Many of us dream of celebrity sports fame, but only cruel individuals would desire the May 13th, 1989 Los Angeles Times headline for former WBC lightweight champion, Esteban de Jesus, on their worst enemy: “Drug Addict Who Had AIDS. Dies at 37.” Upon the 25th anniversary of his death is the following timeline of what would lead to such a horrific obituary.
Esteban de Jesus was born on the island of Carolina, Puerto Rico, August 2nd, 1951. As a teenager, de Jesus visited the home and training facility of Gregorio Benitez Sr. in the Saint Just region of Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. ‘Papa’ Benitez (known as Goyo), who worked at an automobile body shop as a painter, had been training his four sons for a possible professional boxing career. By 1963, the most talented of his sons, Gregorio Jr. aged nine, was an experienced ‘backyard boxer’ for New York City neighbors willing to pay 25 cents for illegal, under-aged kids boxing. Youngest son, Wilfred, aged five, would sometimes box two bouts a day for a total of $2. Papa was a taskmaster, punching them along with verbal abuse to force them to box against their will. By 1965, Gregorio’s training intensified with the 11-year-old awakened every morning at 4:00am for daily running. In 1966, Papa moved his family from New York City to Saint Just – allegedly to avoid crime – but allegations followed it was to perpetuate illegal bouts and abuse involving his sons. Gregorio, who had been paid for years, ‘officially’ became a professional boxer, aged 15, in 1967. The hope of a better life – money and girls – and girls and money – lured de Jesus to Papa Benitez while a high school student. I don’t know whether Papa Benitez would punch de Jesus as he did his sons, but perhaps not since Esteban chose boxing voluntarily. Papa Benitez gathered many boys for training while always offering his sons as sparring partners – regardless of size. Papa believed in smaller boxers training against larger sparring partners to toughen them – mentally and physically.
Esteban de Jesus would have to accept the Papa Benitez dictum that his was the only voice. De Jesus was naturally a shy, quiet young man so that was not a problem. De Jesus would have to rise for running at 4:00am and learn the encyclopedia of boxing moves taught by Papa: “Rocky Marciano’s overhand right” or “Kid Gavilan’s bolo” although Gregorio Sr. had never boxed nor trained any boxers before his sons. De Jesus would have to hear, “Everything is set up by the jab,” over and over, day after day because Papa believed young men had a short attention span that needed constant reminders. De Jesus could dream about girls for the future, but Papa forbade dating or girlfriends for any of his boxing hopefuls, including his sons. Papa believed girls made boys “weak” so they were banned from a boxer’s life. Papa never had to worry that his wife, Clara, weakened him because there was only one voice in the Benitez household. Papa believed a good wife was a subservient one that cooked and kept a clean household. Controversy swirled over the behavior of Papa Benitez, along with occasional visits by Puerto Rican police, but the prevailing opinion of the elder trainer was that raising sons was no one’s business except his own, and if de Jesus or any of the boxers wanted to leave – enjoy poverty and there’s the god****ed door. If the Benitez sons questioned his parenting techniques, a solution was a slap to the head with intensified boxing training.
Esteban de Jesus attempted to keep his private life – private. Not much has been publicly revealed about his childhood. De Jesus was from a large family with an obligation to provide for them. He was taught a work ethic by his father by assisting on carpenter jobs. When the mother of de Jesus had met with Papa and Clara Elena Rosa Benitez she had been impressed. Papa Benitez was an older, authoritative, male figure for a teenaged boy. Papa would have emphasized that an idle boy was soon to find trouble. Papa would promise to keep de Jesus or any teenaged boy busy with boxing exercise. Roadwork, along with endless sparring when not punching bags would tame teenaged rebellion. De Jesus would be tired after a solid workout and only desire food and sleep. Papa Benitez would emphasize how much he was against crime, drugs and gangs. Papa and Clara Benitez were openly proud of their church participation. De Jesus or any teenaged boxing hopeful would be introduced to the bible and the importance of Jesus for their individual life. Clara Benitez would emphasize that if these boys (her sons and male boxing hopefuls) would listen to Goyo (Papa), and do what he says, they would go far in life.
Esteban de Jesus would have spent the most sparring time with the eldest Benitez brother, Gregorio Jr. Papa Benitez paired them when necessary for amateur and future professional bouts. Gregorio Jr. was only 14 years-old, but Papa Benitez had been anxious for his favorite son, the best pugilist, to begin his professional career while bringing in badly needed family income. Papa Benitez liked his talented boxing son sparring with the larger, older and more experienced de Jesus because that was what he insisted built courage. De Jesus was surprised by the hand speed, along with left jab concentration patience, by the eldest Benitez son. For Papa Benitez, being able to offer a pair of talented local boxers who wouldn’t flake out or display fear was attractive to local promoters. At the lowest level of professional boxing promotion (operating for a profit) were distributed paper fliers promising 4-8 bouts with knowledge that perhaps 50% of those won’t actually occur. Some younger boxers would not appear as promised while others cry until consoled they do not have to fight. Papa Benitez delivering two professional boxers – talented boxers at that – guaranteed to appear for an advertised San Juan boxing event was an asset worth money.
Of all Papa Benitez’ sons and male hopeful strays, the special one of the group with growing reputation was Esteban de Jesus. Papa referred of de Jesus as “a good, strong kid,” whose work ethic and willingness to train hard impressed those around him. Aside from smoking marijuana, de Jesus was a soft-spoken teenager who was not openly rebellious. As Papa would do with his own kids, de Jesus was encouraged to become an under-aged professional boxer before the age of 18. De Jesus quietly compiled a professional record of 19-0, 16 knockouts, all in Puerto Rico, from 1969-71. Two bouts later, he defeated Josue Marquez, by unanimous decision to become Puerto Rico’s top lightweight contender for the title. De Jesus dropped weight in losing his first professional bout, versus WBA featherweight champion, Antonio Gomez, on the latter’s home turf of Caracas, Venezuela.
The most important contact for Papa Benitez would be Teddy Brenner, the matchmaker of New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Benitez realized that Brenner held the key to his future. What Benitez could offer was a tough, competitive boxer (Esteban de Jesus) with assurance that his sons would be future champions. Benitez convinced Brenner to give de Jesus an opportunity against a better-known pugilist to prove his boxers could deliver great performances. Benitez, like every manager, would have hyped his boxer to the jaded matchmaker with words (paraphrasing): “You should see this kid, de Jesus. He is always stepping forward throwing punches with both hands. He did this as an amateur and continues as a professional. The kid never tires and has a great attitude. All we are looking for is an opportunity.” Both would have recognized the value of a successful and popular Puerto Rican pugilist for the Garden.
Teddy Brenner was a former shirt salesman from Brooklyn, New York who loved boxing and would speak to promoters about ‘matchmaking’, a skill he believed could make them more money. Given the opportunity to match bouts for an arena in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Teddy Brenner, approximately aged 30, proved successful enough for a paid gig as matchmaker at Eastern Parkway. Brenner was highly successful with exciting bouts so that fans felt they received their money’s worth. Brenner’s most high-profile boxer of the early 1950’s was future heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson. In 1959, Brenner became the matchmaker for Madison Square Garden. The pinnacle of his matchmaking career was landing the $5,000,000 “Fight of the Century” with undefeated heavyweight champion, Joe Frazier versus undefeated former champion, Muhammad Ali. Battling with the usual managers, Brenner was able to convince both sides of a 50%-50% split. Brenner’s office door often had holes in it thanks to heavyweight contender, Oscar Bonavena, and many other boxers or their managers. Al Braverman, the ‘contact’ who brought Don King into boxing, once sucker-punched Brenner over a money dispute. Brenner (1969): “I have to answer only to myself. The matchmaker can’t be popular. He has to deal with people, not ashtrays or suits, and people are always up to something. They are always making deals and changing their minds. People are a lot of trouble.”
Papa Benitez was ready for the big-time, New York City, with his star pugilist, Esteban de Jesus and his 24-1 record versus an older, more experienced American, George Foster, 13-5-1. Foster, from the Cincinnati, Ohio region had been a top amateur boxer from 1960-62 whose first professional bout was in 1962. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (4/11/1972): “(New York) Esteban de Jesus of Carolinas, Puerto Rico stopped George Foster of New York at 1:33 of the 8th round of their scheduled 10-round lightweight bout at the Felt Forum last night. De Jesus, who posted his 20th knockout and raised his record to 25-1, outclassed Foster throughout, knocking him down in the 2nd, 3rd and 6th rounds.” It was enough of a battering that Foster chose not to fight professionally again.
Papa Benitez was able to sign his Top 10 lightweight for a July 28th, 1972, Madison Square Garden bout versus a less experienced Cleveland boxer, Chuck ‘Schoolboy’ Wilburn. De Jesus was impressive throughout the 10-round contest. Tucson Daily Citizen (7/29/1972): “De Jesus, 6th ranked lightweight in the world, won a unanimous decision over Wilburn last night. Wilburn said he felt he had been overmatched.”
Esteban de Jesus won two bouts in San Juan before being matched as the latest conquest of undefeated WBA lightweight champion, Roberto ‘Rocky’ Duran. The bout was held November 17th, 1972, at Madison Square Garden, New York City. With the future of Papa Benitez, his sons and de Jesus on the line, the heightened intensity of their training sessions was excruciating. Benitez had travelled to Madison Square Garden to view previous Duran bouts without relying merely on film available. Benitez shouted encouragement and threats at de Jesus, along with consuming roadwork and endless sparring sessions with his sons. Papa Benitez prepared de Jesus for Duran’s punching power by forcing sparring sessions with heavyweights. Duran would be expecting de Jesus to run, Papa Benitez correctly assumed, or remain at jab distance. Benitez wanted de Jesus to box and slip punches, but to remain within dangerously close range of the famed Panamanian champion’s power. Someone in Duran’s camp (possibly Ray Arcel) must have seen de Jesus fight with enough concern to alter the bout’s pre-weight so the title was not at stake.
Roberto Duran was born in the Los Santos province Corregimiento of Guarare, Panama, on June 16th, 1951. Duran compiled a professional record of 15-0, 13 knockouts, all in Panama, from 1968-69. In the midst of this streak Duran met his future manager, Carlos Eleta, who purchased his contract for $300. Eleta was a Panamanian entertainment mogul and former songwriter who cunningly tailored Duran’s life story for USA and Spanish-speaking Latin cultural consumption. For English-speaking American boxing fans, according to Eleta, Duran was a no-good, poverty-ridden punk-kid thief from the “mean streets of Panama” begging and stealing and fighting for pleasure until molded into a boxing monster. For Spanish-speaking Latin boxing fans, according to Eleta, Duran was a hard-working ‘regular’ guy from a lower-middle class (El) Chorillo family who earned a paycheck like everyone else.
Juan C. Ayllon is a Chicago high school teacher, painter and editor of Cyber Boxing Zone, who interviewed Roberto Duran in August, 2006. He asked Duran about his Panamanian boxing roots. Duran, via Spanglish and a Spanish interpreter: “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…. While I was growing up and even though I moved up in other divisions, some of the best fighters I have ever faced were the fighters growing up in Panama. It was a different time and a lot of them, unfortunately, didn’t get to the level that I eventually got up to. But some of the earlier Panamanian fighters were the best I ever fought. They were the toughest fights. They were more aggressive fights. They knew everything. They were just more skillful fighters than what I was facing later in my career.”
Duran, aka/ Manos de Piedra, had developed a cult reputation within the Spanish-Latin community when he debuted at Madison Square Garden on September 13th, 1971. Duran had scored seven consecutive knockouts within 6-rounds. For his American debut, Duran knocked out Benny Huertes in the 1st round to further his record to 25-0, 21 knockouts. At the Duran/Huertes bout was trainer, Ray Arcel, who would become part of the Duran/Eleta team. Following a 1st round knockout of Francisco Munoz in Panama City, Duran had earned the opportunity to fight Scottish champion, Ken Buchanan, for the WBA lightweight title.
Duran won the heart of English-speaking American boxing fans with his relentless pummeling of Buchanan. Duran scored a knockdown within seconds of the 1stround, and continued to pursue the backing champion throughout rounds after round. Buchanan was an intelligent boxer whose strategy was a persistent diet of left jabs to counter the charging Panamanian. Duran would bull Buchanan to the ropes with his body while continuing to punch at the head. Duran bulled Buchanan nearly through the ropes. Duran developed a tactic of shoving the top of his head into Buchanan’s chin while forcing the Scotsman’s head to twist grotesquely. As the rounds passed, Duran consistently landed devastating punches to the chin. To Buchanan’s credit, he refused to quit or fall down. Duran won the bout with a 13thround technical knockout, although it was a controversial ruling. Duran and Buchanan were trading punches to close the round, Duran by far landing more effective blows, when the bell rang with Duran landing a hard low blow to the crotch. A referee can allow the victim of a low blow additional time to recover, but the fight did not appear in doubt with Buchanan possibly seriously injured if continued. By technical boxing rules, Duran could have been disqualified, but the crowd would have mutinied since the bout was one-sided. Duran, as the new WBA lightweight champion, followed the title victory with 1st round knockouts of Greg Potter and Lupe Ravirez, in Panama, where he was worshipped as a national hero. Duran’s next bout was the November 17th non-title against 4th ranked lightweight contender, Esteban de Jesus, whom the champion did not view as a serious threat.
ROUND 1: DON DUNPHY: “A ten round, non-title bout. They are wearing eight-ounce gloves.” Both circle one another at medium pace. Duran lands left jab to face – lands left jab to face. Both circle and stalk. DUNPHY: “The boys are about equal in height, 5’7.” De Jesus paws with right – pushes straight right punch to body that misses short. Both circle and stalk. DUNPHY: “Either boy could end this fight with one punch. Both have terrific records.” Duran throws left jab to head – misses as de Jesus head bobs. De Jesus counters with a hard left hook that lands to side of head – Duran falls to canvas onto butt. DUNPHY: “AND THERE IS DURAN DOWN – BELIEVE IT OR NOT!”
Crowd roars – Duran rises with a smirk of embarrassment. Referee Arthur Mercante counts, 2, 3 – waves de Jesus to neutral corner, 5, 6. DUNPHY: “And he is smiling. Grimacing.” Duran utilizes the seconds to clear his head. Referee Mercante grabs Duran’s gloves and speaks to him – then backs away and waves the bout to continue. DUNPHY: “The Champion flat on his pants. Round one. We have more than two minutes to go following that left hook. Now that woke (Duran) up.”
Both stalk in center of ring. Duran throws out left jab – misses. De Jesus throws over the top right to head – Duran ducks and bulls forward. Duran lands short right to body. De Jesus lands short ride to side of body. Duran lands short left to body – follows with hard right to head – misses wildly as de Jesus crouches and ducks. De Jesus backs on bouncing legs. Duran steps forward with straight left to body – misses. De Jesus bounces on feet – slides and circles – positions himself. Duran throws straight left jab to head – misses short. DUNPHY: “I told you either one of them could knock out someone with one punch and it was almost de Jesus. Another hard left by de Jesus! I think Duran is in trouble though he is trying to fight his way out of it.”
ROUND 3: Pugilists charge out aggressively to begin the round. Duran lands hard right to body – follows with right that lands to chin – effect lessened with de Jesus bouncing backward. De Jesus steps forward with left feint hook towards head – follows with hard right that lands to face – Duran counters with right to chin that misses. DUNPHY: “Round three. Boxing finesse out the window. They are throwing haymakers.” Both stalk and spar – Duran snaps straight left jab – misses short.
Pugilists aggressively fight close until clinch. They separate and stalk near center ring. DUNPHY: “Both boys are working the body as well as the head.” Duran sticks out straight left jab – misses short – de Jesus eyes foe while bouncing on feet. Both stalk – de Jesus lightly lands left feint jab to face – follows with hard right that lands to head. DUNPHY: “Every time Duran gets hurt he just shakes his head and laughs. So if you see him laugh – he probably got hurt.”
ROUND 4: Pugilists stalk and spar. Duran throws straight left jab to face – misses ducking challenger who counters with hard left hook that lands to body. Both grapple in close – wrestling while trying to land short punches. Duran swats with left, right punches that land to shoulder – de Jesus lowers head in crouch. De Jesus lands light left jab to face – backs. Pugilists stalk – Duran extends left arm. Pugilists stalk – Duran throws straight left jab to face – misses short – de Jesus steps forward with right looped punch that lands hard to chin – Duran counters with right that lands to back of crouched foe. DUNPHY: “I think Duran was shaken again.” In close – de Jesus bulls forward with short body punches – both bull and push – de Jesus swats with a left, right that land to side of head and backs. De Jesus bounces on feet – Duran aggressively steps forward – de Jesus lands left, right to head – Duran backs. DUNPHY: “Beautiful boxing by de Jesus.”
The Madison Square Garden crowd begins to chant: “De Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus.” Over the next minute, Duran attempts to slowly trick de Jesus into a pure slugging bout. The crowd appreciates the underdog and chants again: “De Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus.”
Duran is the more aggressive pugilist – de Jesus cautiously backs. DUNPHY: “Ten seconds to go in round four.” Duran extends left arm – both stalk. De Jesus steps forward and lands hard left uppercut to chin – follows with right that lands to head. Duran aggressively counters with right that grazes chin – both trade punches with Duran more aggressive as he throws a right that misses and sends him into de Jesus – challenger holds for clinch. DUNPHY: “Duran was rocked again. There’s the bell.”
ROUND 7: De Jesus is brilliant throughout the first minute. The challenger out-boxing the Champion while landing combinations. De Jesus is both patient and assertive. DUNPHY: “De Jesus’ face rarely changes expression in the ring. Duran will smile, growl, scowl, grimace.” Pugilists clinch – push and bull.
De Jesus has been effective with his left hook – both to body and chin. Pugilists appear to be tiring from frenetic pace, but continue stepping forward. DUNPHY: “Many of Duran’s punches are sailing wild over the head.” De Jesus lands left to face – de Jesus follows with another left that lands to face – drives Duran back to corner ropes. DUNPHY: “And (Duran) just took two more lefts that drove him out of the ropes.”
The pace has slowed a bit with fewer punches thrown. Even at a slower pace it is remains aggressive with more offense than most bouts. Both sort of pawing in close – Duran bulls aggressively forward – de Jesus lands combination with swats to back the Champion off. Duran steps forward with hard left that lands illegally to crotch. DUNPHY: “A low punch by Duran. A very low punch as a matter of fact.” Referee Mercante waves de Jesus to a neutral corner. DUNPHY: “Ten seconds to go.” Referee Mercante grabs and holds Duran’s gloves while the Champion shakes his head incredulously. DUNPHY: “The referee warns Duran.”
ROUND 8: Duran throws three straight left jabs – all miss with de Jesus bouncing on feet. Both stalk – Duran throws another straight left jab – misses – de Jesus bouncing on feet in front of Champion. Duran throws a 5th straight left jab – misses. DUNPHY: “Esteban de Jesus is the lightweight Champion of Puerto Rico. Roberto Duran is undefeated and has never lost a fight. I would say that streak is in danger right now. Real danger. De Jesus is exhibiting superb boxing skill. Left hooking, shortening the left hook, bringing it long, right uppercuts. Throwing everything but jabbing.” Pugilists close near clinch – separated by referee Mercante. Duran extends left jab arm – de Jesus steps forward with hard left half-hook that lands to lower body.
The pace has slowed but still energetic with punches exchanged. Both stalk – Duran lightly paws with two left jabs as he appears to measure distance. De Jesus bounces on feet in front of the Champion – Duran paws with another light left jab. Duran feints left jab – lands hard right to body – de Jesus holds for clinch. DUNPHY: “Now, de Jesus is forced to hold on. Duran may have hurt him with that punch.” Duran becomes aggressive throwing punches with both hands – and lands to body and head. DUNPHY: “Again, de Jesus has to hold on after being nailed by a good right.” De Jesus bounces on feet with protective defense. DUNPHY: “De Jesus is smartly boxing his way out of this.” De Jesus, for the first time, is bouncing on feet away from Duran – almost running away to recover. DUNPHY: “(De Jesus) was in trouble. It’s the first time he’s been on the bicycle. Round almost over.”
ROUND 10: During the 9th round, the spectators were chanting, “De Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus,” but Duran landed some fierce punches and probably won his second consecutive round. De Jesus remains so far ahead that Duran must score a knockout to win. De Jesus begins the 10th and final round bouncing on feet while boxing. Duran is slow with measured left jabs that are not landing. DUNPHY: “It’s been one heck of a fight. All the way.” Both slowly stalk and spar, but one senses a final flurry. DUNPHY:” For most of the journey de Jesus has out-pointed Duran, kept him off balance and beaten him to the punch. But in the last round or two, Duran looks as if he may have hurt de Jesus one or two times.”
Duran appears frustrated, desiring to pin de Jesus into ropes and throw a flurry of punches, but the latter’s defense defuses every tactic. DUNPHY: “Duran has never been defeated in 31 professional fights, scoring 27 by knockout. That record is certainly in jeopardy…. The fight is almost over now.” Both stalk – de Jesus lands a final left hook to head. DUNPHY: “Only seconds to go.” Duran is still trying to throw punches as de Jesus bounces on feet. The bell rings with de Jesus raising his arms in triumph while the Champion frustratingly steps away aware that he has lost. DUNPHY: “Duran is obviously disgusted with himself.” De Jesus won a unanimous decision, including referee Mercante, but Duran remained WBA lightweight champion.
On the undercard of Roberto Duran/Esteban de Jesus was the Madison Square Garden debut and final bout for 16-year-old, Gregorio Benitez Jr. Professional boxing in New York was illegal for minors, but a tampered birth certificate allowed a travesty. Teddy Brenner later claimed the fake birth certificate fooled him or he would not have matched an illegal bout. Benitez Jr. was battered around in a 6-round decision loss against a talented Dominican contender, Vilomar Fernandez. Papa Benitez and his wife, Clara, were aware of their son’s age, and were not only compliant, but instigators of child abuse. Papa Benitez deserved 1972 silver handcuffs placed on his wrists with an escort to a caged jail for criminals. Clara Benitez would one day live the specific Hell of placing not one, not two, but three young sons into nursing homes because of boxing brain damage. A wife that looks the other way when a man brutally beats his kids, or pretends reality isn’t happening, is a child abuser, too.
Sports Illustrated: “If Duran ever (does) fight (De Jesus again), it would surely take place in Panama, and not even de Jesus could win there; only an act of God or heavy infantry can take a title out of Panama.” De Jesus agreed (Spanish translation): “Duran remains boxing in Panama and says, ‘You can fight me here,’ but I don’t want to go there. There is no way that anyone can defeat Duran in Panama and it makes no sense to attempt.”
Papa Benitez strategized that his relationship with Teddy Brenner could force Duran back to New York City. Brenner was bitter towards Duran by feeling he had set-up the bouts that allowed Duran the WBA championship opportunity and worldwide fame only to be betrayed by the manager, Carlos Eleta, by forcing all defenses of the title in Panama City. The lesser option that remained for Benitez (and de Jesus) was to build credentials for the WBC lightweight title, held by the Mexican hard-punching champion, Rodolfo Gonzales. The next in line for Gonzales’ defense was Italian, Antonio Puddu. This would be increasingly frustrating for de Jesus since most regarded him as the 2nd best lightweight, following Duran, whom he had dominated. The man with the plan was promoter, Don King, with the recent success of The Sunshine Showdown, the heavyweight championship paid by the Jamaican government, with undefeated George Foreman dethroning the previous undefeated Joe Frazier via 2nd round knockout. Don King was a Roberto Duran man because that’s who mesmerized the public with mainstream appeal outside the Spanish-speaking boxing community. Two things eventually lured de Jesus to fight Duran on the latter’s home-turf for the title: Don King’s money and an increasing addiction to cocaine. De Jesus knew he had to defeat Duran via knockout, which was unlikely and would force an alteration in boxing style tactics.
WBA ratings – lightweight champion – Roberto Duran, Panama; 1. Rodolfo Gonzales, Mexico; 2. Antonio Puddu, Italy; 3. Ken Buchanan, Scotland; 4. Esteban de Jesus, Puerto Rico; 5. Hector Thompson, Australia; 6. Jimmy Heair, USA; 7. Al Ford, Canada; 8. Ishimatsu Suzuki, Japan; 9. Chango Carmona, Mexico; 10. Ramiro Bolanos, Ecuador.
WBC ratings – lightweight champion – Rodolfo Gonzales; 1. Roberto Duran; 2. Antonio Puddu; 3. Ken Buchanan; 4. Esteban de Jesus; 5. Hector Thompson; 6. Ishimatsu Suzuki; 7. Hugo Gutierrez; 8. Ramiro Bolanos; 9. Jimmy Heair; 10. Juan Corradi.
On June 2nd, 1973, Roberto Duran defended his WBA lightweight championship versus 5th ranked, Australian, Hector Thompson, in Panama City. The challenger was perhaps physically stronger than Duran so it made for a decent, but one-sided bout. Since there was little doubt as to the outcome, these wealthier Panamanians seemed spoiled while waiting for their hero to unleash his destruction. In the early rounds, Thompson landed occasional left jabs with Duran throwing and landing far more punches. Duran knocked Thompson down in the 3rd round, but the challenger fared slightly better through rounds 4-7 while swelling the Champion’s eye following the 6th round. Thompson appeared in Panama to fight and win, and needing a knockout decided to trade punches for the championship. Hard blows were delivered by both sides until Thompson was knocked down for the 2nd time in the bout. Duran attacked for the 8th round knockout, which finally excited the crowd with a flurry of punches battering the Australian against the ropes until referee Nicosia L. Drake waved the bout over. Duran was impressive in defense of his title. This was not the same man merely throwing non-stop punches at Esteban de Jesus from the opening bell, but someone displaying boxing maturity along with patience.
Jimmy the Greek (7/7/1973): “The following Saturday it will be Ray Lampkin of Seattle and Esteban de Jesus of Puerto Rico for the ‘U.S.’ lightweight crown…. De Jesus (33-1) is ranked 3rd in the world by both the WBC and WBA and 2nd on this continent by the NABF. Lampkin (22-1-1) is ranked 10th by the WBC, unrated by the WBA and 3rd by the NABF. De Jesus, who has scored knockouts in more than half of his 34 pro bouts, will be favored in this one…. (De Jesus) already holds a decision over Lampkin – the west coast fighter’s only loss, incidentally – and has beaten Panama’s Roberto Duran, the WBA’s world champion and #1 contender to Mexico’s Rodolfo Gonzales in the WBC ratings.” The Spokesman-Review (7/9/1973): “An American crown is on the line at the Felt Forum in New York Saturday. On the Saturday matinee card at the Garden’s Forum is a scheduled 12-rounder between Esteban de Jesus of Puerto Rico and Ray Lampkin of Portland, Oregon, to decide the American lightweight championship. Earlier this year in San Juan, de Jesus, the world’s top-ranked contender for the 135-pound title, inflicted the only loss Lampkin has suffered in 24 professional fights.”
The 1973 American lightweight championship might have been better titled, the Madison Square Garden championship, since Teddy Brenner invented the title due to lessening prestige of the Garden in luring high-profile bouts. The television channel, American Broadcasting Company, via ABC’s Fight of the Week hyped the American championship for the sake of sponsors and their audience. Howard Cosell, the voice and face of ABC boxing and a native New Yorker, loved Madison Square Garden and felt boxing’s American credibility should be the Garden. Brenner was pleased to have two legitimate contenders which would give his Championship-belt more credibility than a WBC title bout. Both de Jesus and Lampkin were durable boxers that could punch, while neither of the them scored early round knockouts too often, which was appealing because television sponsors were paying for boxing and not ABC commentators filling time by talking about boxing instead.
On July 14th, nearly 3,000 boxing fans in attendance at Felt Forum, along with a nationally televised audience throughout the United States, were treated to a great Teddy Brenner 12-round matchmaking event. It was a home crowd for the Puerto Rican as the crowd chanted: “De Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus,” throughout. Referee Arthur Mercante scored the bout 10-2 in favor of de Jesus but Sports Illustrated felt it was closer, though the correct pugilist won. De Jesus had knocked Lampkin down 3 times in their previous San Juan bout, but this time had to chase the backing Oregon pugilist throughout. Sports Illustrated: “(Roberto) Duran is a charger and a swinger, a fighter who is willing to accept punishment in order to inflict it; Lampkin is a much more subtle, sophisticated boxer. Against Duran last fall, de Jesus looked flawless, since he is a sharp, accurate and extremely hard-hitting counterpuncher. Against Lampkin, a much less explosive but more complete fighter, de Jesus was not as effective. It was primarily the aggressiveness by de Jesus that won him this fight…. It seems doubtful that any other lightweight in the world can match de Jesus’ firepower. Nor, for that matter, can many match his ability to take a punch with no apparent ill effects…. In his style, de Jesus is oddly reminiscent of a scaled-down Joe Frazier. He fights out of a modified crouch, bobbing and weaving and bouncing from one foot to the other before launching one of his all-out attacks, which consist of mostly ripping hooks to the head…. Against a Duran, who has much the same style, (de Jesus) is most effective, since he punches very quickly with both hands.” An unmarked, seemingly inexhaustible De Jesus received $10,000 and Teddy Brenner’s American lightweight championship belt. Papa Benitez: “We don’t make much on this fight, but we take it because it is elementary. We win this fight and then we get Buchanan, I think. Buchanan, Duran, it don’t make no different to us. We beat them and then we get the big money, maybe. $60,000 or $70,000 Mr. Brenner says.”
Roberto Duran defended his WBA lightweight title on September 8th, 1973, versus Japanese journeyman, Yuji Suzuki (aka/ Ishimatsu Suzuki or ‘Guts’ Ishimatsu) in Panama City. The lopsided bout had the feel of food being fed to a lion. Duran either appeared flat, or if one wants to interpret different, respectful and patient toward the challenger. Ishimatsu was a cautious counter-puncher so Duran mixed a bit more boxing into his arsenal. Despite Ishimatsu opening a cut near Duran’s eye during the 3rd round, by the 7th it was a one-sided affair of slow dominance with Ishimatsu confused as to a strategy. By the 9th round, the Champion was the Roberto Duran that his admirers loved so much with the hyper offensive aggression against a wounded foe. The more Duran hurt Ishimatsu – the more Duran appeared energized to inflict more damage. Each knockdown of Ishimatsu fueled the crowd and its hero. Perhaps the bout could have been stopped sooner, but referee Nicasio L. Drake finally waved it over after the 5th knockdown. The bout moved Duran’s record to 37-1, 31 knockouts while dropping Suzuki seemingly from contention at 41-25-11.
Esteban de Jesus could not have been more impressive as the undercard of the Duran/Ishimatsu championship bout scoring a 1st round knockout victory. Pacific Stars and Stripes (9/11/1973): “(Panama) Two short jabs on the chin was all first-ranked lightweight, Esteban de Jesus needed to defeat Dominican, Radames Checo, flooring him in 2 minutes of the first-round Saturday night. De Jesus, from Puerto Rico, has won 35 of 36 professional bouts.”
The WBA lightweight champion had reeled off ten consecutive victories since his loss to de Jesus, including eight knockouts. Duran had defended his title three times, with three knockouts, all in Panama. Duran’s promoter, Don King, gathered some easy paydays with a couple bouts versus Mexican fighters in Los Angeles and a Latin-French national in Paris. Duran was a great boxer to promote because he was a puncher who behaved as a villain, but was viewed as a hero. The Spanish-speaking boxing community respected Duran outside of Panama, while the English-speaking boxing community enjoyed his aggressive pugilist approach. Boxing promotion had long been a cliché of two boxers trash-talking before a bout (“I’m too pretty to get hit” – “You won’t be pretty when I get done with you”) so it was refreshing to have a slugger that never spoke (except for Spanish-language interviews) but merely scowled with raised fists.
Before the Roberto Duran/Esteban de Jesus II WBA title bout, an undercover Puerto Rican police officer approached Papa Benitez, and informed him that de Jesus was hanging around dangerous people involved with drugs. De Jesus would later admit that his dealer was a guy named “Louie” who provided cocaine and women. At the time Benitez confronted de Jesus with the charges, but the boxer denied a drug problem. Benitez knew it was true that de Jesus used cocaine, but had kept it out of training. Besides, everyone seemed to be using cocaine during the 1970’s. In New York City there was eventually Studio 54 with the giant cocaine spoon ornamenting its décor and plenty of celebrities. Benitez probably hoped that cocaine would not become habitual with his boxer since it was widely reported in the media that it was impossible to become addicted to that particular drug.
Roberto Duran/Esteban de Jesus II, March 16th, 1974, for the WBA lightweight championship, should be remembered as a classic which was one of the best title bouts ever. Instead, it suffers from the “middle child” syndrome without future boxing fans to view the bout in preference for the others, especially the final encounter. The 1st round began where the last bout left off with aggressive slugging by Duran and boxing/slugging by de Jesus. The Champion was overwhelmingly confident, bordering on reckless, which was a mistake. As the Champion threw a right to head – de Jesus deflected the punch – landed a hard right to body – hard left hook to head – followed with another left hook that landed to head as Duran attempted to burrow inside. The Champion dropped to the canvas backward onto his butt. Bob Halloran: “Ohhh – a great left hook to the chin of Duran. Ohhh – another one and down goes Duran.” Dr. Ferdie Pacheco: “I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! I JUST CAN’T BELIEVE IT!” Halloran: “Well, (de Jesus) set (Duran) up. He hit him with a great shot before then with a right. Then hit him with the exact same punch and down went the Champion.”
Through 6-rounds the pace was electrifying with both pugilists throwing and landing punches. The co-television announcer, Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, repeatedly used the term, “Barn-burner.” Duran appeared to be getting the best of each round – just barely. Both landed punches and received punishment in return. Through 16-rounds of the two bouts, de Jesus had proven to be equal of the best lightweight boxer – scoring the only two knockdowns. But the 7th round tilted the bout decidedly in the Champion’s favor. A left to the body with follow-up right punch to ear landed – de Jesus dropping exhausted to his knees. Pacheco: “Oh, Roberto just dropped him. (Duran) just caught (de Jesus) with a right hand. Esteban has taken too many. He isn’t hurt, but he sure looks tired.”
The bout was not Dr. Pacheco at his best (“you know these guys hate each other” over and over) as he was decidedly an unabashed fan of Duran throughout. As the domination of Duran grew through the 8th, 9th and 10th rounds credit must go to de Jesus for not running or hiding from Duran’s relentless pummeling. The Champion was at his peak, living up to his reputation as the best non-heavyweight slugger in years. While de Jesus faced an unfair advantage having to knock out Duran in Panama City – sort of against his style – it is obvious that the better boxer was winning fairly. De Jesus attempted to stop slugging and switch to boxing in the middle rounds, but Duran easily caught him with blows to the body and head nonetheless. Dr. Pacheco notes the yelps of Duran before every punch – “Satanic” face as he fights – while smiling whenever de Jesus successfully lands. As the 11th round began, de Jesus was finally slowing while Duran appeared to have reservoirs of energy with relentless pursuit. A right that lands to chin sent de Jesus to the ground as he sat and waited to be counted out. De Jesus was too exhausted and confused to do anything.
The Virgin Islands Daily News (3/25/1974): “(San Juan) A third match between lightweight champion Roberto Duran of Panama and Esteban de Jesus of Puerto Rico apparently is in the making. During a wild press conference Thursday, de Jesus and his trainer-manager Gregorio Benitez said that Duran’s handler, millionaire sportsman Carlos Eleta had promised ‘another change’ to the Puerto Rican, who lost only his second match in a 42-bout pro career. ‘Duran and Eleta promised to come to Puerto Rico in the fall,’ de Jesus said, and promoter Jose Santiago, the former Cleveland Indians pitcher, agreed. Santiago has a five-year contract to promote all de Jesus fights in Puerto Rico…. (Santiago) confirmed that the third Duran-de Jesus match will be staged in San Juan probably in October at the Hiram Bithorn Stadium. ‘If the March 16th match grossed around $500,000,’ Santiago said, ‘There is no reason why the rubber match here would not top that figure.’ De Jesus is the top drawing card in this boxing-crazy island, and normally crowds of around 8-10,000 gather to see his bouts here…. The Puerto Rican, who appeared to be in good physical condition, and had no marks on him, will travel to Caracas for a one-week vacation and start training in about two weeks, Santiago said. Plans call for a couple fights before meeting Duran in the fall.”
Following the Duran loss a planned, deserved two-week break from boxing for Esteban de Jesus became a 1974 year-long cocaine binge. It was as if de Jesus was in high school and his parents left the house. Papa Benitez was concentrating on his son’s careers, Frankie and Wilfred, with the latter showing tremendous promise. Papa had begun Wilfred’s professional boxing career illegally at 14 years-old and bounced back and forth between Puerto Rico and the Netherlands building credentials that would translate into his Teddy Brenner connection and New York City. Gregorio Jr. was the guinea pig that was used as a model to insure different results with the youngest Benitez. Frankie, 16 years-old, had been undefeated until April of 1974 when he lost a bout in San Juan. Papa was furious at Frankie’s lack of boxing devotion and placed the blame on females. Of course, Frankie was interested in girls over training – HE WAS 16 YEARS-OLD!!
A month following Roberto Duran/Esteban de Jesus II, on April 11th, Tokyo, Japan, was the other lightweight championship between lesser fighters. An occasional smattering of applause interrupted quiet 7-rounds between the home-town challenger, ‘Guts’ Ishimatsu and WBC lightweight Champion, Rodolfo Gonzales. The best punch for Ishimatsu is a looping, overhand right that he hoped to counter on an unguarded opponent moving inside. Ishimatsu obviously prepared with better boxing footwork than was usual. Gonzales missed many jabs throughout the bout. Ishimatsu increasingly landed crisp left jab punches to the chin with a rougher tactic of pulling down the back of Champion’s head. The 2nd and 3rd rounds both offered brief moments of exchanged punches. The challenger appeared to stagger the Champion in the 6th round with a right to head – which almost made the Japanese crowd awaken. Ishimatsu knocked Gonzalez to the ground in the 8th round, and aggressively attacked for the knockout, scoring two additional knockdowns for the title. Ishimatsu was a more openly demonstrative person than many of his countrymen, but passion without impeccable manners aren’t bad qualities for a pugilist. The best two 1974 lightweights of the world may have been Duran/de Jesus, but the two boxers holding the WBA/WBC championship titles were Duran/Ishimatsu.
(7/11/1974): World Boxing Association…. WELTERWEIGHT: Champion – Antonio Cervantes, Columbia. 1. Everaldo Costa Azevedo, Argentina. 2. Esteban de Jesus, Puerto Rico. 3. Hector Thompson, Australia. 4. Victor Ortiz, Puerto Rico. 5. Bruno Arcari, Italy. 6. Johnny Grant, Baltimore. 7. Alfonso Frazer, Panama. 8. Lion Furuyama, Japan. 9. Hector Matta, Puerto Rico. 10. Yasuaki Kadota, Japan…. LIGHTWEIGHT: Champion – Roberto Duran, Panama. 1. Ken Buchanan, Scotland. 2. Alfredo Escalera, Puerto Rico. 3. Hugo Gutierrez, Argentina. 4. Guts Ishimatsu, Japan. 5. Rodolfo Gonzales, Mexico. 6. Rudy Barro, Philippines. 7. Jimmy Heair, Los Angeles. 8. Tury Pineda, Los Angeles. 9. Ray Lampkin, Portland, Oregon. 10. Quid Makhloufi (Algeria).
(7/19/1974): Ring ratings listed for WBC…. LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION: Guts Ishimatsu (Japan) – 1. Roberto Duran (Panama) – 2. Ken Buchanan (Great Britain) – 3. Rodolfo Gonzales (USA) – 4. Esteban de Jesus (Puerto Rico) – 5. Hugo Gutierrez (Argentina) – 6. Jimmy Heair (USA) – 7. Antonio Puddu (Italy) – 8. Jonathan Dele (Nigeria) – 9. Rudy Barro (Puerto Rico) – 10. Tury Pineda (USA)
Papa Benitez viewed Esteban de Jesus, the most popular Puerto Rican boxer, as ‘property’ whose investment value had likely peaked and was ready to be sold. De Jesus played while Papa Benitez was not attentive and away. Unfortunately, for de Jesus this meant binging on cocaine. De Jesus had always worked as told and wanted fun for himself, which was understandable, but cocaine was a dangerous form of recreation. De Jesus fought twice in San Juan in the year following Duran II, both victories, and felt he knew when to stop ‘partying’ to train for a bout. De Jesus had helped his family financially so recreation was his own business. He had fallen in love with a woman, but kept his cocaine usage secret. Cocaine would be good for freeing de Jesus from his shyness and inhibitions. It would also make him restless, paranoid while slowly draining his humanity. The warmth of de Jesus would be slowly transformed into a cool outward toughness difficult to penetrate.
On September 10th, 1974, WBC lightweight champion, Guts Ishimatsu retained his title by battling Mexican Tury Pineda to a 15-round Draw in Nagoya. Apparently, is was a slugfest which thrilled the Japanese spectators. Referee Takeshi Makimura scored it 74-73 in favor of the champion. Judge Hachiro Aki favored Pineda 74-71. Judge Masao Kato, however, had it a Draw, 72-72.
Wilfred Benitez had just turned 16 years-old in September of 1974, with a record of 11-0, 10 knockouts, when his tampered birth certificate and Teddy Brenner’s acquiescence allowed him to fight in New York City. Benitez concluded 1974 with three New York City wins, two by knockout, for a record of 14-0, 12 knockouts. Frankie Benitez, 17 years-old, concluded 1974 with a record of 17-1, 14 knockouts. Esteban de Jesus, 23 years-old, concluded 1974 with a record of 44-2, 25 knockouts. When the sophomore semester began in January of 1975, Papa Benitez had his youngest son drop out of high school to concentrate on professional boxing.
Independent (11/29/1974): “(Osaka, Japan) Guts Ishimatsu of Japan retained his World Boxing Council lightweight championship for the second time Thursday night by knocking-out challenger Rodolfo Gonzales of Long Beach in the 12th round of their scheduled 15-round title match. Ishimatsu, 25, stopped Gonzales, 27, at 2:23 of the 12th round with the same right-hand punch by which he wrested the championship from Gonzalez with an 8th round knockout last April 1 in Tokyo. The knockout came suddenly and electrified 5,000 spectators in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium…. There were no knockdowns Thursday until the 12th round. Ishimatsu kept circling to his left, with Gonzales chasing him, but was unable to connect with effective punches…. Gonzales said, ‘Ishimatsu is a dirty fighter. He butted me in the left eye in the 3rd round and I could not see for four or five rounds. I could not see that right-handed punch in the 12th round.’…. Gonzales said he had not made up his mind about quitting boxing. Ishimatsu must defend his title within 60 days against top contender, Ken Buchanan of Britain, under WBC instructions.”
Roberto Duran retained his WBA lightweight title on December 21st, 1974, in San Jose, Costa Rica versus Japanese lightweight champion, Masataka Takayama. It was shocking in itself that Duran’s management had faith in their fighter to defend his championship outside of Panama. Takayama had lost three consecutive bouts in the USA, including an 8th round knockout to Ruben Navarro and a 3rd round knockout to Chango Carmona. Takayama had followed these losses with six bouts in Japan, winning five, including a 10-round unanimous decision over Masatatsu Watanabe for the local lightweight championship. Takayama had battled Buzzsaw Yamabe twice to lose and regain the title. The most recent conquest defense by Takayama to defend his local title was Arab Suga. Apparently, a 5-4 record in his recent bouts with victories over Horoyuki Murakami, Watanabe, Shinichi Sato, Yamabe and Suga earned Takayama an opportunity to confront Duran for the WBA title. Duran thrilled the Costa Rican spectators by beating Takayama senseless until referee Julio Cesar Soto stopped the bout following a 3rd knockdown during the 1st round. Takayama would fight once more in his career, losing to Koji Yajima in Tokyo, before retirement.
On February 27th, 1975 WBC lightweight champion, Guts Ishimatsu, retained his title in a 15-round bout versus former champion, Ken Buchanan. The challenger had not lost since the devastating knockout by Roberto Duran to lose his WBA title. Ishimatsu was a bit of a quirky character inside-and-outside the ring which probably made him an unusual Japanese cultural sports icon. Local boxing fans enthusiastically backed their Champion with waves of applause whenever a right-handed punch landed on the Scotsman. Buchanan boxed clean with European-style technique but rarely ‘fights’ by throwing a right-hand punch while Ishimatsu made him miss the few times attempted. Ishimatsu threw more punches early on, but the challenger’s counter-strategy forced him into mutual left-jab chess throughout. Buchanan’s most effective moments were during the 9th round when the Champion unsuccessfully attempted offense. Ishimatsu had been repeatedly accused in prior bouts of being a ‘dirty’ fighter. He landed a hard right-hand punch following the 11th round and pushed Buchanan to canvas in the 13th round – but that’s boxing and I don’t think either was worthy of any penalty other than a referee warning. Perhaps not a coincidence Ishimatsu finally broke through Buchanan’s defenses following the ‘push’ with a right-handed punch that wobbled the challenger. The Champion won the most dominant round of the bout by battering the Scotsman around the ring with single right-handed punches and zero combinations. Buchanan remained dazed for the 14th and 15th rounds while nursing a bleeding nose and swollen eye.
On March 15th, 1975, a larger Esteban de Jesus battered Jesse Lara for a 3rd round TKO in Caracas, Venezuela. Neither boxer backed away which was to the American’s detriment. De Jesus landed relentless bombs with both hands to the face and body of an overmatched foe. It was difficult to imagine Lara lasting beyond the 1st round unless he altered strategy. De Jesus scored a knockdown before the round was over but Lara survived. The best that can be said of the American was that he was ‘game’ and attempted to punch but had no ability to hit the muscled Puerto Rican man standing directly in front of him. De Jesus scored a 3rd round knockdown with Lara rising to feet. As de Jesus stepped forward to continue fistic punishment, the referee wisely stepped between the combatants and waved the bout over.
Esteban De Jesus moved up in weight to fight for the WBA super-lightweight title in Panama City versus Colombian, Antonio Cervantes, on May 17th, 1975, losing a unanimous 15-round decision. It was a heck-of-a-fight and fun to view for this story. The Champion had size, strength, reach and experience. But de Jesus was determined, with a strategy to nullify reach by fighting close, while aggressively throwing and landing punches. It’s an artist at work with pleasure to witness de Jesus creatively decipher how to defeat this better boxer. The Panama crowd enthusiastically chanted, “De Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus – de Jesus,” as the 4th round concluded with appreciation that the underdog came to fight – and win. But the Champion dominated with a right punch to head that floored the upstart in the opening seconds. The crowd half-heartedly chanted for de Jesus in the 11th round, but the bout was decided by then. De Jesus did not surrender easily as he began landing left jabs in the 12th round hoping to ambush with a right to chin, but instead Cervantes sent him to the canvas. By the 15th and final round, de Jesus was more exhausted than any moment of his career, before or since, and decided to surrender with hope to survive the distance. The Champion floored the Puerto Rican shortly before the conclusion, for the 3rd time, and so determined was the saddened upstart that the referee had to grab and pull him to his corner when the bell ended bout.
Observer-Reporter (6/6/1975): “(Osaka, Japan) Guts Ishimatsu of Japan retained his World Boxing Council title lightweight championship Thursday night, pounding out a unanimous 15-round decision over challenger Tury Pineda of Mexico…. The two fought to a controversial Draw last September. Ishimatsu was ahead on the cards of both judges and American referee Jimmy Scarmosy, but Pineda said he thought he had won the fight. ‘I never lost points in every round,’ said Pineda. ‘The champion’s effective punches were his head-butting. I do not care much for the decision.’ Scarmosy of San Antonio, Texas had the 26-year old Ishimatsu leading 148-144. Mexican judge Pedro Mendoza scored it 148-147 and Japanese judge Nobumitsu Inukai had the champion in front 148-144…. Ishimatsu, who had predicted he would stop the Mexican around the 10th round, appeared tired in that stanza, and none of his punches caught the challenger. All he did in the round was back away from flurries and punches thrown by Pineda.”
On September 30th, 1975, Roberto Duran was matched against lightly regarded Edwin Viruet for a supposed easy payday. 5-of-7 previous bouts for Duran were 1stround knockouts which bore resemblance to an 1880’s John L. Sullivan travelling boxing show with a ‘chump-of-the-month’ as feature entertainment. Of Duran’s previous eight bouts – only Ray Lampkin survived beyond the 3rd round with his usual insistence that the boxing phrase “styles make fights” was a myth. Edwin Viruet was an awkwardly tall no-punch boxer who resembled a combination of Big Bird with a nerdy teenaged boy asking a girl for their first date. It is borderline amusing to witness Viruet‘s defensive carnival freak show of dance shuffles, jabs, and even mocking Duran as his confidence grew. From a fairness perspective, Viruet landed jabs with far more frequency than his opponent – and rather easily. Viruet’s jabs and occasional punches caused no physical injury to Duran, but neither was the New York born Puerto Rican injured. Viruet, more than Esteban de Jesus, was designing a blue-print for how to defeat a prime Roberto Duran. De Jesus was uniquely tailor-styled to his own skills and could not be easily emulated. Viruet proved unpredictable boxing footwork with steady jabs and reach advantage – along with taunting – could psychologically unravel the Panamanian underestimating a foe while hyper-aggressively looking for an early knockout.
Herald-Tribune (12/5/1975): “Guts Ishimatsu Retains Title…. (Tokyo) World Boxing Council lightweight champion Guts Ishimatsu of Japan scored a 14th round knockout over challenger Alvaro Rojas of Costa Rica Thursday and retained his and Japan’s only title. The end came at 2:59 of the 14th round when Ishimatsu slammed a powerful right uppercut to the challenger’s jaw.”
On March 6th, 1976, in San Juan, Papa Benitez achieved his dream of training/managing a boxing champion. Papa received much criticism for matching his youngest son, Wilfred, against such an experienced and talented champion as Antonio Cervantes for the WBA super-lightweight title. Less than a year earlier, Cervantes was so dominant against de Jesus and probably never heard of the high school dropout, Wilfred. The 30-year-old Champion, a 4-1 favorite, was lethargic throughout. Wilfred Benitez piled on points early with left jabs that landed often while economizing energy with little backing foot movement. The confidence of the younger Benitez made him more willing to throw occasional combinations. It wasn’t until the 9th round that Cervantes seemed concerned enough to display some semblance of aggression. Benitez may have been baby-faced, but the teenager had amassed 129 amateur bouts besides all of the illegal non-sanctioned neighborhood fights. A lack of urgency by the Champion was finally awakened in the 11th round when the smaller challenger battered him around the ring with combinations. Cervantes began looking like himself in the 12th round, stalking the Puerto Rican, who began wisely backing with patience. It was too little, too late, with Wilfred Benitez deservedly winning the 15-round split-decision to become the youngest professional boxing champion in history.
Wilfred Benitez became the hottest Puerto Rican boxing star while the career of Esteban de Jesus appeared to be in decline. Papa Benitez happily accepted $25,000 (more than 3-times the $7,500 purse his son received for winning the title), from Jose ‘Pantalones’ Santiago, to concentrate on his son’s career, and the $15,000 training facility built on his backyard in Saint Just. Frankie Benitez had showed promise as a boxer by rising to #5 amongst lightweight contenders, but losses to Chris Fernandez and Josue Marquez were backwards steps. Papa Benitez blamed women for his son’s downfall, “He likes to play,” and insisted his child wasn’t welcome in his home or part of the family. Gregorio Benitez Jr., aged 20, was showing signs of permanent brain damage from boxing bouts of the past. Gregorio Jr. rarely spoke and was described sadly by those concerned as someone with a, “Soft smile and sad eyes.”
Esteban de Jesus’ new manager/promoter, Jose Santiago, was born to a wealthy family on September 4th, 1928, in Coamo, Puerto Rico. Santiago began a professional baseball career, aged 18, with the Cleveland A-league team, the Dayton Indians. After two years and a 28-19 record, he had a marvelous year with the Saint-Wilkes Indians, a 21-5 record with a 1.59 earned run average. Santiago was called to the majors in 1954, and pitching part of two seasons for the Cleveland Indians, compiled a 2-0 record with a 2.36 earned run average. Santiago obviously had talent, but his friend and admirer, star teammate Minnie Minosa, realized Santiago was not a typical Latin athlete. Santiago’s passion was horse racing, not baseball, who was outspoken against white-American prejudice. Minoso: “Unlike most of the Latin ballplayers, (Santiago) did not need baseball for financial security. His father was a doctor in Coamo, so Jose was never forced to take the kind of flack many other Latin ballplayers had to take. Jose was a nice guy, but because of his financial condition, he could tell you what he really thought and he often did.” Santiago was traded to the Kansas City A’s, and after a poor start was demoted to the minor leagues. While he was a terrible minor league hitter, Santiago’s lifetime major league average was .444 along with a .545 on base percentage. On February 11th, 1957, Santiago pitched a 3-hit shutout for Puerto Rico against the eventual champions, Cuba (whose players included his friend, Minoso), in the Caribbean Series. After failing to reach the major leagues again, Santiago pitched the next several years in the Puerto Rican league winning over 100 games. In 1970, Santiago became the first television producer to broadcast America’s Triple Crown horse races via satellite to the Territory of Puerto Rico. Santiago partnered with Pedrin Zorilla, in the purchase of race horses which eventually produced 476 victories and his election into Puerto Rico’s Horseracing Hall of Fame. Santiago, by now independently wealthy, added boxing promotion to his interests so he signed Puerto Rico’s most popular boxer, Esteban de Jesus to a 5-year contract. Santiago purchased de Jesus’ management contract from Papa Benitez and teamed him with Manny Siaca. Santiago knew that de Jesus held monetary value with a third bout versus Duran, but was unable to entice the Panamanian champion to fight in Puerto Rico. But Santiago’s money could entice WBC lightweight champion, Guts Ishimatsu, to defend his title in San Juan. If de Jesus could become champion, his personal value would rise again, along with fans demanding a Duran/de Jesus III showdown to unify the title.
Manny Siaca was a kinder, soother trainer for Esteban de Jesus. Siaca and his wife, Nitza, became close friends with Esteban and his wife, Nelly. A drug addict, and that’s what de Jesus had become, can find moments to contain the problem. Whether it was the closeness with his new trainer – the competence of a new boxing direction – or placing his wife and kids first – de Jesus trained hard with an opportunity to win the title. Cocaine addiction was temporarily derailed. Family outings with the Siaca and de Jesus families had become a priority. The Siaca’s baby, Manny Jr. would one day win the WBA Super-middleweight title. Nitza Siaca: “(De Jesus) was very close to his family. He didn’t like too much of a crowd. He was a very kind man, sweet and courteous. I never saw him angry.”
Guts Ishimatsu successfully defended his WBC lightweight title five times from 1974-76, including a questionable Draw decision versus Arturo Pineda. Judge Hakiro Aki scored the bout for Pineda. Referee Takeshi Mikimura scored the bout for Ishimatsu. Judge Masao Kato scored the bout even. A boxing historian can learn about a champion’s reign by following the money. Antonio Cervantes never had a hometown crowd when he fought or defended a title. All of Ishimatsu’s defenses were in Japan, including rematches with Rodolfo Gonzales and Pineda. The most impressive victory was probably a dull, but fair, 15-round unanimous decision over former champion, Ken Buchanan. Japanese culture of manners gave Ishimatsu a quiet, but enthusiastic following. At least it wasn’t an impassioned Latin crowd rooting against him. Jose Santiago’s money lured Ishimatsu from Japan to the island of Puerto Rico, to defend his title against a popular local hero.
The 3rd attempt for a WBA/WBC title by Esteban de Jesus was the WBC lightweight Championship on May 8th, 1976, versus Guts Ishimatsu. The odds were better stacked for de Jesus to claim the title bout in San Juan because it was a home crowd for the challenger. There was no dispute with the unanimous decision as de Jesus battered Ishimatsu throughout, including the 15th and final round. Two of the judges, Rudy Ortega and Jose Juan Guerra, scored de Jesus all 15 rounds, while referee Harry Gibbs scored de Jesus 14 of 15 rounds. The Montreal Gazette (5/10/1976): “(San Juan) It was a one-sided bout. Ishimatsu did not win a single round. From the opening bell, de Jesus took command and kept hitting Ishimatsu with ease throughout the bout before a packed house of 20,000. De Jesus, who was never in trouble, was unable to knock down Ishimatsu, but several times the Puerto Rican forced the defending champion to the ropes with solid blows to the face. Ishimatsu began to bleed slightly from the mouth in the 4th round and de Jesus suffered a very small cut in the left cheek in the 8th, which could have been the challenger’s best round. In that frame, de Jesus hit Ishimatsu at will with both hands and, at one point, it appeared referee Harry Gibbs of England was on the verge of stopping the fight.”
Esteban de Jesus celebrated his WBC lightweight championship with a cocaine binge – and then celebrated and celebrated and celebrated. The celebrations and fun did not include his wife, Nelly, or the Siacas. Papa Benitez had always stressed that all the hard boxing training had been in contemplation of money and women after becoming champion. De Jesus did not allow marital vows or family responsibility prevent the dreams he held since being a teenager. Nitza Siaca: “As soon as (de Jesus) became champ, it was a new environment. He had new friends. Big shots. Then he started using drugs. When he was champ, he had a lot of money, a lot of power. He was one of the kings of boxing in Puerto Rico.”
On October 15th, 1976, Roberto Duran defeated Alvaro Rojas for another 1st round knockout. These types of Duran mismatch bouts were entertaining public spectacles. It truly was entertainment as opposed to a serous sporting contest. But Roberto Duran and his human punching bags were good for boxing. The popularity of boxing has always dramatically risen when a slugger with early-round knockouts has taken hold of the public’s imagination. The heavyweight division was controlled by an aging champion, Muhammad Ali and his defensive tactics. Except for local region or ethnic consideration, sluggers are almost always more popular than boxers. The most popular slugging non-heavyweight pugilist of the 1970’s was – without doubt – Duran.
Esteban de Jesus defended his WBC lightweight title against lightly regarded Japanese challenger, Shinji ‘Buzzsaw’ Yamabe. While the governor of Puerto Rico was in attendance and it was televised nationally throughout the United States, the attendance was 40% lower than the expected 10,000 spectators. Post-Herald and Register (2/13/1977): “(San Juan) De Jesus Keeps Lightweight Title With Sixth Round Knockout…. The Puerto Rican champion dominated the match from beginning to end. In the 1st round, he was able to hit Yamabe practically at will with his deadly left jab, sending the challenger to the canvas for an eight-count. The rest of the battle followed more or less the same pace, with the champ dominating the contest because of his superior technique and style…. The end came at 2:06 of the 6th after the Japanese challenger went down for the second time (in the round).”
Esteban de Jesus and his cocaine dealer opened a restaurant at a cost to the WBC lightweight champion of $40,000. And of course, when the restaurant failed only one of them lost their money – and it wasn’t “Louie”. De Jesus became difficult with those he loved most, his family, and didn’t feel accountable for his actions or behavior. A quiet, gentle soul had become a monster when confronted about drugs or the changes with his mood. De Jesus’ wife, Nelly, begged her husband to seek psychiatric assistance, but the Champion felt insulted at any insinuation that something was wrong. Drugs were not affecting his boxing training or professional career – so why cannot Nelly and the Siaca family leave him alone?
(4/9/1977): North American Boxing Federation’s latest rankings…. LIGHTWEIGHT WORLD CHAMPION: Esteban de Jesus. N.A.B.F. CHAMPION: Vicente Saldivar, Mexico. CONTENDERS: 1. Rudy Hernandez, California; 2. Edwin Viruet, New York; 3. Maurice ‘Termite’ Watkins, Texas; 4. Jerome Artis, Pennsylvania; 5. Arturo Leon, Arizona; 6. Andy Mizoo Ganigan, Hawaii; 7. Norman Goins, Indiana; 8. Domenico Monaco, New York; 9. Leonardo Bermudez, Mexico; 10. Johnny Copeland, Texas.
On June 22nd, 1977, the Midland Reporter Telegram published an upcoming bout with Frankie Benitez, aged 19, “Who has been talked out of retirement.” Frankie had once been the most openly rebellious of the Benitez brothers. Permanent brain damage by age 22 would tame Frankie, whose mental disability forced him to live permanently at home, quietly reading the bible, until the inevitable day of placement in a group nursing home. Frankie later gave Papa Benitez a plaque that read, “World’s Greatest Dad.”
The Ogden Standard-Examiner (6/27/1977): “(San Juan) Puerto Rico’s Esteban de Jesus landed a solid left hook on Mexican challenger Vicente Mijares Saldivar to retain the World Boxing Council lightweight crown Saturday night with a knockout at 2:20 of the 11th round. The 25-year-old champion, making his third title defense, dominated the entire fight, but moved in for the kill in the 10th round, opening a cut on the left cheek and over the right eye of Saldivar with a battery of combinations of left hooks and rights. The victory gives de Jesus a chance to settle an old score with Panama’s Roberto Duran, recognized as the lightweight champion by the World Boxing Association. Promoter Don King announced before tonight’s fight that he had a contract from Duran for a match between the WBA and WBC titleholders. He said the fight will be held in October or September. De Jesus has beaten Duran in a non-championship fight but lost to the Panamanian in a title bout. It was the 52ndvictory for the Puerto Rican, who has only suffered (three) defeats. For Saldivar it was his second defeat against 25 victories.” Lawton Constitution (6/27/1977): “This is the last match for Esteban until the Duran (bout) said King. Duran is scheduled to meet Edwin Viruet of Puerto Rico in mid-July in Panama. This is the dream added King who took a heavy loss in the de Jesus match witnessed by a small crowd at the Juan Ramon Loubriel Stadium in nearby Bayamon.”
It might be fortunate there was NO WAY IN HELL that Edwin Viruet would have been allowed to defeat Roberto Duran for the WBC lightweight championship on September 17th, 1977 other than by knockout. Don King was not going to lose his anticipated Duran/De Jesus championship boxing payday that he and Jose Santiago nurtured for years to someone fated as forgettable – even as you view Viruet fight. If the bout decision were not ‘fixed’, Viruet gave Duran a closer than comfort zone boxing lesson during their two encounters. The Spokesman-Review (9/19/1977): “(Philadelphia) Esteban de Jesus, who already knew quite a bit about Roberto Duran, got a remarkably long time to observe Duran Saturday…. Viruet and Duran were also meeting for the second time – Duran won a non-title fight in 1975 but looked unimpressive…. The difference in the fight were Duran’s aggressiveness and Viruet’s lack of a knockout punch.” Edwin Viruet: “(Duran) was cursing my mother from the first round. I tried to curse him back, but the referee wouldn’t let me talk. I don’t like him even though he’s champion of the world because he’s nasty.” Don King and boxing fans were in cahoots together with deciding the Viruet/Duran II outcome, as best to sort of pretend both bouts didn’t occur, so that Duran/de Jesus III could finally unify the lightweight title.
November 18th, 1977, was supposed to be the Madison Square showdown between Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez. Duran pulled out of the bout due to “flu” so was replaced by an undefeated Los Angeles pugilist, Bruce Curry. Benitez strategized an aggressive, offense-oriented bout to back his promise of a 5th round knockout. Instead, Curry knocked Benitez down twice in the 4th round: “Benitez doesn’t know where he is…. They are going to have do something to revive him in his corner.” Curry landed his 3rd knockdown of Benitez in the 5th round. For the next three rounds, Benitez backed fatigued while attempting to regain his senses. Curry wasn’t doing much having exhausted his arms following the 5th round. Benitez was the better boxer in the 9th and 10th rounds, but it appeared too little, too late. Referee Arthur Mercante, scored the bout for Curry, but the other judges gave it to Benitez (5-4-1 and ridiculous, 7-3.) Curry was an unfortunate soul with serious mental illness, possibly schizophrenia, with the boxing world treating him poorly. Under a ’10 points’ system, Curry would have won the 4th and 5th rounds 10-7, 10-8. But the round system for this bout gave him the equivalent of 10-9, 10-9 since the scoring system allowed no recognition for a dominant round. Curry demanded his money in cash after the bout, accepted $1,000 as payment and later claimed it turned out to be counterfeit.
Esteban de Jesus/Roberto Duran III, for the unified WBA/WBC lightweight title, was held in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 21st, 1978. Sports Illustrated, in the days before ESPN and the internet held the power of influence for a sporting event with their magazine cover. It would be the only cover for Esteban de Jesus, wearing red trunks, on his feet but wobbled as his foe batters away. Roberto Duran, wearing white trunks, stands tall with a ferocious Satanic-face, hair standing up, as he pummels a foe into sports superstardom. As a child, the cover was so spellbinding that I (wrongly) stole it from my Phoenix, Arizona school library and kept it for years. Roberto Duran became my boxing hero as he had for so many others. I wanted Duran to knock everyone into submission, especially the milk & cookies American 1976 gold-winning boxing Olympian attending the bout, Sugar Ray Leonard. The man in the red trunks, de Jesus, who shared the Sports Illustrated cover in my room for years, was a human punching bag – created by God as someone frozen in time forever, as the boxer beaten to a pulp for mine, and others, pleasure.
Roberto Duran/Esteban de Jesus III was probably the least entertaining of the three bouts in retrospect though it provided plenty of action. The bout began with de Jesus as the boxer-puncher with Duran surprisingly backing with defensive boxing skills. Duran bided his time – satisfied with occasional hard body punches with a strategy of patience. De Jesus looked his worst of the three fights, and of course in retrospect, part of that was being forced to win by knockout only. It was fraud at the time, but perhaps the sports world didn’t know (yeah, sure) that Don King had groomed Duran to be his money-machine as Muhammad Ali aged and neared retirement. Still, the night of January 21st, 1978 deservedly belonged to Roberto Duran then and today. Esteban de Jesus deserves appreciation for his participation throughout 33 of the greatest, most action-packed, rounds in boxing history.
Don King deserves kudos for a career of promising great boxing entertainment – and then delivering. The worst of the 33 rounds between Duran/de Jesus was more exciting than the best round of most bouts. Duran earned approximately $150,000 for his 1978 victory. Esteban de Jesus earned whatever generosity Don King allowed, which isn’t always much, except it was better than the $10,000 fee (under Santiago only) he would have earned without him and promises of future earnings and another title opportunity. For Don King’s purpose, Duran/de Jesus III was win-win with the happiest persons those who profess to love boxing most. Boxing fans had a savage beast, killer pugilist demolishing his opponents. Roberto Duran was an Alaskan bear on PBS television eating de Jesus, as the unfortunate salmon victim swimming upstream. The boxing community had a popular boxing Champion with unified title along with a 12th round knockout entertainment.
It is interesting as the television announcers discussed both Duran and de Jesus struggling to make weight for their 3rd encounter. They insisted it was a “water diet” of deprivation from food along with exercise. Duran admitted to starving himself along with pills to induce diarrhea. Of course, we know after-the-fact that de Jesus lost weight with the assistance of cocaine. We would later learn that Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard and many other boxers used cocaine at times in their career. The heavyweight champion who dethroned Ali in 1978 and then lost his title the same year, Leon Spinks, became addicted to cocaine. If steroids were the sports problem of the 1990’s and into the next decade, then cocaine was the sports problem of the 1970’s, and into the next decade. During the 1960’s, baseball and football players openly admit that trainers regularly gave them amphetamine pills. Many athletes were able to overcome the usage of illegal speed drugs – and then stop. Esteban de Jesus was not to be as fortunate.
At this point in his life, 1978, Esteban de Jesus was ‘wired’ and depressed with a lifestyle that was twenty-four hours awake for days. Snorting cocaine no longer had the same appeal so now he smoked the drug. The crowd for such an activity is sick – with its values or lack thereof. When you smoke marijuana for the first few times with friends – you laugh and laugh and laugh. Many people remain ‘potheads’ for life and function in society. They become teachers, lawyers, doctors and sometimes President of the United States. There is no laughter for the crowd that smokes speed drugs. The people are hardened and repulsive to be around – and then find yourself amongst them.
Esteban de Jesus: “People take you to parties that have (cocaine) and then you start using. The worst part is when you open your eyes and it is too late. You are already addicted.” The one-time kind and decent de Jesus was gone – or maybe he appeared sometimes, but not often enough. Now, he could yell at people irrationally. His paranoia made him convinced that everyone was against him – which in the boxing world – might be true without smoking narcotics. When de Jesus was ‘wired’ from smoking cocaine without sleep for 48-72 hours, a polite assessment was that he became a bad person. A not so polite appraisal was that he became a selfish asshole.
Teddy Brenner, Only The Ring Was Square: “Now there was Benitez up for sale because his father, Gregorio Benitez, needed the money. Gregorio Benitez was in horses. He played them and owned them, and when things went bad, he decided to sell the contract on his son.” Papa Benitez, Sports Illustrated (2/13/1978): “I want to sell my kid (Wilfred). All I’m asking is $150,000, 10% of all his future purses and two tickets to all his fights. I say to all of them, you put the money in my hand and I put my kid in your hand. If the new owner wants him to fight Duran at 143 pounds, that is his worry. I want to be like Pontius Pilate; wash my hands of the whole thing.” Papa had been attempting to sell his son for Don King to ‘own’ but was turned down. Papa asked Madison Square Garden matchmaker, Teddy Brenner, to find anyone that could put money in his hand. Eventually, two ‘owners’ came forward with $75,000, former handball champion, Jim Jacobs, and his partner, Bill Cayton.
WBA/WBC lightweight champion, Roberto Duran had not one, but two Viruet’s to contend with on April 27th, 1978. Duran was supposed to collect an easy $100,000 for uneventful 10-rounds with Edwin Viruet’s quieter brother, Adolfo. I don’t enjoy fake pre-bout hype about ‘hate’ to make money from a bland fight. But Edwin Viruet and Duran were in the midst of a grudge that has lasted 35 years. From Viruet’s perspective, he was robbed of the title with his defensive strategy of landing a few face jabs per round that did not damage the Champion versus Duran’s aggressiveness mixed with clumsy ineffectiveness. While Viruet pleaded ‘fixed bouts’ in front of reporters that were not sympathetic to his claims, it is conceded by everyone that Duran looked horrible for 25 rounds against this former New York Golden Gloves champion, boxer-freak. Duran shouted at Edwin Viruet with a wild mixture of Spanglish: “I kicked your ass twice and now I’m going to kick your brother’s ass. And if you bring your father to the ring then I’ll kick his ass, too!” Adolfo Viruet wanted nothing to do with the invective hurled from both sides, but only wanted peace for everyone. Adolfo Viruet was a lover, not a fighter, and that’s how he behaved fighting Duran at Madison Square Garden for a non-title bout. Sarasota Herald-Tribune (4/29/1978): “Grab Your Partner – Do-Si-Do…. Adolfo Viruet may have preferred a square dance to 10-rounds Thursday night with the world lightweight boxing champion, but Roberto Duran has other swinging in mind…. Duran won his 32nd straight victory in a unanimous decision over Viruet, a junior welterweight.” For the most part, a frustrated Duran chased Viruet around the ring, but there was a brief moment of action. Sports Illustrated (5/08/1978): “In the 6th round, however, Duran leaped in, caught Viruet with a hook to the body and shook him with a right to the head. Teeth bared, Viruet fought back and hooked the champion to the body, then to the head. Duran muscled his rival to the ropes and began to pound him with both hands. When he missed with a punch, Duran sometimes followed with an elbow. Hurt and angry, Viruet, who hadn’t fought in almost a year, battled back. For better than two minutes it was street fury against street fury, neither man giving a step. At the bell, referee Arthur Mercante leaped between the two to stop them. The crowd of 17,125 stood and cheered for more.” Unfortunately, Viruet regained his sanity and pre-fight plan of defensive non-action that gave him less a claim of victory than his brother. Following the bout, Edwin Viruet and Roberto Duran continued their heated verbal exchange and had to be separated from one another. Because the Panamanian brawler was humbled during the 1980’s, the Viruet brothers, in particular Edwin, have been problematic to the 1970’s boxing legacy of Duran as invincible, who only lost when he “partied too much” while the talent or skills of an opponent (Esteban de Jesus) was deemed irrelevant.
Only the loneliest of 2014 boxing fans or historians would care to view Esteban de Jesus versus Edwin Viruet, October 27th, 1978. I was curious how the awkward Viruet with his great defensive boxing weirdness would fair against such a smart, non-emotional pugilist as de Jesus. The answer was that Viruet did a great job – picking and choosing 2-3 moments per round to land jabs – strange foot shuffles with a mocking pose as he gained confidence. At times, with gloves down and head directly in front of the pugilist, Puerto Rican versus Puerto Rican, taunts that his defense was impenetrable. Viruet waited longer with de Jesus than Duran to play games, but in the end the split decision victory for de Jesus was fair and a pleasure to witness. As of 2013, Edwin Viruet was on disability, subsiding on food stamps while living in a low-income apartment. He daily visits boxing gyms to see the young fighters with much boxing knowledge that no one wants to hear. They only see a fat, old man who claims he twice defeated Roberto Duran – with no one quite believing him.
One reason that Esteban de Jesus likely switched to injecting drugs instead of smoking was the effect it would have on his lung capacity. Smoking cocaine regularly is not compatible with 10-15 rounds of professional boxing. It may have been a contributing factor to his first loss versus Duran. Once a drug addict is used to a syringe the fear of heroin is lessened. De Jesus did not fight professionally in the eleven months following his October, 1978, victory over Edwin Viruet. Aside from New York City and San Juan, de Jesus was mostly known in boxing circles as the victim battered by Roberto Duran during their 3rd encounter. De Jesus assisted his drop in popularity with heroin binges that left him immobile and unkempt. De Jesus was surrounded by fellow addicts, unimpressed that he once defeated Duran or was a former lightweight Champion because they were all hardened equals in search of the next fix. De Jesus still had the talent to re-claim a boxing championship, but not the desire. Eugene Register-Guard (10/5/1979): “Esteban de Jesus, former World Boxing Council lightweight champion, who was returning to the ring after a 1-year absence, scored an unimpressive but unanimous 10-round decision over Jimmy Blevins of Chicago at New York Thursday night.”
The life of Esteban de Jesus was lying to his family while ‘disappearing’ to accommodate his current drug-addicted lifestyle. Even when the former WBC lightweight Champion was at home his mind was not mentally with family. De Jesus would have sneaked into the bathroom or garage for his stash. De Jesus would break drug rocks until placing grounded brown or white powder onto a used spoon. De Jesus would use an eye dropper for water mixed into the heroin. Then he would drop a cotton swab onto the mixture for absorption. De Jesus would use a syringe to suck the filtered cotton swab purity. Next, he would tie his arm and search for a vein. After injecting the heroin into his arm he would enjoy the next several seconds of relief or pleasure. It is several seconds of tantalizing patience and impatience, tapping the syringe repeatedly, as it fills with blood. Then de Jesus would quickly gather his supply-kit for its hiding place and hope family members did not speak to him for the next hour.
Roberto Duran was at a crossroads for his professional boxing career following the unanimous 10-round decision victory over Rodolfo Viruet. He had accomplished everything as a lightweight and was having increasing difficulty making weight. Duran had fought often, and with the body and head only able to accept so much punishment, Carlos Eleta and Ray Arcel agreed it was time to plan his career exit. Duran had hoped to key a strategy that would conclude his career with a WBC junior-middleweight title bout versus Antonio Cervantes. Duran abandoned the lightweight title to become a welterweight with an eye on the WBC champion, Carlos Palomino. A title bout with Palomino, and then Cervantes, would conclude an already legendary career. Duran won four consecutive bouts as a welterweight from September, 1978, to April, 1979, with a couple knockouts. By then, Wilfred Benitez fought brilliantly in a 15-round split-decision upset over Palomino to claim the WBA welterweight championship. It set the showdown for the #1 contender, Palomino, and the surprising underdog, Duran. The most economically valuable non-heavyweight boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard, had signed as an underdog to face Benitez for the title. It was assumed that Leonard was not experienced enough for such a fight, and that after a Benitez victory, would set the stage for a Benitez/Palomino rematch. If Duran pulled the upset, which many of his rapid fans felt destined, the feeling was that Benitez would avoid punishment the Panamanian would inflict, so that he would have to settle for a showdown with Mexican WBA welterweight champion, Jose ‘Pipino’ Cuevas.
Sports Illustrated cover (7/2/1979): “Boxing’s Big Week – Duran Overwhelms Palomino.” Star-News (6/23/1979): “(New York) Roberto Duran knocked Carlos Palomino down in the 6th round, mixed boxing with punching and pounded out a unanimous 10-round decision over the former welterweight champion Friday night at Madison Square Garden. The 28-year-old Panamanian, who gave up the lightweight title because of trouble making the 135-pound limit, showed he is deadly serious about becoming welterweight champion. He feinted with his head and shoulders, he jabbed, he countered and of course, he put on the pressure that led to his nickname ‘Manos de Piedra’ – Hands of Stone. At the beginning of the 6th round, Duran walked out and knocked Palomino down with a left-right…. Early in the 10th round, after (referee) Mercante broke them from a clinch along the ropes, Duran dropped his hands to his sides, flashed a savage smile at Palomino, and then hit him with a left.”
Despite becoming a heroin addict, Esteban de Jesus could sometimes still train and box at a high level. De Jesus fought in November at Madison Square Garden in front of 7,368 spectators as the undercard for the undefeated white heavyweight, Gerry Cooney. Schenectady Gazette (11/10/1979): “Former lightweight champion, Esteban de Jesus of Puerto Rico, the only man to defeat Roberto Duran, pounded out an easy 10-round decision over Ruby ‘The Snake’ Ortiz of Brooklyn, N.Y. De Jesus, who weighed 140, took control in the second round as he caught Ortiz with several lead rights to the head. De Jesus, boxing superbly, kept Ortiz, 141 ¼, off balance throughout the fight with left hands to the body and lead rights to the head. In the 8th, De Jesus opened a small cut under Ortiz’ right eye and in the 9th, he opened another small cut under the left eye. The fight ended with blood streaming down the right side of Ortiz’ face. There were no knockdowns. It was De Jesus’ fifty-sixth victory against only four losses as he attempts to regain his title.” De Jesus might have claimed the WBC super lightweight title with sobriety and better personal habits, but instead the decisive victory over Ortiz would be his last. Instead of dedicating himself to training, the 27-year-old would disappear for weeks binging on “speed balls”, a mixture of cocaine/heroin that he injected with a syringe.
The undefeated Sugar Ray Leonard fought for the WBC welterweight title on November 30th, 1979, versus Wilfred Benitez. The purse of $2,200,000 was the most ever for a non-heavyweight title bout. Leonard earned every boxing accolade that had been showered for the past three years. The bout was advertised and delivered as a defensive “anti-Duran” mental chess match with boxer versus boxer attempting to out-think, instead of out-punch one another. It was shocking that Leonard could dominate the undefeated two-time Champion so easily. Through 10-rounds, Leonard had won every round and scored the only knockdown. There had not been much punching or offensive action, but Leonard’s left jab landed occasionally from a distance while making Benitez pay by landing an overhand right any time the Champion attempted to move in-close. Benitez, two years younger than Leonard, appeared frustrated and helplessly overwhelmed, but would not surrender his title without a fight. Profusely bleeding from eyes, Benitez became more aggressively reckless in attempting to close-in and throw punches. By the 15th round, Benitez could only win by knockout, so that’s what he attempted, but all it revealed was Leonard’s superior hand speed. Benitez was knocked down with 30 seconds remaining in the bout. The referee, Carlos Padilla did not actually wave the bout to continue until 13 seconds remained. Leonard pounced with a flurry of punches to the head of a helpless Benitez against the ropes. Referee Padilla received unfair criticism by waving the bout over with only 6 seconds remaining. When we learn years later that Benitez collapsed into a coma and has been brain damaged from boxing since aged 38, then referee Padilla’s decision was 100% correct.
Esteban de Jesus was on a personal downward spiral from which he would never completely recover. The former WBC lightweight champion was only 28 years-old with potentially many life opportunities ahead. He remained the 2nd most popular boxer in Puerto Rico (behind Wilfred Benitez) and was a sports celebrity with the Spanish-speaking region of New York City. He retained the talent and potential to reclaim a boxing title. If de Jesus never regained that ambitious pugilist drive his legacy perhaps paled compared to Roberto Duran, but would likely be more respected by historians than other great lightweight peers such as Ken Buchanan, Rodolfo Gonzales, Guts Ishimatsu and those other talented, ranked boxers who never claimed the championship. Unfortunately, the most powerful de Jesus nemesis was not a man with Hands of Stone but rock-powder in which to become stoned. His preference was to inject cocaine, which could make his heart race, and then take the edge off with heroin. Life had become a balancing act for the ‘perfect high’ while maintaining family and business obligations. “Driving that train high on cocaine,” Jerry Garcia was singing nightly to Deadheads live in concert, “(Esteban) you better – WATCH YOUR SPEEEEEED!”
June 18th, 1980, was two days before the anticipated “Le Face-a-Face Historique” in Montreal, Canada for the WBC welterweight championship:
SUGAR RAY LEONARD: “I’m going to kill (Duran), Howard.”
HOWARD COSELL: “What the Hell’s wrong?”
LEONARD: “Duran’s an animal. The other day, he saw my wife in the lobby of the hotel and flipped her the finger. I’ve run into him several times, and he curses me out. I try to ignore him, but he’s had it. I swear, I’m going to kill him.”
COSELL: “You’re going after him?”
LEONARD: “Yeagh, jump on him at the bell, take him out early.”
COSELL: “That would be foolish, Ray. You fight your fight, not his. Otherwise, you’re in trouble.”
June 20th, 1980, produced a violent French-language region boxing epic, Le Face-a-Face Historique (aka/ The Brawl In Montreal). These were not boxers but ‘pugilists’ in combat. It was a boxing brawl about SOMETHING – although with 30+ years to think about it – I am not sure that ‘something’ can be defined.
The 2nd round begins with the bout even – both boxers cautious while appearing to be feeling out the other. HOWARD COSELL: “Bell for round two. Duran right out to ring center. Leonard there to meet him. So far Leonard has not moved as some expected he might.” The boxers are cautious in center ring with Leonard occasionally snapping a left jab. Duran bobs and weaves head as he looks for an opening. COSELL: “Duran lost 5-to-8 pounds in the last 36 hours to make weight. We will have to wait to see if that makes a difference. Duran has a five-inch shorter reach – he MUST get inside. And there you see him trying to maul and brawl.” …. The round is half over. Duran sticks out left jab that misses a ducking Leonard – follows with hard right-punch that lands clean to side of head – Leonard is rocked – Duran follows with hard left hook that lands clean to jaw. Leonard is knocked backward onto ropes as Duran chases. Leonard wobbled and holds onto Duran’s head. COSELL (underestimating the impact): “A fierce Duran landing a good punch but LEONARD looking over at Angelo Dundee in the corner and saying, ‘No – no – he didn’t hurt me’.” Leonard holds Duran’s head – who lands body punches with only free hand. Duran breaks free and attempts to step forward with punches. Leonard backs as Duran realizes the Champion is dazed. Duran steers Leonard back onto ropes and lands a left and right punch to body. COSELL: “NOW – Leonard is in trouble. That is the one spot you don’t want to (flubs word) in the corner.” Leonard holds tight and bulls Duran backward. Duran throws uppercut after uppercut aimed at jaw. The uppercuts are landing but slightly negated by Leonard’s tight grasp. COSELL: “And now he’s upper-cutting Leonard. Duran fighting fiercely. I think I said earlier that he approached this fight with an INTENSITY that borders on religious fervor.” Boxers in center ring with occasional punches. Leonard finally backs and holds on with clinch when Duran approaches. Leonard has disguised from the audience and Cosell – but not Duran – effects of the earlier left hook. Spectators stand on their feet at the bell and roar their approval for the offensive action. Leonard attempts to clear his head between rounds. He would later admit to remaining “senseless” from the 2nd round left hook.
Duran quickly has Leonard pinned against ropes to begin the 3rd round. Duran attempts to land punches while Leonard does nothing but ‘rope-a-dope’ – cover- up and allows his-self to be hit. COSELL: “It’s the fight of (Leonard)’s young life. He has only had 27 bouts. Duran has had 70. AND look at Duran – mauling – brawling – IN-side trying to come UP with the UP-per-cut. Using his SHOULDERS against Leonard. His upper-body strength. Duran knows all the tricks the way Carlos Monzon did. How to use the elbows – the arms – the shoulder – EVERYTHING! And now with Leonard against the ropes (Duran) is SCORING – and scoring heavily.” Duran continues to batter away at Leonard with non-stop punches against the ropes. Leonard continues to cover up – occasionally tries to grab Duran’s head – and allows his body to be punched like a gym training bag. COSELL: “I don’t think Duran will be punching himself out. This is NOT a George Foreman-Muhammad Ali – LOOK AT DURAN GIVE IT TO HIM – and LEONARD cannot take a lot of this I do not believe.” Duran continues to punch and batter away at an inactive Champion trying to survive. Leonard finally bulls Duran forward off ropes and holds tight as Duran is tiring himself slightly from relentless punches landed. Leonard holds Duran tight around head as the challenger continues attempting to land inside punches. COSELL: “Duran in charge of this fight – EARLY! And Leonard not fighting with any movement.” Leonard is standing still and holding Duran’s head tightly. Duran bulls Leonard back onto ropes. The round is only half over. COSELL: “The first round might have been scored even. The third round is ALL Roberto Duran.” It is not obvious that Leonard remains dazed and merely holding on. In that sense – as bad as Leonard looks – it is miraculous that he remains on feet. COSELL: “Edwin Viruet went fifteen good rounds with Duran. But with steady MOVEMENT. And Viruet does not have Leonard’s movement. Leonard’s not showing that movement. Not up to this point.” The boxers are back in center ring with Leonard attempting some punches – while Duran counters likewise. Duran bulls Leonard backwards onto ropes as Leonard holds on for life. COSELL: “We’ve got twenty seconds left in the third round. ALL Duran. Using his upper body brilliantly,” until the bell mercifully sounds for the Champion. Leonard attempts to clear his head between rounds. He later admitted to continue being “senseless” from the 2nd round left hook.
COSELL: “The bell sounds for round four. Duran EAGER to get to the fray. EAGER to finish OFF the opponent. NOW – clearly convinced that he can do it.” The boxers stand toe-to-toe in center ring. There is slight movement and circling on both sides. Duran – probably a bit tired from the previous two rounds – throws an occasional punch. Leonard is content to block punches and not back onto ropes. COSELL: “Dun-DEE to my right. Appears to be worried. And with good reason.” They continue to stand in center ring – almost as if the ring were 5 X 5 feet in size instead of 20 X 20. It is more obvious that the dazed Leonard is in trouble although he continues to hide the full extant. The anticipation remains incredible for fans – even with the bout slowed. Duran finally bulls the Champion onto ropes. COSELL: “Look at Duran. His strategy clear. PIN (Leonard) against the ropes – MAULING – brawl with him… Leonard looking worried.” They are back in center ring – Duran snaps left jab that grazes short – both bob heads – Leonard snaps left jab that Duran has anticipated. Duran lands hard right-punch clean to jaw – follows with left-punch to upper body – follows with another hard right-punch that lands clean to jaw. COSELL: “A GOOD RIGHT HURT LEONARD! A GOOD, HARD SHORT LEAD CAUGHT LEONARD – and hurt him.” Duran pins Leonard back onto ropes – Leonard is clinching tight to remain on feet. The fight ring – which could have been the size of a 5 x 5 foot ring seconds earlier could be the size of telephone booth as both lean against one another with persistent inside punches. COSELL: “Remember the bout is scored by three judges. And for the third straight round – it is ALL Duran.”
Somewhere in midst of the 5th round Leonard begins to look better – and with 30 seconds remaining suddenly springs to life with an effective 4-5 punch combination. Duran mauls more than brawls – but giving Leonard every benefit of the doubt – while judges and fans often don’t see the same thing – it would seem Duran concludes the round with a 3-0-2 lead.
Duran remains aggressive in the 6th round with attempts to maul and pin Leonard against ropes. Leonard covers up and occasionally springs to life with combinations that land – a typical 1970’s Muhammad Ali 15th round against a tougher foe. I’ll award Leonard the round so my card reads 3-1-2 for Duran.
COSELL (to begin 7th round): “Duran’s tactics unchanging – MAUL – BRAWL – HOLD – CLUTCH – use the arms – use the shoulders – use the elbows – USE EVERYTHING – try and keep Leonard against the ropes.” The round is once again Duran mauling while Leonard holds – occasionally breaks free to land 1-2 punches – and then back to clinches. Duran is not actually scoring often despite being the aggressor. The round is more even than any previous, but Leonard looks better and more confident than at any moment thus far. My card would read 3-1-3 for Duran.
The 8th round has a clear-eyed Leonard with both boxers mauling rather than brawling in center ring. Duran appears to be resting in a wise attempt to regain energy while neither boxer is scoring much with punches. It is another even round for The Maul In Montreal with my card reading 3-1-4 for Duran. For the fans we are sort of regaining our energy by resting after the excitement of the 2nd – 4th rounds for what appears to be a riveting conclusion. Some spectators chant, “Du-ran – Du-ran – Du-ran,” briefly.
COSELL (to begin 9th round): “It’s been – not the greatest, cleanest punching fight you’ll ever see. That has NOT been the Duran tactic. But it has been a tough, grueling encounter between two men whose boxing quality simply cannot be discounted.” The bout continues with its in-close fighting theme. Duran attempts to maul and pin Leonard against ropes. Leonard holds onto Duran’s head while bulled backward. COSELL: “Duran has pulled every trick in the book in this fight. Every trick that goes with being a fighter for 70 fights – and winning 69 of them. Right there (after Duran head bobs while landing a body shot and bulling Leonard backward) Duran has been effective all night – causing Leonard to miss more punches than I have ever seen Leonard miss. Of course, his loss early on was against Esteban de Jesus – which he avenged – not once but twice. In a fight in ’74 in Panama – de Jesus floored Duran in the 1st round – by the 8th round de Jesus was ready to quit. But It ENDED in the 11th.” There is eeriness as to the sameness of the in-fighting – mostly Duran mauling and bulling forward while Leonard allows himself to be backed. The bout is not inactive, but neither pugilist can easily score a clean punch against the other. I would call the 9th round even so my card is a ridiculous 3-1-5 for Duran.
The 10th round continues what must be a boxing judge’s worst nightmare. The bout is more about a ‘vibe’ which is leaning once again in Duran’s favor than actual scoring punches. The boxers remain close with in-fighting. There is a bit more action and punches thrown. If anything this was Duran’s round, but I’ll rule it even with my card favoring him 3-1-6. Leonard has a swollen eye that is treated between rounds.
The 11th round returns to brawling instead of mere mauling with both boxers throwing and landing more punches. COSELL: “Ray looks tired to me now.” Both are center ring in-fighting via mental chess trying to outmaneuver the other. Duran might have landed a low-blow left – it’s hard to tell – but follows with a left punch clean to face. COSELL: “GOOD LEFT BY DURAN! SHARP, STRONG LEFT! Leonard felt it.” The brawl continues with Duran forcing Leonard back against ropes, but both throwing punches non-stop. COSELL: “You see – Ray is throwing some flurries but they are not connecting cleanly. And look at THAT – Duran gets in a beautiful left and right combination. Leonard’s tired – he’s against the ropes.” The brawl continues as both boxers punch non-stop with Duran more dominant. As usual, the in-fighting begins center ring and concludes with Duran pinning Leonard against ropes. The round has about a minute left when Leonard lands effective combinations followed by Duran punches landing to head. COSELL: “That was a good left by Leonard. Clean (inaudible). But Duran has come right back – spinning Leonard against the ropes again and he is teeing off on Leonard.” They return to mauling – and then brawling – until the bell sounds with Duran pounding Leonard against ropes. COSELL: “Time grows less and less for Sugar Ray Leonard.” This was Duran’s round so my card reads 4-1-6.
The 12th round has two tired boxers – some brawling and mauling but at a slowed pace. It is another even round with Leonard closer and closer to losing his championship. COSELL: “And we’re coming to the end of round twelve and seconds dwindle down to a precious few for Leonard.” My card is 4-1-7 for Duran.
The 13th round has Angelo Dundee yelling at Referee Carlos Padillo, “Stop that wrestling match.” Cosell wonders about the wrestling and whether Duran is receiving too much credit. Leonard has only won the 6th round – and that was not dominant. Both boxers are tired in center ring – brawling with less mauling – almost a stalemate since the 4th round. COSELL: “Good right lead (by Duran). The fourth time in the fight that the right lead has scored for Duran.” The center ring in-fighting has Duran leaning his head against Leonard’s face – not necessarily butts but certainly aggressive. COSELL: “(DURAN)’S GETTING AWAY WITH MURDER! There’s the Duran left arm wrapped around Leonard – holding him. I’ve got to see how they score this fight. It’s not the easiest thing in the world.” The boxers continue brawling with Leonard perhaps more effective. COSELL: “Now – DURAN is getting a pummeling at the moment.” They continue brawling – Duran takes advantage – and then Leonard takes advantage. COSELL: “Duran got hurt with a left to the stomach. Now he comes back and scores with a combination. They are toe-to-toe as the round ends.” I’ll award Leonard the round so my card reads 4-2-7 for Duran.
The 14th round has much mauling – and some brawling – but there is nothing to indicate clearly a winner for most of these rounds. I call it even with a 4-2-8 card for Duran. Cosell is an unabashed Sugar Ray Leonard admirer and friend who disdainfully called Duran “a bully” – but even he agrees Leonard must win the final round by knockout to retain the title.
The 15th round begins slower with less mauling – not enough brawling – as one expects a final Leonard flurry. A portion of the crowd chants: “Go Ray go! Go Ray go!” With 30 seconds remaining the Champion has probably landed more punches – but continues to miss. To Duran’s credit he is not backing or giving away the round, but continues stepping forward. With 20 seconds remaining it is Duran with a final flurry. COSELL: “Duran with two good, quick lefts – and a third left. Sugar Ray fighting back. But did you see the way Duran keeps moving his head – left – right – bobbing – weaving?” Duran mocks Leonard by sticking his chin forward. COSELL: “Duran taunting, ‘HERE is my chin. HIT IT!’” – challenger backs away for first time in the bout. COSELL: “Look at Duran – walking around – he’s got the fight in the bag. THAT much is clear from his point-of view,” as the bell sounds.
Duran is acting like a boxer who has won while the Champion looks defeated. Duran’s entourage lifts him in triumph. Leonard has transformed from frustration to a resigned half-smile. There are three European judges – French, English and Italian – which would favor Leonard because they prefer sparring over brawling. Of course, there would be a Latin riot if Leonard was awarded the victory. I awarded Leonard the final round, but the fight to Duran 4-3-8. The closest to a 10-8 round was the 3rd for Duran – but I would rule them all as 10-9 one way or the other and turn in a 147-146 scorecard for Duran. I don’t think the overall bout was that close. The only dominance shown by either boxer was Duran during the 2nd to 4th rounds. COSELL: “Myself? Having seen Duran’s tactics – and seeing those tactics nullify Sugar Ray’s greatest assets – I would say that Duran has won this fight and the title.” The judge’s ruled a split decision victory for Duran by a single point – two in favor of Duran and one Draw – but the latter card was changed two hours later into a unanimous decision. Everyone agrees there are several even rounds. The challenger achieves the WBC welterweight championship despite only winning a single round after the 4th in a 15-round bout. But 2-of-3 judges agree with me that Leonard won – at the most 3 rounds – and therefore lost his title. Duran – W 15!
The final professional boxing bout for 28-year-old, Esteban de Jesus was on July 7th, 1980, Bloomington, Minnesota, as the undercard for the WBC heavyweight championship. It was a WBC title bout for De Jesus versus 33-year old super lightweight champion Saoul Mamby, making his first defense. The spectators cheered for the more famous challenger, but de Jesus had become a shell of his former self, at a reach disadvantage, with a lackadaisical effort as a puncher occasionally landing hard to the body, without follow-up. Mamby, already with eleven losses throughout his career, knocked down de Jesus in the 12th with the fight stopped following another knockdown in the 13th round. Mamby would later claim the contracted money by Don King was not paid and that he was forced to accept a lesser amount.
Esteban de Jesus did not retire, but delved further into his 1980 life of illegal street drugs. His mother had recently died of a heart attack so he no longer cared about boxing. Nitza Siaca: “(De Jesus) was affected emotionally by her death. He was very depressed.” As summer concluded, Papa Benitez approached his one-time star pupil about reteaming. De Jesus was more interested with heroin numbing his depression than serious training for another title bout. Papa Benitez: “I told (de Jesus) that I wanted to make him champion again. Santiago said that he would give me Esteban free. I would put him in a fight for $15,000. He didn’t show up.” Papa Benitez later claimed he told de Jesus about his drug acquaintances and lifestyle, “Those people are going to kill you or you are going to kill someone.”
There were attempts by acquaintances encouraging Esteban de Jesus to return for boxing training, but he showed little interest. De Jesus no longer was interested in boxing, his wife or kids. De Jesus had become paranoid whose life had spiraled out of control. The former WBC lightweight Champion was armed with a loaded .25 caliber pistol on Thanksgiving morning when he sneaked out of his home to obtain drugs. De Jesus needed heroin to spend the holiday with his family. To awaken for the drive to obtain heroin, de Jesus injected cocaine so his heart could race and feel alive.
By this time, Roberto Duran’s reputation and legacy was in shambles. He had infamously quit during the 8th round of his November 25th, 1980, WBC welterweight championship (aka/ “No mas”) versus Sugar Ray Leonard. The New Orleans bout was tilted to Leonard’s favor for the rematch. The ring was larger – 21 X 21 feet – to Leonard’s advantage since it gave him more room to roam. The three judges were European – more favored to score boxing over brawling – to Leonard’s advantage since it was likely he would attempt to win by decision. The Champion insisted the rematch would be easier than their June encounter with an early round knockout. The challenger admitted the first bout was “school” and he was ready to graduate.
The Champion makes a mistake attempting to score an early knockout through two rounds. Leonard is a different fighter than the previous brawl. He is boxing with terrific footwork and landing cleaner punches not utilized before. Duran is enraged and fighting at a furious pace attempting to pin Leonard onto ropes. Leonard and Duran exchange punches after the 2nd round bell – with Duran cursing while Leonard laughs as they return to respective corners.
HOWARD COSELL (following the 2nd round): “Let’s look at a replay of the right scored by Leonard. First a left – and THERE was the chopping right that stunned Duran into a fury – swinging wildly he could not score effectively. Back came Leonard. SOOO, let’s score the key thing about Leonard thus far in the fight as to whether he could establish anything early. A – he has established footwork. B – he has established he can use the uppercut. C – he is making Duran miss and it shows in Leonard’s attitude. Because although you didn’t see him smiling there – THERE’S DURAN – who KNOWS he is in a fight. FURIOUS over what happened to him in the 2nd round. WE’VE GOT A FIGHT!”
The 5th round is probably Roberto Duran’s best with better boxing technique by patiently cutting off the ring instead of brute wrestling strength to pin Sugar Ray Leonard onto ropes and wail away. Leonard is in amazing physical shape while more strategic. With 30 seconds remaining Duran pushes Leonard onto canvas. Duran steps away while Leonard is allowed to rise. They meet in center ring with Duran coaxing Leonard backward onto ropes. COSELL: “Duran – on his part – he is falling more and more into the pattern of the first fight. And Duran got in a short right lead – IT HURT LEONARD – this is what Duran can do to you. QUICKLY – from NOWHERE – as we count down the end of round five…. I said THIS has had the look of a war – and that is what it has been.” The pace slows in the 6th round, but at this point is a terrific bout and fairly even. It is obvious that Duran has expended tremendous energy and is tiring while Leonard is merely regrouping. COSELL: “Leonard trying to get to the belly though not successfully – though HE JUST DID right there… Duran sneering – but you don’t win with a sneer. He’s GOT to start scoring!”
Through the middle of the 7th round it remains an amazing bout of classic boxer versus puncher style – until Leonard begins dropping his gloves with face directly in front of Duran who misses over and over. COSELL: “Leonard better stop that. Duran is not someone to play with – to posture with.” Leonard becomes more openly mocking of Duran’s boxing skills with shuffles, lowered gloves and face pressed forward into Duran. The Champion is stalking forward while missing head punches. Leonard stands still with gloves down – puffs breath exaggerated to a confused Duran. COSELL: “OHHH, Leonard is showing his confidence. But he’s not doing it the right way.” Leonard bounces on feet circular backward with Duran following until he steps forward with right, left, right, left combination that lands to head and body – bounces backward with wild Muhammad Ali foot shuffles. COSELL: “Leonard is taunting Duran while Duran is saying, ‘Fight. Fight!’” Duran finally pins Leonard onto ropes as they furiously exchange punches. Leonard gets the best of exchange and moves off ropes. COSELL: “LEONARD SCORING WITH A CHOPPING RIGHT THAT HURT DURAN!” Leonard continues his Edwin Viruet on crack-cocaine boxing impression – standing in front of Duran in middle ring with gloves down and face pressed forward. COSELL: “You can see how much Leonard’s confidence has grown.” Leonard exaggeratedly winds up right arm – which tricks Duran by attracting attention – and pops a straight left jab into the mortified Champion’s face. COSELL: “The Bolo – AND HE CAUGHT HIM WITH A LEFT! And he’s got Duran openly – NOT JUST FURIOUS – but puzzled.” Leonard backs with superior footwork and speed while Duran hopelessly chases forward. Leonard stops movement – face pressed forward as he tauntingly waves gloves for Duran to punch him. COSELL: “Dundee would be well advised – I THINK – to tell Leonard to stop that,” as the bell sounds.
It remains a close fight far into the 8th round with Leonard having a somewhat advantage. It appears Duran is fatigued more than Leonard although uninjured. Duran no longer is cutting off the ring and trying to lure Leonard onto ropes – not due to intentioned altered strategy, but bewildered inability. Leonard is deadly serious and not clowning. With 30 seconds remaining it’s a great bout – Leonard winning another round by mostly counter-punching the flat-footed Panamanian stepping slowly forward – until Duran waves a glove and walks away by quitting.
Leonard lurches forward and lands a punch on a defenseless Duran – until ordered to stop and back. Referee Octavio Meyran speaks to Duran – does not accept his quit – and orders him to fight. Referee Meyran waves the bout to continue. Leonard closes onto Duran as referee Meyran stands between them. Duran continues to insist that he has quit. Referee Meyran holds Leonard back and waves the bout over with other hand. Leonard has suddenly and shocking reclaimed the WBC welterweight title – TKO 8. COSELL (shouting): “WHAT??? DURAN HAS QUIT! ROBERTO DURAN HAS QUIT! There can be no other explanation. PANDEMONIUM IN THE RING! And Roberto Duran has quit.”
Panamanians turned on their former hero with the most disgraceful Spanish slang for Latin culture, (translated) a homosexual. Duran’s mother hides from the threatening Panama public that would shout telephone obscenities while vandalizing her home. On a personal aside, I would never place my hopes and dreams so much with an athlete that I felt they represented my nation or life in some way. I would never threaten an athlete or their family because of a sporting results loss. But more than 30+ years following Duran/Leonard II, it remains difficult to write about. Leonard mocked and taunted Duran with superior footwork and poor sportsmanship, but not illegal tactics. It wasn’t about the 8,000,000 excuses that Duran later offered to deny a boxing foe credit. Duran ‘lost it’ mentally – had a public psychological meltdown – and just quit!
The Spokesman-Review (12/19/1980): “(San Juan) Esteban de Jesus, 29, was charged late Wednesday in connection with the shooting of an 18-year-old construction worker following a bizarre auto chase through deserted streets in the Rio Piedras section of San Juan Thanksgiving morning. The former boxer is currently free on $115,000 bail.” The Lewiston Daily Sun (12/19/1980): “Police said the shooting stemmed from a near-collision between the station wagon driven by de Jesus and a sports car driven by (Roberto) Cintron Gonzales which provoked a heated argument when the two vehicles stopped at a traffic light. According to witnesses quoted by police when the light changed de Jesus jumped the center dividing isle and gave chase, with both vehicles zigzagging up and down the nearly deserted Trujillo Alta Expressway. Police said Cintron Gonzalez was accompanied by two university students and de Jesus was apparently alone in his car. According to police, the witnesses said that at one point in the chase, de Jesus fired several shots and then sped off.”
Indiana Gazette (5/14/1981): “(San Juan) Former world lightweight champion, Esteban de Jesus was convicted of first-degree murder in the death last November of an 18-year-old youth and was immediately sentenced to life imprisonment.” Kingman Daily Miner (5/14/1981): “Superior Court Judge, Elpidio Batista sentenced de Jesus to life imprisonment, in addition to separate sentences of five years and six months for articles of two violations of the firearms law…. De Jesus was convicted of the murder of Roberto Cintron Gonzalez who died of gunshot wounds to the head December 1.” De Jesus: “I injected myself with cocaine. It hit me very hard. I felt the reaction very badly. Then I left in my wife’s car…. I didn’t even know that I was killing someone. My wife told me that I killed someone. I feel very bad for what I did.”
Oscala Star-Banner (5/24/1981): “(Las Vegas, Nevada) Wilfred Benitez became the first fighter to win a title in three divisions in more than 40 years Saturday with a stunning one-punch, 12th round knockout over Maurice Hope for the World Boxing Council super-welterweight championship. Hope, who lost a tooth in the fight, also showed traces of blood in his urine and was taken to valley hospital for a post-fight examination.” It was stunning to view the dismantling of the Champion by the 22-year-old, Benitez. Hope appeared sad toward the end, and sort of hopeless with a quiet surrender. Benitez set up the knockout with left feints while laughing moments after his right punch concluded the bout.
MMWR Weekly (6/5/1981): “In the period October 1980-May 1981, 5 young men, all active homosexuals, were treated for biopsy-confirmed, Pneumocystis cariniipneumonia at 3 different hospitals in Los Angeles, California. Two of the patients died. All 5 patients had laboratory-confirmed previous or current cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection and candida mucosal infection…. The occurrence of pneumocystosis in these 5 previously healthy individuals without a clinically apparently underlying immunodeficiency is unusual. The fact that these patients were all homosexuals suggests an association between some aspect of the homosexual lifestyle or disease acquired through sexual contact and Pneumocystis pneumonia in this population…. The above observations suggest the possibility of cellular-immune dysfunction related to a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections such as pneumocystosis and candidiasis.” Esteban de Jesus, a 29-year-old, heroin-junkie murderer would be blissfully unaware of such a California medical paper from his San Juan prison home as he continued to share syringes with fellow addicted inmates.
The Motor City Cobra, Thomas Hearns, under tutelage of Emanuel Steward had won the WBA welterweight title in his hometown, Detroit. He had been groomed so well that the people questioned the ability, heart and competition of the undefeated champion. But the test versus WBC welterweight champion, Sugar Ray Leonard, to unify the title thrust Hearns into the national spotlight in one of the most hyped fights of recent years. The bout had been advertised as boxer (Leonard) versus slugger (Hearns) and this is why they actually fight – instead of those computers or fan’s imagination that explain how Gene Tunney would fare versus Joe Frazier. “Styles make fights” and these two brought out the unpredictable in the other. After the 5th round, Hearns had easily out-boxed a lethargic Leonard, not only winning every round but mocking Leonard’s psychological tactics. After the 12th round, all Hearns had to do was survive the distance for victory. While Hearns was far ahead on points, Leonard had stunned him in the 6th and 7throunds and appeared to be increasingly exhausted and slightly wobbled. It was Hearns boxing as defensive fighter that retained the lead through rounds 8-12. Sugar Ray Leonard was turned into a wild-eyed, flat-footed slugger exclusively aiming for a knockout. Leonard was savage – a tiger – an animal – everything boxing fans and experts swore he wasn’t and was awarded a 13th round knockdown as Hearns slithered backward onto ropes to remain on feet. It was questionably stopped in the 14th round, with Leonard as WBA/WBC champion, but everyone was impressed by the courage of both fighters. Less than four months later, following a 3rd round knockout over Bruce Finch, Leonard shocked the boxing world by announcing his retirement.
On January 30th, 1982, Wilfred Benitez easily out-boxed Roberto Duran to retain the WBC junior-middleweight title. Wilfred had reunited with his father as trainer. Papa Benitez was typically harsh during training: “Stay in the middle of the ring. Don’t allow Duran to bully you into the ropes.” Papa had Benitez run the equivalent of 200 miles and sparred 400 rounds. Papa: “Duran is a dirty fighter. Kick him if you have to.” Papa Benitez deserved some credit for training Puerto Rican boxers that gave Duran two of his three professional defeats, although Duran was no longer the angry, aggressive brawler of his youth. Duran appeared to train for the bout, but at 30 years-old did not have the same energy and ambition. Duran had faced such harsh criticism over the November, 1980 “no mas” quit that the boxing community, preferring to fondly remember Manos de Piedra of the past, assessed his performance almost too kindly. The bout was treated by television announcers (which included Sugar Ray Leonard) as a farewell to a boxing legend, with surprising hindsight it was true, only their requiem was for the wrong man.
Instead of retirement, Roberto Duran looked horrible during a September 4th, 1982, 10-round split-decision loss to Kirkland Laing. This time the boxing community was not as kind with fond remembrance of glory days past. “We are looking for the Duran sneer. It’s just not there.” The 31-year-old, Duran, more “docile” and “gentlemanly” (touching gloves with Laing), drew silence from the Detroit, Michigan crowd that showered him with adulation as the bout began. New York Times (9/4/1982): “(Detroit) Kirkland Laing, a Jamaican fighter, won a split decision tonight to upset Robert Duran in their 10-round junior middleweight bout at Cobo Arena…. Duran took the early rounds with good combinations, but the knockout power in what were once known as ‘hands of stone’ clearly is there no longer. Laing stung Duran with a smashing right hand in the 7th round that seemed to weaken the Panamanian. Laing won that round, fought about even in the 8th, then won the 9th and 10th as he became the aggressor, scoring with good left jabs while holding off Duran’s rushes.”
The terminology “washed up” resounded loudly by those who had once been Roberto Duran’s greatest admirers. Don King berated and dumped his one-time, human money machine. Ray Arcel had abandoned his boxer following the Leonard loss. Manager Carlos Eleta had left Duran following the Benitez loss. If Duran made millions of dollars for others he had little for his family except fear and shame. The boxing community mourned the loss of Duran’s career as a sad final spectacle. Kirkland Laing was knocked out in his next bout with American, Fred Hutchings.
On December 3rd, 1982, Wilfred Benitez lost his WBC junior welterweight title, New Orleans, Louisiana, in a 15-round majority-decision to Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns. Both boxers had a single professional loss versus Sugar Ray Leonard. Hearns won the early rounds with basic boxing when the Champion wouldn’t throw a punch or appear to have a strategy. In the 5th round, Hearns landed a right as Benitez stepped in to punch, which was correctly ruled a knockdown by the referee when the Champion broke his fall with both gloves on canvas. In the 6th round, Hearns staggered the Champion with another right to jaw. In the 9th round, Benitez scored a knockdown with a light left that grazed the backing challenger who awkwardly tripped onto canvas off balance. Hearns seemed to believe he had the bout in control with a series of left jabs designed to win rounds, but not attempting a knockout. Papa Benitez claimed he told his son to relax and move around for the final round because the victory was obvious. This must be a lie since the Champion was the offensive aggressor to begin the 15th round, stepping forward and throwing punches for the knockout while Hearns defensively boxed and ran away. In the dressing room following the bout, Papa Benitez, ranted and raged that the judges were “crooks” and threatened boxing community with retirement of his son. It would have been better for the future mental and physical health of Wilfred Benitez had that vow been serious. A month following the loss, the former champion married Elizabeth Alonso and fired his father as trainer.
On May 20th, 1983, a 35-year-old, French female scientist from Institut Pasteur, whose specialty was virology, published a paper that slowly began the process of saving millions of American (and throughout the world) lives. Francoise Barre-Sinnousi: “A retrovirus belonging to the family of recently discovered human T-cell leukemia viruses (HTLV), but clearly distinct from each previous isolate, has been isolated from a Caucasian patient with signs and symptoms that often precede the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). This virus is a typical type-C RNA tumor virus, buds from the cell membrane, prefers magnesium for reverse transcriptase activity, and has an internal antigen similar to HTLV. Antibodies from serum of this patient react with proteins from viruses of the HTLV-I subgroup, but type-specific antisera to HTLV-I do not precipitate proteins of the new isolate. The virus of this patient has been transmitted into cord blood lymphocytes, and the virus produced by these cells is similar to the original isolate. From these studies it is concluded that this virus as well as the previous HTLV isolates belong to a general family of T-lymphotropic retroviruses that are horizontally transmitted in humans and may be involved in several pathological syndromes, including AIDS.” Sometimes, boxing historians mention that Esteban de Jesus was born in the wrong era, because had he been born later might have been the #1 lightweight of his era instead of Duran. What these historians fail to mention is if de Jesus, aged 31, been born later in later era, forget boxing championships, would have lived a longer life. Would de Jesus have been better off to continue life as a heroin drug-junkie in prison for another two decades or more? Barre-Sinnousi called her HIV+ virus discovery, “A good thing,” and it would ultimately pave the path for de Jesus to stop his all-consuming illegal street-drugs addiction.
Roberto Duran regained the cover of Sports Illustrated (6/27/1983): “Redemption For Roberto. Erasing the Shame of No Mas, Roberto Duran Mauls Davey Moore.” On June 16th, 1983, Roberto Duran was a boxing champion again with an 8th round TKO over undefeated Davey Moore for the WBA light-middleweight title. It was Duran’s 80th professional bout on his 32nd birthday. Moore had won the title in only his 9th professional bout versus undefeated champion, Tadashi Mihara, in Tokyo, Japan with a 6th round TKO. The 24-year-old, Moore successfully defended his title three times before facing the legend, perhaps overconfident and under-experienced. Madison Square Garden treated Duran’s fighting for the title as a rock ‘n roll event. People stood and screamed throughout the bout with hundreds standing outside the venue just to be within proximity. It is amazing when you consider the region was the undefeated American Champion’s home turf that the crowd was so enthusiastically cheering the Panamanian challenger. The pugilists gave the audience everything they desired and more with non-stop offensive action. Duran won every round, but to call it “one-sided” does disservice to the Champion’s effort. The bout had much illegal behavior with Duran’s persistent body punches often landing low. Moore responded by punching after the bell and landing an occasional elbow. By the 5th round, the advantage was clearly for the challenger as the Champion had a closed eye with blood pouring from his mouth. Duran’s defense allowed him to slip punches while the younger Champion appeared near exhaustion as the bout progressed. During the 7th round, Moore received two warnings but was trying gamely not to back or quit. Duran landed a right to the head late in the round that sent Moore flying backwards onto canvas. The bout could have been stopped at any moment of the 8th round, with the crowd in pandemonium over the damage Duran was inflicting. It was mercifully stopped before conclusion of the round.
Beaver County Times (6/17/1983): “(New York) Roberto Duran, fighting with the fire that once made him a boxing legend, captured his third world championship with a blinding barrage of punches that knocked out Davey Moore and obliterated the disgrace of the ‘No mas’ loss to Sugar Ray Leonard that had haunted him for 2 ½ years…. A capacity crowd of 20,061had Madison Square Garden rocked with old-time boxing excitement as Duran turned back time with a textbook attack, giving Moore a lesson the previously unbeaten New Yorker never expected…. In the 1st round of the bout, Duran thumbed Moore in the right eye. Almost immediately after the encounter, it began swelling and closing and by the 3rd round, he was fighting with just one eye…. Instead of dancing and trying to avoid Duran’s furious body attack, Moore chose to slug it out. It was a fatal mistake.”
New York Times (7/17/1983): “(Las Vegas, July 16) Mustafa Hamsho thoroughly dominated Wilfred Benitez today and was awarded a unanimous 12-round decision in a middleweight title elimination bout. Hamsho, who is from Syria and lives in Bayonne, N.J., took the fight to Benitez from the opening bell and kept his opponent pinned in his corner against the ropes from the opening bell and kept his opponent pinned in the corner against the ropes for most of the bout…. The most interesting moments in the otherwise lackluster bout came in the 3rd round when Benitez was thrown or pushed to the canvas on four occasions. Although Benitez seemingly was dazed at one point, Referee Davey Pearl ruled no knockdowns and warned Hamsho for pushing and grabbing.” Hamsho was the #1 ranked contender for the WBC middleweight title. The 3-time champion, Benitez was not ranked in the Top 20 middleweights heading into the bout. Victor Machado was his new trainer, but Benitez claimed no ill-will with his father: “(Papa) is taking care of business in Puerto Rico. Someday, he’ll be in my corner again.” Sounding as if Mama Benitez had a talk with him, Benitez added, “Never should a son give his back to his father. I trust my father. I believe in him.” Both boxers had two professional losses though Benitez, a 3-1 favorite, was five years younger. Hamsho won rounds one and two with a strategy a younger Duran might have employed against Benitez; aggressively bulling forward and pounding away at the body while Benitez leaned against the ropes. Following the 2nd round, a dazed Benitez was revived illegally by Machado with an ammonia capsule.
AL MICHAELS (3rd round): “A good left. Another good left by Mustafa Hamsho. Benitez in a little bit of trouble in the third round.” Hamsho had Benitez pinned to ropes. Benitez attempts to force his way loose with the roughhousing sending him to canvas. MICHAELS: “Maybe more than a little bit of trouble with Benitez trying to hold on.” Referee Davey Pearl separates the fighters while allowing Benitez to rise. MICHAELS: “That’s a slip. He was thrown down for the second time.” Hamsho has Benitez backed up while he furiously wails away at body with both hands. Benitez attempts to step forward with Hamsho pulling down on head roughly. MICHAELS: “Hamsho in relentless pursuit.” Benitez separates from his head being pulled while grabbing at Hamsho’s knees to remain on feet. MICHAELS: “Benitez is hurt and trying to hold on. Look at Benitez holding onto the legs of Hamsho.” Referee Pearl intervenes and separates the fighters. Benitez wobbles backwards while Hamsho chases forward. MICHAELS: “Look at Benitez as he staggers backwards. Hamsho with a chance to end it here in the third round.” Hamsho has Benitez pinned to ropes – lands a hard body shot – Benitez wobbles forward trying to grab Hamsho who instead pushes the former champion to canvas…. The referee allows Benitez to rise as he slinks backward onto ropes. Hamsho, a southpaw, charges forward landing body punches. Benitez tries to stagger forward with Hamsho pulling back of head. Benitez manages not to fall and leans back against ropes. Hamsho pounds away at Benitez with both hands. MICHAELS: “Benitez in major trouble right now. A right by Hamsho. Another left.” The Hamsho punches to face stagger Benitez backwards against ropes. Benitez forces his way free while wobbling to center ring. MICHAELS: “BENITEZ DOESN’T KNOW WHERE HE IS AT THIS POINT!” Hamsho roughhouses pulling back of head while chasing the backing Benitez with more punches aimed at head. MICHAELS: “Hamsho going for the kill at this point.” …. Another slip or push – sort of both – sends Benitez to canvas. Referee Pearl allows Benitez to rise as he helplessly slinks against corner ropes. Hamsho wails away wildly with both hands – battering the former champion back and forth. MICHAELS: “Benitez having a lot of trouble maintaining his balance. He is slipping and he is being pushed down. He’s been down four times without an official knockdown being scored.” Hamsho continues to expend tremendous energy going for knockout with wild head and body punches from both hands. Benitez is doing little except allowing his body to be battered. MICHAELS: “Hamsho has him in the corner. Another right. Benitez in major trouble.” Hamsho appears to finally have exhausted himself while landing slower body punches. Benitez frees himself from ropes with Hamsho hyper-aggressive from another burst of adrenaline, landing and battering away at the helpless former champion with lefts and rights. MICHAELS: “A good staggering right jab. Benitez taking a terrible beating here in the third round.”
Post-bout, according to Victor Machado, with craziness of praising his own behavior, admitted that had he not slipped an illegal ammonia capsule under the nose of Wilfred Benitez, it would have been over with a 3rd round knockout, instead of nine additional rounds of his boxer doing nothing except leaning back in the same corner while the Syrian mercilessly beat him to a pulp. Machado: “Wilfred took a heavy blow in the 2nd round, and I used it. Otherwise, in the 3rd they would have been counting ‘10’ over him. I’m never going to see anyone count ‘10’ on Wilfred.” Of course, the reason ammonia capsules are illegal is to protect the boxer’s health and safety. Victor Machado was one more person who betrayed Benitez for greed of the moment.
Sports Illustrated cover (11/7/1983): “Marvin, You Don’t Scare Me! Duran Faces The Fight Of His Life.” Three days later, November 10th, Roberto Duran battled the champion, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, for the WBA/WBC middleweight title. It was one of the most exciting periods of boxing history. Some boxing eras are fondly viewed by historians with hindsight, but as it was occurring was not viewed the same by contemporaries. But this was a period of classic fight following classic fight – and it was properly viewed that way as it was occurring. There was the temporarily retired boxer viewed as the best in the world, Sugar Ray Leonard, a slugger in Marvin Hagler and a boxer/slugger combination in Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns. In comparison, the heavyweight division included a dull, undefeated Larry Holmes and a revolving-door assortment of other ‘Champions’ whom the public could not name. Hagler was the boxing champion amongst the group deemed ‘invincible’, but although not disliked and certainly admired with awe, was rarely the public favorite during a bout. Hagler had earned accolades, despite a long road of top contenders avoiding him and unfair judging decisions. This was not a ‘hype machine’ via public relations but someone whose greatness was steadily recognized over many years with Howard Cosell as one of his loudest boosters. On October 10th, 1980, Hagler stopped the champion, Alan Minter, on his home turf of London within 3 rounds to win the unified title. Minter was bleeding from both eyes and the nose, without a mouthpiece and staggered when the referee conferred with the doctor to halt the bout. White British fans showed their lack-of-class by heaving a number of beer cans at Hagler’s head in a serious attempt to injure the Black American for doing his job. The new Champion retained his title with a streak of knockouts over Fulgencio Obelmejias, Vito Antuofermo, Mustafa Hamsho, William Lee, Obelmejias II, Tony Sibson and Wilford Scypion. Roberto Duran moving up in weight to battle Hagler – slugger versus slugger – offered fans hope of a slugfest bout for the ages. It was surprising to recognize Duran as the underdog – and despite only being knocked down by Esteban de Jesus – there was concern he might not go the distance. Almost no one believed the scheduled 15-rounds would see a 15th round. It was going to conclude with a knockout – one way or the other. Hagler was Marvelous and Duran was Manos de Piedra. They showed up to fight and throw punches – and delivered. Perhaps underestimated with both fighters were there experience, boxing skills and defense of slipping punches. Following the 12th round, Duran was surprisingly ahead on points with the judges. Following the 14th round, the bout was even. The 15th round belonged to the Champion who deservedly won the decision. More than the WBA light-middleweight championship victory over Davey Moore, it was the 15-round defeat to Hagler that was ‘redemption for Roberto’ with forgiveness from boxing fans over the “no mas” and Kirkland Laing fiascos.
By early June, 1984, Esteban de Jesus was nearing his 33rd birthday. He still retained minor glory as the only man to knock-down Roberto Duran – and he did it twice! But mostly he was remembered as a promising former lightweight champion who squandered his talent, became a drug addict and murderer who could spend the rest of his life in prison. De Jesus continued his existence as a heroin addict while incarcerated. He had always shared syringes with his brother, Enrique and others. Prison offered less opportunity for HIV+ protection. De Jesus shared sparse syringes with fellow heroin-addicted inmates. It is possible he engaged in sex with male prostitutes without necessarily being homosexual. De Jesus faced a life sentence with little chance of parole before the year 2000, so heroin made prison bearable while ‘Chitoleans’ were available for gay, bisexual or heterosexual men. A hand-job was $1, a blow-job was $3 and anal sex was $5. The Latino inmate who purchased same-sex prostitution would never identity themselves as homosexual.
For Roberto Duran and fans, June 15th, 1984 appeared the end of a boxing era. Even Duran recognized that his career was over after a devastating 2nd round knockout via the champion, Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns, for the WBC light-middleweight title. It promised to be another exciting bout with big names and a boxing title at stake – but instead it was shockingly over minutes after it began. Hearns was a larger man with several inches in reach advantage so it seemed logical that he might defensively box, jab and stay away for the initial rounds. Duran tried to be aggressive and force his way inside. Hearns landed a clean right to face and Duran was in immediate fatal danger. Hearns knocked Duran down twice in the 1st round, and so dazed was the Panamanian that he walked to the neutral corner between rounds instead of his own. Hearns pounced with an array of punches in the 2nd round. Duran futilely attempted to fend off the attack and step forward. Hearns landed a clean right to jaw with Duran flopping face-first to canvas. Referee Carlos Padilla immediately halted the bout without a count. The knockout loss to Hearns was slightly sad in the way – “one fight too many” – is often the fate of boxing’s greatest and most popular champions. Duran’s record following his greatest triumph, The Brawl in Montreal, was 5-5-0. The following day was Duran’s 33rd birthday with a public announcement of his retirement.
Mired with financial problems, Wilfred Benitez continued his professional boxing career on July 14th, 1984, which should have stopped following his defeat to Thomas Hearns, and in retrospect, probably before. The 25-year-old Benitez battled Davey Moore in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Sports Illustrated (7/23/1984): “Benitez had won upwards of $7 million, but had squandered that fortune, just as he had his talent, and had come to Monte Carlo so deeply in debt to the U.S. Government that he might never get out.” Along with Prince Ranier and 3,000 spectators, the 1st round began a bit sleepy, but altered considerably with one punch – a right cross by Moore that landed squarely to chin and flattened Benitez. You can actually see the eyes of Benitez bulge with horror from effects of the knockdown. It was obvious Benitez was shaken considerably as he leaned against corner ropes to prevent a knockout. The 2nd round began with a standing knockdown as spasms with Benitez’ left leg had him hopping awkwardly with gloves down. Moore had the right to punch, but Referee Gerlando Lucia displayed concern for Benitez by halting the bout. When it was realized that Benitez had no reason to stop fighting he was given a standing ‘8’ count. When action resumed Moore stepped in and began pounding away with hard punches while Benitez appeared helpless. After Moore’s right punch to jaw cleanly landed, Referee Lucia stopped the fight. At the time, Lucia received criticism for stopping the bout too early but history has proven him correct. Davey Moore: “(Benitez) is young, but he’s an old fighter. He didn’t show much opposition tonight. I wasn’t surprised the fight was stopped. He was just sitting in the corner taking punishment.”
Papa Benitez was once again the trainer for his son who blamed the knockout loss on the spouse, Elizabeth, and child. Papa: “(Wilfred) said when he went into the ring, he was thinking of the wife and daughter. That’s not the way to go into a fight. He didn’t have his mind right there. I told him to move left and right, but he just stood there.” The Dispatch (7/16/1984): “(Monte Carlo) While Davey Moore looks ahead to potentially big paydays against Thomas Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler, the boxing career of Wilfred Benitez could be over. Moore needed only four-minutes, 18 seconds Saturday to knock out Benitez, a three-time former champion who, at 25, looked like he might be ready for retirement…. Moore says he’s ready for another title bout. He was the WBA junior middleweight champion until being knocked out by Roberto Duran in June 1983. That was his only loss in 15 professional bouts, 11 of which he’s won by knockout…. The New Yorker, who weighed 156 pounds, never had trouble with Benitez.” The purse was $170,000 with Benitez earning $60,000. Following the knockout victory, Moore lost 4 of 6 bouts before dying in a freak home accident at aged 28.
On April 15th, 1985, Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas ‘Hitman’ Hearns engaged in a bout forever known as “The War” for the WBA/WBC middleweight championship. It was one of the most aggressive 1st rounds in boxing history. Hearns stunned Hagler within 30-seconds and opened a ghastly cut of the eye. Hagler was relentless with offensive slugging action. Hearns attempted defensive boxing in the 2nd round, but Hagler was unconcerned while pursing forward and landing punches. After those initial 30-seconds, Hagler appeared immune to Hearns’ punches, except for the bloody eye as reminder that he was human. The bout was momentarily halted in the 3rd round by referee Richard Steele so that the doctor could look at Hagler’s eye. It only lasted seconds after the bout was allowed to continue. Hearns was flat on his back looking upward at the sky without hope. He attempted to rise but was counted out: “10”. The short bout did not seem to disappoint most who respected the effort of both pugilists. Al Michaels: “It didn’t go very far – but it was a beauty.”
Sometime in 1985, according to Esteban de Jesus, he learned from his family that brother, Enrique had died of AIDS. Shortly thereafter, de Jesus was tested and the results were positive for the HIV+ virus. An AIDS diagnoses can be a blessing or curse for patients. De Jesus had surrendered his soul to heroin addiction, and likely transferred the virus to prison addicts with whom he shared syringes. Mathew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in Heaven.” De Jesus decided to view his AIDS affliction as a signal from God to turn his life around.
District Judge, Thomas P. Griesa in open court, October 17th, 1985: “If the government has got a case, fine; if not, let’s recognize it or call it off.” Judge Griesa appeared personally offended during court proceedings that such an upstanding and decent man, Don King, could be stalked and hounded by zealous, heartless government prosecutors. U.S. attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani (who later became mayor of New York City) had charged King with skimming $446,200 from various enterprises without declaring the income. The government, via U.S. attorney, Guiliani, had also charged Esteban de Jesus’ former manager, Connie Harper, with accepting $160,000 of illegal kickbacks. Judge Griesa admonished prosecutor, Roanne L. Mann, throughout the trial, often angrily in front of jurors with a rising voice: “WHERE IS THIS CASE GOING?!“King’s attorney, Vincent Fuller (who also represented Frank Costello, Jimmy Hoffa and John Hinckley Jr.), admitted his client often did not pay taxes on income, but that it was lack of sophistication regarding financial matters – not fraud.
On November 20th, a jury acquitted Don King of income tax invasion – but his secretary was not so lucky. Don King was ebullient, “Only in America,” afterward while Esteban de Jesus’ former manager was convicted of three felonies. The jury, nine women and three men, liked and felt for Don King – an American success who made something of his life. When you think about it, Don King is just like you and I – except he’s wealthy and killed people! King signed autographs for the jury following their verdict and gave the pen used for signing autographs as a souvenir to a grateful juror. The twelve fair and unbiased jurors were not interested in the autograph of convicted, Connie Harper.
Ottawa Citizen (2/17/1986): “(Montreal) Matthew Hilton pummels (Wilfred) Benitez in ninth-round knockout win…. The victory, before 4,727 fans at the Paul Suave arena and national television audiences in Canada and the United States, stretched Hilton’s professional winning streak to 20 – including 16 by knockouts. Since promoter Don King had promised him a title shot this year if he won, the fight was the biggest in Hilton’s career. But Matthew approached it as he always does. ‘I just tried to follow the plan my dad set out for me,’ said Hilton, who sent his opponent to the canvas with a devastating right at 2:57 of the 9th round. For Benitez, 27, the performance was a disappointing one. He often looked sluggish and he failed to take advantage of the height and reach advantage he had over his younger opponent.” Wilfred Benitez looked horrible in the boxing sessions with fellow Puerto Rican, Stephen Pizarro, in the week before the bout. Benitez could not land punches on his sparring partner as the Montreal media observed. A former Canadian middleweight, Ron Jones, observing the sparring session was quoted, “Benitez is finished. You can see it in his eyes.” Don King’s men were also at the boxing session and let it be known they were planning their next money bout – and it included the Hilton family, not Mr. & Mrs. Benitez.
Wilfred Benitez, along with his wife, had threatened not to fight Hilton when they learned the $50,000 purse was to be split $25,000 each, despite his higher name recognition. Elizabeth Benitez: “That is not right. Nobody knows Matthew in the United States or Puerto Rico, just in Montreal. Wilfred has three world titles. He is known all over the world. We want $50,000 if Mathew is getting $25,000…. In Montreal, we have to knock him out too, because the judges and referees are all from Montreal. It is important that we win because (Don) King said we get a shot at Michael McCallum (for the WBA junior-middleweight title.)” It had been impossible for Mrs. Benitez to reach King by telephone until their media threat to withdraw. Then she received a personal one-on-one with the man who loves America so much, with his mixture of magnanimous smile and threatening tones. King assured her, as he had Hilton’s father that the real money was in winning the bout. King promised both sides a title bout opportunity with assurance both sides would win. King pacified Mrs. Benitez by assuring it was only a $37,500 purse, so if you refigure the percentage with that knowledge, his $25,000 was actually 67% instead of 50%. King also assured her the bout would be fair – and of course it would be fair – for whatever was in Don King’s best interest. Wilfred Benitez (following his 9th round TKO loss): “It’s been tough for me. I don’t have a manager and have to get ready all by myself. I wasn’t in the best of shape, but it’s tough to be at your peak under these conditions. If I was in top condition, I don’t think (Hilton) ever would have beaten me. He has a lot to learn about moving faster and technique, but he is young and hits very hard.”
Luke 5:12-13: “And it happened when He was in a certain city, that behold, a man who was full of leprosy saw Jesus, and he fell on his face and implored Him, saying, ‘Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.’ Then He put out His hand and touched him, saying, ‘I am willing; be cleansed.’ Immediately the leprosy left him.” Esteban de Jesus might have initially hoped that a re-commitment to Catholicism would cure him of AIDS. But upon realization that the virus was not going away could interpret the passage so that any immorality associated with AIDS be cleansed from his system. During the years of incarceration, 1986-87, de Jesus became a dedicated participant of bible study classes in prison. Hosea 6:1: “Come, and let us return unto the LORD; for he hath torn; and He will heal us; He hath smitten, and He will bind our wounds. After two days He will revive us; On the third day He will raise us up, that we may live in His sight.”
Wilfred Benitez remained the breadwinner of his family. The early months of 1987 had the former 3-time Champion wandering unknown streets of Argentina rail-thin, homeless and unaware of his identity. The prior November, 1986, Benitez had been knocked out within 7-rounds by Carlos Herrera in Salta, and then ‘disappeared’. According to Clara Benitez, whose truthfulness must be held in question, her son had been robbed of his passport and money by the bout’s promoter. According to Leonardo Gonzalez, who had been sent by the Puerto Rican government to fetch their boxer, he had been told by Argentinian locals that no one knew the mysterious, mentally-ill athlete who would run and run aimlessly until collapsing. Mama Benitez stated that her son would have been better off in life had he never boxed, but would encourage a return to fighting when Argentina law enforcement identified the famous Puerto Rican. Papa Benitez, wishing to emulate the grandeur of Jose Santiago, purchased several race horses with the (squandered) millions his son had earned. Despite displaying blatant signs of pugilistic dementia, aged 28, with sight and hearing impaired while slurring words, Wilfred Benitez would continue boxing. According to Mama Benitez, Wilfred had a wife and daughter who stopped visiting when he no longer recognized them. According to Elizabeth Alonzo, the Benitez family treated her like an interloping whore who had taken advantage of their son – when in reality – they were a couple of manipulative liars who destroyed her former husband.
On April 6th, 1987, Sugar Ray Leonard returned after a 3-year retirement to upset Marvelous Marvin Hagler to become the WBA/WBC middleweight champion. Leonard had previously admitted that he could no longer psychologically prepare for bouts – with a detached retina forcing a retirement that he had contemplated anyway. It appeared foolish with perhaps permanent damage to his eyesight to battle the fearsome slugger. Only Roberto Duran had lasted the distance with Hagler as champion. Marvelous Marvin had been ringside for Leonard’s previous bout versus journeyman, Kevin Howard. Hagler laughed as Leonard struggled, finding his butt on canvas following a 4th round knockdown. Leonard won by a controversial TKO stoppage in the 9th, but that seemed to end any thoughts by Leonard/Angelo Dundee that he would challenge Hagler for the title. If anything, Leonard looked older and slower facing Hagler three years later than against Howard. But he remained creative, crafty, a warrior, pulling out every boxing trick in the book. Leonard even landed with the “fake Bolo” wind-up right made famous versus Duran – and then landing clean to Hagler’s body with his left. Moving side-to-side – landing left jabs and occasional rights – neutralizing Hagler’s power with angles – Leonard built a non-dominant, tactical 4-0 lead following the 4thround. Leonard appeared to tire by the 6th round and boxed flat-footed, though the stalking Champion continued to struggle landing clean punches. In the 9th round, Hagler stunned Leonard, but the challenger surprised everyone by trading punches instead of running for survival. During the 11thround, Leonard was taunting Hagler by sticking his chin out front. It was not obvious that Hagler needed a knockout in the final round, but it turned out to be true. When the bell ended with the announcement of a split-decision it seemed the bout could go either way. Hagler was the fresher fighter and landed harder punches. But even if Hagler won 5-8 final rounds, the bout would go to the challenger. It was boxer versus slugger – and Leonard boxed superb while Hagler slugged but could not consistently land. Hagler threw more punches than Leonard, 792-629 – but Leonard landed more (albeit softer) punches than Hagler, 306-291.
Los Angeles Times (8/31/1987): “In June, a Boston TV reporter let go with an item that (Marvelous Marvin) Hagler was dabbling in cocaine and strong drink. Hagler, it would seem, had gone off his rocker. A fighter as much admired for his fierce work ethic as his considerable ring skill, Hagler was setting fire to his own temple…. The last boxer to take a defeat so badly was Floyd Patterson, so humiliated in defeat that he took to wearing odd disguises when he ventured into the public domain…. You can only understand the depth of Hagler’s bitterness if you know just how long he endured the darkness of (Sugar Ray) Leonard’s shadow…. Leonard fought a one-in-a-million fight, the only kind that could possibly beat Hagler. Leonard executed perfectly. He fought exactly. And even so, the decision was, at best, controversial. It was a split decision, but the scores of the three judges ranged so widely that the routine charges of fix afterward were for once taken seriously by the Nevada district attorney’s office…. (Hagler) went into virtual seclusion…. Then came the family-abuse petition from Bertha, his wife of seven years…. Hagler, noted family man, was subsequently barred from living at home and his visiting rights were limited. Drugs and alcohol abuse were alleged by family friends and relatives… The brooding was full-time. Hagler refused company for his 34th birthday.”
Esteban de Jesus delivering sermon in Spanish to fellow inmates (translated): “And the prayer of faith shall save the one who is sick, and the Lord shall raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” With his addiction clean for several years de Jesus had returned to his former self – or at least, the person that he envisioned himself. He became a leader in his pod and prison minister. De Jesus: “I am in God’s hands. I am waiting for God’s desire of me.”
Pastor James Claymon is an ordained minister from Phoenix, Arizona who works as a Behavioral Health Administrative Assistant at the HIV/AIDS facility, Phoenix Shanti Group. An openly gay man, Pastor Claymon delivers his sermons at Casa de Cristo (“House of Christ”). The church Ministry focus is two-fold: “Evangelistic – bringing souls to Christ; and Apostolic – equipping the saints for the work that God has called them to.”
ME: “Is it absurd or hypocritical for a convicted murderer to become a prison minister?”
PASTOR CLAYMON: “Absolutely not. According to all Protestant church doctrine there is only one unforgiveable sin.”
ME: “Dropping your gloves in a boxing bout when facing Roberto Duran?”
PASTOR CLAYMON: “Nooo – (laughs). The one unforgivable sin is permanently turning away from God. Anything else, including murder, can be forgiven. Esteban could be a minister in prison or anywhere he wanted. Anyone can become a minister – and I suppose if they choose – call their home a church.”
ME: “Esteban de Jesus lived in a prison cell. So a prison cell can be a church?”
PASTOR CLAYMON: “I don’t know about that. I’ve never thought about it to tell you the truth. There are legal differences between an ordained minister and one who is not. There must be recognition and compliance of 501C code with any State (or Territory) within the United States for such things as marrying two people or raising funds.”
ME: “Esteban de Jesus was not sure if AIDS was a blessing or curse; whether God was punishing or saving him. Do those contradictory feelings display a lack of confidence in his relationship with God?”
PASTOR CLAYMON: “Ministers are people just like everyone else. It is normal for someone to be confused with any illness – such as cancer or AIDS – as to whether it is deserved for some sort of behavior. It is also normal to realize a deeper relationship with God following a health diagnosis. Feelings of spiritual confusion would not affect his own relationship with God or his ministry in spreading the word to others.”
Throughout the fall and winter of 1988, Esteban de Jesus was displaying increased AIDS symptoms. The prison sermons ceased when de Jesus would forget passages from the bible he read and repeat them – and repeat them again. De Jesus would be lucid for the most part, but sometimes his emotions would be inappropriate with the mood – laughing too much or wailing with overwhelmed crying jags. Weight loss was pronounced as he dropped to 115 pounds. Lesions became noticeable on his face. A delusional de Jesus would be disappointed waiting for hours in expectation of a visit from his wife – or kids – or perhaps Roberto Duran, although the other person was unaware. There were many moments that he remained Esteban de Jesus mixed with indicators that the former boxing champion was extremely ill and soon to die.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler turned down $15,000,000 for a rematch versus Sugar Ray Leonard. He denied media reports of cocaine usage, but admitted that alcohol became a problem. Hagler viewed his life as a lucky man. He retained scars from Mustafa Hamsho and Tommy Hearns, but now felt if those judges had ruled that he had defeated Leonard would have possibly suffered permanent brain damage from a future bout. Hagler had met Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott and did not want their fate. Hagler moved to Milan, Italy to become an action-movie actor. His Italian-language skills were limited but improving daily. Asked by Sports Illustrated how he conquered alcoholism, Hagler replied, “I was hurting myself and I snapped out of it. But it had to take time. You have to like yourself. I like me now. I love me. I think that I’m a very nice guy carrying himself well.” Now, that’s marvelous.
On February 24th, 1989, Roberto Duran, aged 37, pulled a 12-round upset over the larger champion, Iran Barkley, to win the WBC middleweight title. Barkley had won the title over Duran’s conqueror, Thomas Hearns, with a 3rd round knockout. Weighing 156 pounds, Duran performed well when trading punches, but through 8-rounds had been out-boxed. The 9th and 10th had Duran closing Barkley’s eye while winning both rounds but remained behind in points. It is interesting with a Trump Plaza American crowd – and an American champion – that everyone was rooting for the Panamanian: “Du-ran – Du-ran – Du-ran – Du-ran,” and that he represented something about America’s greatness and frustration that mirrored the national mood as a foreigner. Barkley had out-boxed Duran through 10-rounds, but it was two guys in-fighting and slugging it out with the larger man landing more punches. The 11th round was a slugfest with pugilists trading punches. Duran landed the harder blows until dramatically landing a right-left-right-feint left-right combination clean to the champion’s chin for the bout’s only knockdown. The Eastern-Berlin Wall coming down from Russia’s oppressive communism took a back-seat over excitement of ‘Old Man Duran’ knocking down Barkley in the 11th round of ’89. Duran continued pressure against a dazed, one-eyed champion throughout the 12th round with some of the best boxing technique of his career to win a split-decision. Iran Barkley: “It was (Duran’s) heart. It just wouldn’t go.”
Chicago Tribune (3/30/1989): “Puerto Rico Gov. Rafael Hernandez Colon has granted immediate parole eligibility to former boxing champion, Esteban de Jesus, who was sentenced to life in prison for murder in 1981 and later was found to be afflicted with AIDS. The parole board has agreed to release de Jesus, ‘on the condition that he be transferred to the Faith Home of the Americas, where AIDS patients are treated,’ said a statement released by the governor’s office’.” The decision to commute de Jesus’ sentence by Governor Hernandez was compassionate while practical. It would be expensive to keep de Jesus alive in a prison hospital with his order designed to prevent the former Champion from faking symptoms for freedom. It was not a pardon, which would have been insensitive and cruel to the Gonzales family victims and their teenaged member needlessly killed. De Jesus remained a convicted murderer so it was only a matter of which bed for this dying man to sleep.
Esteban de Jesus had lost 50 pounds in the 8+ years since his championship title bout versus Saoul Mamby. A gaunt face with over lapping skin hung loose for the tiny, 90+ pounds skeletal body. His sunken eyes revealed fright and self-pity. Perhaps de Jesus was being punished or saved by God, although he did not know which. Ezekiel 18:21: “But if the wicked to penance for all his sins which he hath committed, and keep all my commandments, and do judgment, and do justice, living he shall live, and shall not die.” The life of de Jesus was in God’s hands, as he was being called Home, only did not know whether he still possessed days, weeks or months of earthly existence.
Perhaps Esteban de Jesus felt regret about preciously lost time with his wife, Nelly, and kids, Lillian, Vivian and Esteban Jr., to be with violent drug dealers. The pretty drug addicted ladies, hangers-on, so many attracted to a boxing champion flashing $100 bills had moved on to another celebrity. De Jesus’ friends now included Jose Abreu, also diagnosed and dying of AIDS, who shared residence. De Jesus appeared so afraid and overwhelmingly despondent that fellow AIDS patients of the 17-man room felt sorrow for him.
Esteban de Jesus worried about public reception of his outing for the 1980’s ‘homosexual’ death disease. It was important for de Jesus that the sports world, friends and those dwindling fans understood that he was not a homosexual. De Jesus wanted people to know he contracted AIDS a ‘classier’ way that the boxing community could morally accept: injecting heroin into his arm with a used syringe.
The San Juan AIDS group hospital room had a surprise visitor when the WBC middleweight champion stepped inside to share positive-energy with a man whom he traded punches for 33 rounds. Following the death of beloved actor, Rock Hudson, AIDS began to have a more compassionate face in the public mindset. Actress Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana made high-profile visits to AIDS patients and offered hugs to prove the disease could not be transmitted by touch. The least likely AIDS hero of the 1980’s was a Panamanian 4-time boxing champion renowned for his heartless lack of compassion for opponents inside the ring. The Spanish-speaking Latin community was slowest with regard to viewing AIDS victims as human beings. Many within the Spanish-speaking Latin community felt that men with AIDS were homosexuals who deserved their fate. Some believed that God created AIDS as punishment upon homosexuals for their lifestyle. Others were more compassionate, but feared human contact for possible infection. Without concern, a smiling Roberto Duran lifted the frail Puerto Rican with AIDS from his bed and held him in a bear-hug. Duran was apparently in a good mood with reassuring words. A photograph was eventually distributed displaying a different side to Duran’s ferocious reputation; kindly visiting an ill acquaintance near death.
John 12:45-47: “He who believes in Me, believes not in Me but in Him who sent Me. And he who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. I have come as a light into the world; that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness. And if anyone hears My words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I have not come to judge the world but to save the world.”
Toward the end, Esteban De Jesus could no longer speak or comprehend that he was once a boxing champion, had murdered someone or had a family. The final stage allowed occasional twitches or the unexpected opening of his eyes. The eyes followed the human form moving about without comprehension that it is a nurse. As with the boxing phrase, “He doesn’t know where he is,” de Jesus no longer comprehended that he was in a hospital – or what was a hospital. The blood pressure of de Jesus would occasionally rise as if the athlete were in an intense physical training workout.
The final round for Esteban de Jesus versus the AIDS virus had begun. Inaudible soft noises, resembling moans, were his only vocal sound. An arm or hand would tremble for seconds at various intervals and then cease. The pugilist who knocked down Roberto Duran twice stopped breathing regularly. The breaths for de Jesus would be 15, 30 and then 45 seconds apart. The body’s instinct for survival fought for another breath. The final moment for any AIDS victim is to throw punches to avoid a knockout. De Jesus gasped for breath, and then nothing. A minute passed before another gasp for breath, as if drowning. The former WBC lightweight champion fought for one final gasp of breath – and then nothing. It was over!
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