Roberto Duran is considered by many to be the greatest lightweight champion of all time. He won titles up to middleweight and overcame some great obstacles in the 80s to cement his legend.
Nat Loubet, then editor of The Ring magazine, noted Duran’s win over Lampkin: “He proved himself as an outstanding lightweight to reckon with and consider in future debates over who was truly the greatest lightweight ever lived.” This statement speaks not so much to Lampkin’s class as much as Duran’s performance on stage that night; Duran indeed looked like an outstanding athlete that night and nearly earned official designation as such. “Lightning” Lampkin was known to do well early in fights before tiring towards the end, and his bout against Duran was no different. He held his ground well enough for several rounds even to win some exchanges. But eventually, Duran managed to batter and dominate Lampkin. Duran used his signature constant pressure to break Lampkin down before Roberto connected with a devastating left hook to put Lampkin out for five days in the hospital – prompting Duran to say afterwards for a television interview: ‘Today I sent him to the hospital; next time, it will be morgue.”
Mexico had its own version of a world welterweight champion in Cuevas whose left hook dominated much of his division during the latter half of the 1970s. His only losses before facing Duran were shocking knockout losses against Roger Stafford and Thomas Hearns – both were understandable defeats. The Ring awarded Duran’s defeat against Kirkland Laing as its “Upset of the Year” for 1982; both players had seen better days prior to being pitted together, so many expected they were likely finished as potential candidates for winning titles. Cuevas may have been exhausted, but Duran probed with a quick jab, out-speeding Cuevas before landing a powerful right-hand punch that sent Cuevas flying backwards into a corner for round four’s knockdown. A weakened Pipino was met with an extended assault from Duran who ended the fight in the fourth round.
Roberto did not hold as intense a grudge against the Viruet brothers as other personal feuds among his professional acquaintances. Yet, their rivalry still caused real hurt feelings between them. Edwin, the elder brother, Viruet went the distance in an entertaining non-title fight at Viruet’s home in 1975. Unsatisfying decisions by Duran’s opponent Viruet and allegations of cheating led to a rematch for Duran’s title. Duran proved more aggressive this time, trapping Viruet on the ropes and in corners before leaving no doubt about who was superior in this grueling full-distance fight – especially as this was Duran’s inaugural championship bout that went the full distance.
Duran completed his time as a lightweight champion in style, knocking out Esteban DeJesus in their longtime rivalry’s third and final fight.
After their trilogy, both boxers entered the ring as champions.
At Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, they put on an entertaining show for the audience, but as each round progressed, it became apparent that the referee would end this fight and not the judges.
Duran delivered a powerful right hand that knocked DeJesus down in the 12th, even though he managed to recover himself. Over time, however, an accumulation of pressure caused a stoppage.
He emerged victorious, taking both WBA and WBC belts uncontestedly to become undisputed champion. Unfortunately, his reign would only last briefly as he made the decision to move up in weight class.
Palomino was a Mexican living in Los Angeles who won the WBC welterweight title from Londoner John Stracey before making seven successful defenses until encountering Wilfred Benitez in 1979 and being defeated. Duran had recently announced his exit from lightweight boxing due to difficulty making 135 pounds, and ex-champion Palomino would serve as his initial serious test at welterweight. Some considered this a tough challenge, but Duran proved himself particularly effective that night, out-working Palomino on the inside and feinting him out of position before punishing him on the outside. A sneak right hand behind a jab brought Palomino down in round six before rising quickly enough to stave off attacks in round seven. Still, he succumbed to more punishment in 10 rounds, and Duran won unanimously.
Duran’s impressive handling of WBA junior middleweight champion Moore left everyone dumbfounded. A vicious mugging began early when Duran gave Moore an open thumb shot to his right eye during the opening round. Moore commented afterwards, saying there were “thumbs coming from everywhere”. Moore and Washington had to admit that Duran was unexpected in terms of speed, strength and punching power; thus allowing him to use whatever tactics were available inside to him without breaking any laws or breaking legal rules. At times this term “illegal tactics” was redefined completely. While Moore hails from New York, the sell-out crowd was there to see Duran make his comeback and cheered the challenger as he mixed powerful headshots with severe body attacks. Duran sent Moore down in round seven with a right hand, then delivered another brutal beating in round 8. Roberto became only the seventh boxer to win world titles in three divisions, while Moore never recovered after this loss.
Since Roberto lost to De Jesus by decision in November of 1972, he had won ten consecutive fights, including defenses against Thompson and Ishimatsu. Nevertheless, there was considerable speculation regarding his ability to deal with adversity after being knocked down in round one of that initial encounter. An average fighter might have felt overwhelmed with disappointment when hit the canvas again in the opening round by a left hook, but Duran wasn’t dismayed; by round’s end, he was pushing De Jesus back. Duran noted afterwards: “I never saw De Jesus’ jab, but he hit me on the chin hard – not hard enough!” De Jesus would eventually lose in round eleven as Duran began picking apart his body with hellish body assaults before ultimately receiving his revenge in round eleven from Duran via a combination punctuated by right hands that brought Duran his victory.
Duran got his chance at challenging Ken Buchanan for the WBC lightweight title during the summer of 1972.
Scottish fighter Buchanan was widely anticipated as the victor of this bout at Madison Square Garden after defeating Ismael Laguna at this same venue the year prior.
However, Duran proved too much for the champion to bear as he earned 28 straight victories as a professional.
Buchanan was knocked down in the opening round, setting off a melee that sometimes threatened to explode.
Sports Illustrated’s Mark Kram reported Duran used every part of his anatomy except his knee and would likely face accusations for breaching etiquette – something the latter has long denied doing.
After the bell had rung to conclude their 13th round, both fighters continued punching until it finally stopped ringing.
Buchanan fell to the canvas after taking an aggressive low blow and, upon returning to his corner, the referee made a decision to stop the fight.
By 1989 Duran had reached middleweight and seemed close to retirement.
At 37 years old, he still managed to draw crowds – leading him to fight WBC champion Iran Barkley for his title shot.
Thomas Hearns had been stunned the year prior when the American Barkley upset him by knocking him out in three rounds and seizing his title from him.
Not many gave Duran a chance in this fight.
But, the wily veteran had not followed the script; using his experience and talent, he found a way to prevail over all.
Duran scored a knockdown in the 11th, but ultimately the bout went the distance. Judges’ scorecards varied considerably, but two declared Duran of Panama, the victor.
He defeated Barkley against all odds and it opened up opportunities to go after Sugar Ray Leonard again – yet again without success.
Sugar Ray Leonard won an Olympic gold medal there in 1976. Their first meeting took place there too in the beautiful city of Montreal.
The WBC Welterweight title and both boxers’ reputations were on the line in this fight.
Leonard had amassed 27 wins since turning professional and became WBC champion by defeating Wilfred Benitez.
Duran boasted an undefeated record of 71-1, with one loss coming against Esteban DeJesus in 1972; nonetheless, he entered the “Brawl in Montreal” as the slight underdog.
This fight was epic and impossible to score as both competitors put forth their all over 15 captivating rounds.
Ultimately, Duran was awarded victory by unanimous verdict from all three judges after one judge checked back into their scorecard to verify its accuracy.
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