faster and quicker. Just because I knew what he was about and the power that he possessed, he wasn't aware of what I possessed.
I knew him better than he knew me. This was going to change everything. I was going to be much faster, much swifter, and much stronger. The same way he fought the first time, he was going to fight the second time. And nothing was going to change. It would have been the same thing, the same thing.
Now, had you fought the following people, how would you see these fights playing out? Antonio Cervantes.
When he fought, the only thing he had over me was height. But, the fight, I could have won in three or four rounds. That finisher right hand that he had, well, that's [inaudible]. He had the height advantage over me. I had a hard time losing weight. It's just one of those things that he caught me at the right time. But, overall, I was the better, more complete fighter than he was.
A slow fighter with a hard punch. The opposite thing is that one of the fighters that he beat, Marcel, is that I knocked him out quickly and he had a hard time with it and actually ended up losing the fight. [Editor's note: Arguello officially lost to Ernesto Marcel by unanimous decision over 15 rounds, while Duran knocked him out in 10 rounds.] [Laughs]. It's a role reversal. It's just one of those things that he caught me at the right time at the wrong time and he was a slow fighter with a hard punch. Once again, it was one of those days where it wasn't in my favor, but he and I both know that in the right time with the right conditioning and if I would have come prepared, like I usually will come, he would have lost that fight.
If I wouldn't have won by knockout, I would have won by decision.
Tony Ayala, Jr.
None of those fighters would have given me a hard time. Ayala's one of those fighters that we wanted to make the match. Unfortunately, circumstances happened in his career that wouldn't allow us to come and fight. But, it would have been a great fight, a fight I think I would have won with dedication and hardship. But, he was too slow for me -- even in that era, he would have been too slow. I'm too strong and too intelligent. So, it wouldn't have been too difficult for me. I was too smart, too intelligent and too fast.
WBC lightweight champ Rodolfo "El Gato" Gonzalez. I understand that there was a match set up in 1972 with matchmaker Don Chargin, Gonzalez, McCoy, and the Olympic Stadium in L.A. (Click here to download the newspaper account of this proposed match; requires adobe acrobat.) I was informed that there was a fall-out with your manager, Carlos Eleta, and you began listening to General Torrijos, the military boss of Panama, who wanted no part of Gonzalez. They pulled you out, according to my sources. Why did you allegedly listen to Torrijos and why did he protect you so?
No, no, that's really not what happened. There's more to the story than meets the eye. General Torrijos had nothing to do with my boxing career, nor was he my manager. That had nothing to do with my boxing career! I'll say one thing: if Gonzalez would have fought me, he would have gotten nowhere. "Gato" never wanted to fight Duran! That's the truth of the matter. And if he would have fought me, he knows what would have happened. As a matter of fact, to set the record straight, I went to look after him in Los Angeles. And there was no problem for Roberto Duran! But, I went to look for him in Los Angeles to fight him and he didn't want to.
[Editor's note: Rodolfo Gonzalez had the following to say about this proposed match: "I was not aware of any fight that had been arranged in 1972 between me and Duran. Dan Hanley told me all about this awhile back but it was all new to me. The only time I was aware of such a possibility of a fight between us was on March 17, 1973. It was the night that I defended my title against Ruben Navarro at the Sports Arena in L.A. Roberto Duran fought a 10-round nontitle fight against Javier Ayala and he beat Ayala by decision. After the fight, in my dressing room, Jacky and I discussed the possibility of me and Duran fighting for the title so Jacky went outside my dressing room and Duran's manager was passing by so he asked him the question. Without hesitation, his manager said, "No, you keep your title and we'll keep ours." I know this for a fact because I heard the conversation. As for Duran, I know he would fight anybody anywhere. I was disappointed because I was at my best in those days, and the money would have been really great. I'm sure if the fight would have taken place, it would have been the toughest fight in our careers for both of us."]
Prime to prime, how do you see the following fights playing out for you? Pernell Whitaker.
[Directly to me]: No problem, man. [Laughs]. No problem for nothing!
Julio Caesar Chavez.
Meno...no problem, man! Even less! He's no problem, man! He could do nothing average or anything against me.
The only fighter I admire, beside myself, is Bernard Hopkins. Look what he was able to accomplish, even as he was older, look what he did! Those guys were fighters, fighters of the gym. Those guys have been painting themselves in shape or always working out. Imagine Roberto Duran stayed in the gym, without partying and without drinking and without women and booze. If he were to get in the gym like Bernard Hopkins and Sugar Ray Leonard were throughout their careers, imagine the kind of fighter Duran would have been. And, even then, look where he is now!
You have to remember that: Even though with all the partying I had, Roberto Duran was a great champion. And, just think about it, in retrospect: If I never would have partied as much as I used to, and would have been in the gym and training, and not trying to kill myself to lose weight, look at all that I accomplished with those attributes. Think about that. My story is worth a lot in money.
Speaking of which, describe a typical partying night, when you were supposed to be training.
I just used to do a lot of drinking and partying a high percentage of the time. I never did any drugs, I never smoked that marijuana, but I had a good time with drinking and women. Women and drinking, that's it! No more.
There is a question regarding your not defending your title outside of Panama until your seventh or eighth defense. Was it out of fear of possibly losing your title after the DeJesus nontitle-bout loss?
[Directly to me]: I'm sorry you don't understand my English, but you don't understand me. You don't understand what I speak, but listen to me: DeJesus is with me in New York. He knocked down me...in New York. When we go to Panama, I gave him the opportunity for my belt. Me knock him out, Esteban DeJesus. I go to de Los Angeles, then go to Las Vegas, Esteban DeJesus is the [WBC Lightweight] champion of the world, Roberto Duran, [WBA Lightweight] champion of the world for the championship of the world in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas. [Through his interpreter] And that was the first championship in Las Vegas. [Directly to me]: I knock him out for the champion[ship] of Panama! Listen to me: for the champion[ship], me knock him out. Cuando, DeJesus, me knock him out for the champion[ship], Unitos de Titolo [i.e., to unify the lightweight titles], and me knock him out -- Esteban DeJesus -- at Caesar's Palace.
You fought with a ferociousness and intensity that once prompted heavyweight contender Jerry Quarry, when serving as a TV commentator, to say that he wouldn't want to be in the ring with you. What fueled your savagery and intensity?
I always worked as a hard fighter. Even after I won my championship, nobody wanted to fight me for many, many months. For more than a year, nobody wanted to fight me! It's not because I didn't want to fight anybody, it's just that people simply feared me. I was a hard fighter, I came prepared, and I was hungry, and what I attribute my career to -- that I was always prepared and hungry to win the title. But, people feared me. And it's not because I was an angry man or anything like that. No, that wasn't a fact. The fact was that I came prepared and I did my work.
Nobody wanted to fight me in my weight class! Everybody made me move up or move down, in different weight classes to fight me. It wasn't because they wanted to fight me at my weight class; it was because they wanted to fight me at their weight class.
Speaking of which, it was once reported that you said that you could beat Muhammad Ali in a street fight. Were you serious?
That was just a joke. A street fight has nothing to do with the ring, really.
Your defensive abilities and knack for rarely getting hit flush were often overlooked. How did you learn to do this, to roll and ride with the punches so?
That was just simply my style. I've always been taught from early on to have great defense, and that was the way I was trained by my trainers. But, it wasn't for any particular reason in why I was more aggressive than the other fighters. That happened to be a skill that I had over the others. If you show any fear on top of the ring, you know, fighters smell that as weakness, and they realize that, and they work that much harder, as opposed to fighting that much harder. It's just a sign of weakness.
What were your top memories in boxing, and why?
My whole career. My whole career is just a phenomenal being that as far as memories are concerned, there is no one thing that jumps out more than the other. Just my whole career was a lasting career, one that I'm very fond of, one I'm very proud of.
What were some of the more scandalous or shocking experiences you've had in the fight game and why? And were you ever asked to take a dive?
The toughest fight I ever had was not the fighter; it was losing weight, itself. I never took a dive for anybody. I never allowed myself -- or my principle -- to get that in way, or to allow myself to use a fight that way. My biggest adversary was weight, itself, not the fighter.
What do you think of today's lightweight division and its champions?
[Directly to me]: I'm sorry for you, but you [ask] too much questions. I'm sorry. Finish! Finish!
With your fights against Sugar Ray Leonard --
-- It's unfortunate, the second fight. The first fight was always in the clear who won and there were no circumstances to that, but the second fight, a lot of people don't want to believe that I was sick and lost a lot of weight for that fight. You know, it's unfortunate. Obviously, that third fight came many years later, but he never wanted to give me that rematch. And, even then in the third fight, I had to come down to his weight class, as opposed to my weight class.
What did you think about Leonard as a fighter and as a person?
He's one of the greatest U.S. fighters of all time. Obviously, his track record speaks for itself. He's one of the greatest U.S. fighters of all time, but he always knew what Roberto Duran meant to his career.
[Editor's note: Duran excused himself from the interview at this point and revisited questions several hours later, as he'd had a long day.]
Against Marvin Hagler, you managed to frustrate him, get into his head and go the distance with this middleweight champ. Watching this bout, I thought that you been able to punch harder, I thought you might have been able to beat him and maybe even knock him out. Please, tell us what happened.
I truly feel and believe in my heart that I won that fight. I think that due to fact that it was here in the United States and he was a favorite in the fight, such that maybe the judges might have swung his way. I do feel maybe I gave up the last three rounds to it, but I started the fight early, I think I got up on him early, in another round as well, I felt myself splitting during the last several rounds there toward the end. And I felt that was due to a lack of conditioning towards the end, there. But, I really did, I won that fight and it's an arguable fight, because it could have gone either way.
Against Iran Barkley, you were taking terrific body shots early in the bout. They must have hurt! What did you think in the fourth round with eight to go?
Iran Barkley's an interesting fight because I knew he was powerful and I felt that if he kept on punching me underneath, I was hoping to [catch him over the top and] knock him out early. I knew that as the rounds kept on getting higher, the harder it was going to be for me. But, I came more conditioned, I knew what I was prepared of, I knew that I would be a champion again, and it was just a matter of time before I worked my way to it.
Versus Wilfredo Benitez, were you stale or was he just the wrong match for you?
Unfortunately, when Benitez beat me, I was going through some troubles some time in my personal life. The president of Panama, who was one of my closest friends at the time, he had just passed away, and they sent me to a training camp where I was isolated and I didn't have means to communicate with my wife and just mentally, I wasn't prepared. There were so many things that were going on in my personal life, that were just really, really tough for me personally and my mind wasn't there 100 percent, as it should be, during training that I was wondering around, my mind wasn't -- unfortunately, I didn't give it the full attention that the fight deserved. So I really feel that the fact that I was frustrated in it, that Benitez was able to get the best of me that day.
How about Kirkland Lang?
You know, those were fights that, the point is that like Kirkland Lang, who really was a good fighter, but really wasn't made of much, was a fight that I really had to lose a lot of weight for and, unfortunately, didn't want to take the fight that I wanted them to take under contract. They made me lose more weight and go to their specific weight or particular weight that they wanted to fight at, and then they would increase my purse. So, obviously, I was sucked into their game. But, it was a lack of conditioning on my part and trying to lose all that weight and fighting at a weight class that they wanted me to fight.
Against Pipino Cuevas, did you go in fearing his left hook and biding your time? It kind of appeared that way, according to a reader.
I wasn't really too worried about his left, even though it was his strong point. I was actually preparing for another fight and Bob Arum approached me and the winner of the fight would fight Davey Moore for the championship. So, obviously, I changed my game plan and I changed everything I was doing for the chance to fight Davey Moore for the title. That was my concern, trying to win another title. So, I really wasn't worried about what Cuevas had, or how he was particularly as a fighter with his left or his right. I knew he was a good fighter, and I just came prepared to fight that fight and I prepared myself. And, even then, I was preparing myself for a different style of fighting, so my training took a back seat, as far as my regimen was, and I had to change it. But, nonetheless, I really wanted to fight. The disadvantage was that we were fighting at a weight class that Cuevas wanted, but the advantage that I had was that I was already training and, even though for a different style, I had good stamina.
Jumping ahead to this last year, what was your reaction to Jose Luis Castillo not making weight for his third bout versus Diego Corrales?
You know, the first fight -- Castillo's a veteran -- even after the first fight, he knew that he was going to have a hard time making the lightweight division weight. The second time, he had a hard time making weight. We feel that it's the fighter's responsibility to make weight. Whatever happened -- whether it was during sparring, what a lot of people said happened, or simply due to the fact that he couldn't make weight -- it's the fighter's responsibility. I do feel that he came in a couple pounds overweight for the second fight and he still dominated. And Corrales also ballooned up. For the third time, the guy should have known what he was doing. And the third fight, the difference is that maybe he assumed Corrales, since he was having a hard time making weight again, maybe Corrales would give him the fight and he maybe thought if he came in a couple pounds overweight and it wouldn't make a difference. But, Corrales had every right to be mad and I give him the fight, the third match.
Several years ago when you were still fighting, there were alarmist reports that said that your medicals indicated that your brain mass was shrinking. Can you tell us if there was any truth to this?
Absolutely not. Absolutely not!
Tell us about your bouts against Hector Camacho. Why did you take them and what did you think of him as a fighter and a person?
The first fight, I definitely feel that I won that match without a doubt. I wanted to fight at 168 and he wanted to fight at 162 and I had to lose a lot of weight for that match. Unfortunately, at the time, my manager hired newly, Tony Gonzalez, paid the training facility and venue in Denver, Colorado to fight and, unfortunately, the training and high altitude and at my age at that time, it makes a big difference, especially when you're trying to lose the weight you're trying to lose. But, he wasn't able to knock me out, I gave him a hard fight -- [To me directly]: Hello? It is okay. I no give you no more of my story, you know. Thank you very much. Pero, no more, no more my story. See, my story is especial. You understand me?
Yes, yes, I understand. I appreciate your time. And, let me tell you: I've always been a big fan of yours. I think you're one of the best, if not the best lightweight champions in the history of boxing, and it's very special for me to talk with you on the phone.
Thank you very much. It's an honor that you feel that way. I don't want you to be offended, but I definitely have a lot to say, and I want to say it through the theater. I would like to make a movie of my life because it's going to be an interesting movie. I appreciate your kind words and your accolades for me. I just really hope that the fans will be able to see something in the future in the movies. A lot of the questions you're asking about comparisons to my career, and about my brothers' names and my father's name, I do that because you're a friend of my daughter's, and I appreciate that, but those are questions that I normally don't answer. But I want you to know that I did it for my daughter, and I appreciate what you're doing for us as well.
# # #
And, like that, the great ring predator that was Roberto Duran magnanimously excused himself. Even years later, something tells me that fighters everywhere sleep just a little easier now that he no longer trolls their ranks looking for someone to devour.