All anyone had to do was look at the quality of the opposition and the effort Roberto Duran had put into his work over the last few years to fully appreciate what the rugged little champion accomplished in Atlantic City last Friday night.
As opposed to Jorge Suero, Victor Claudio, Ricky Stackhouse and Paul Thorn--no, they’re not the infield of the 1932 Cincinnati Redlegs--Duran was in against the goods, a heavy-hitting champion in his own right, Iran Barkley.
From the opening bell, it was vintage Duran: A quick chop with the right hand, a step forward inside the countering left and a push at Barkley’s shoulder to knock him off balance.
The rounds rolled by and Barkley, a fearsome body puncher, piled up the points with his three-minute stints of all-out rib-crunching. Dave Brown, the judge, didn’t see Barkley losing a round through the first eight and had him winning lopsidedly, 80-73, at that point.
The other judges, Tom Kaczmarek and Giuseppe Ferrai, had it just about even, obviously favoring Roberto’s more diversified attack pattern and his clever maneuvering on the inside.
With two-thirds of the fight in the books and with the 37-year-old Duran searching the hall for a spare breath to help him over the last four rounds, it was time to call it a splendid effort by the three-time champ and let it go at that.
Duran won the ninth and 10th rounds with something to spare. He was now ahead on two cards and victory was in sight. But, he had been in the same situation back in 1983 in Las Vegas, Nev., leading Marvin Hagler after 13 rounds, only to lose.
Amazingly, he stepped up the pace in the 11th round. The combatants resembled Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano having at it until, suddenly, Duran landed a right, a left and two more rights and Barkley was down. A near sellout crowd of 7,000, braving a flash snowstorm which left more than a foot of snow on the boardwalk outside, erupted. “DU-RAN, DU-RAN,” they squealed. The 12th round was a formality.
“I knew he was going to reach down real deep, this being his last hurrah,” said Barkley, “but, I never thought the man could have that much left. Roberto’s a legend and I figured they (the judges) might do it for him . . . “
Some thought that Barkley might have gotten a raw deal, losing the split decision, but such arguments lost steam because of the forcefulness of Duran’s finish. He was the stylist. He was the puncher. He was the freshest with only a couple of small bruises showing at the end.
They say that boxing and a few thousand other things make for strange bedfellows, and this was never more evident than in the interview area long after the fight. All smiles and rejoicing were Duran’s promoter Bob Arum, Sugar Ray Leonard’s man Mike Trainer and Pat Petronelli, representing Hagler. You could almost see the dollar signs in their eyes as they kibitzed.
That’s right, folks, Duran is back, and all indications are that Hagler is coming back and Sugar Ray hasn’t threatened to retire for at least a couple of weeks now. Turn back the clock five years and let the round-robin and bargaining begin, pursuant to Leonard defeating Tommy Hearns in their June 12 bout in Las Vegas.
Duran said he was “proud” of his effort, but that fight fans haven’t yet seen the best of his latter-day career. “For Leonard,” he said, “I will be at my peak. I will be right. After being off so long, I rushed training for this fight.”
Actually, since beating someone named Jeff Lanas in Chicago last October, Duran reportedly went home and put on about 25 pounds, ballooning to 190. He weighed 156 for Barkley and said that he won’t pig out again.
“Most of the people thought I was through, but I looked in my heart and knew I could come back,” said Duran, who has now won titles at 135, 147, 154 and 160 pounds. Many assumed he was washed up because of unimpressive performances against lackluster opposition, peculiar training habits and an apparent lack of resolve.
Once he put his mind to it, apparently, he was the Duran who devasted the lightweights, beat Leonard for the welterweight crown in 1980 and gave Hagler all he could handle over 15 rounds a few years later.
“I don’t care so much for Hearns,” he said. “I want Sugar Ray.”
He explained through an interpreter that a third fight with Leonard was not designed to avenge his “no mas” loss to his rival several years ago: “That is not the motive.”
He didn’t say what was pushing him toward a rubber match with Sugar Ray, but it’s pretty well understood what the motivating factor involved is: good, old-fashioned hate.