By: Sean Crose
He had been fighting for years. Indeed, he was already something of a legend among boxing fans, a snarling, menacing whirlwind who had defeated such names as De Jesus and Buchanan, and who had until fairly recently been the dominant force in the lightweight division. Now, however, even those who didn’t follow boxing were learning his name. For Roberto Duran, the man known as “Hands of Stone,” had recently moved up in weight to boxing’s welterweight division, and was now about to face the sport’s biggest name since Muhammad Ali… welterweight titlist “Sugar” Ray Leonard. The pre fight hype was phenomenal. The fight itself was even better.
After 15 grueling rounds, Duran was declared champion that rainy June night in Montreal thanks in large part to his luring Leonard into a brawl. The Panamanian master had gone from a great fighter to an all time great fighter literally overnight. He wouldn’t be able to celebrate for long, however, for less than six months later, Leonard took to outboxing his man in the rematch. Like a classic bully who doesn’t know what to do with the kid whose standing up to him, Duran quit abruptly. They say the words “no mas” were uttered that night in New Orleans, but few if any know for sure. No matter. Duran, who had been the hero of his native land, was now a figure synonymous with shame and poor sportsmanship. That should have been the end of things. Only it wasn’t.
Unlike most anyone who had embarrassed themselves to such a degree before the entire world before, Duran somehow managed to redeem himself. It started with a win over rising star Davey Moore. Then, after Duran gave middleweight great Marvelous Marvin Hagler a real challenge for Hagler’s championship three years after the Leonard fiasco, the man associated with quitting was finally redeemed. Nothing, not even an absolutely brutal knockout at the right hand of Tommy Hearns the following year, was able to keep the man down. When Duran finally shook up the fight world by finally winning the middleweight title almost ten years after he first battled Leonard, the circle was complete. Manos De Piedra had gone from world class winner to shameful loser back to a world class winner again in less than a single decade.
It was quite a run. Which is why now, on the occasion of his 70th birthday, Duran gets the kind of coverage most former athletes can only dream of. He’s made peace with boxing’s fandom, with Leonard, and perhaps even with himself. Quite the success story. As Barkley said of Duran after their classic throwdown: “It was his heart…it just wouldn’t go.”