Weeks away from immortalizing himself as the greatest lightweight to ever set foot in the square circle, Roberto Duran’s training displayed an animal cruelty that was abnormally intense, even for the Panamanian.
Leading up to his third fight with bitter rival Esteban De Jesus, Duran approached his camp with such ferocity that the speedbags were replaced just as quickly as the sparring partners. Duran had a reputation for sparring, so undefeated middleweight Mike Williams of Philadelphia could have been lucky to have left Los Angeles alone with a broken nose.
Roberto, the WBA lightweight title holder for more than five years, excelled at brutality. The sense that he not only wanted to make De Jesus pay, but also seriously hurt him, was palpable in the stifling gym air of Main Street. Sylvester Stallone, who was filming across the street, spent most of his lunch breaks in a trance, watching the man they call “Manos de Piedra” move around the ring like a savage threat.
This fight was personal to Duran for a number of reasons. Having already shared two wars with his Puerto Rican nemesis, he suffered the first and then only defeat of his professional career when they first met in 1972, before roaring back on home soil with an 11th round knockout for his revenge two years later. .
Since their last meeting, Duran had fought 20 times, conquering all that stood before him, leaving only five souls lucky enough to hear the final bell. During the same period, he had also amassed seven defenses of his lightweight title and the question of whether he was arguably the greatest fighter the lightweight division had ever seen began to rise.
The stakes were raised even higher this time. While Duran was the proud owner of the WBA bauble, DeJesus let himself pick up the WBC belt in the interim, meaning the winner of the fight would join Muhammad Ali (heavyweight) and Rodrigo Valdes (middleweight) as the only current undisputed champions in boxing.
There was also Latin pride – who would win this third and decisive battle between two fiercely proud boxers from the boxing-mad nations of Puerto Rico and Panama?
The product of a hot-blooded build-up, including threats to kill each other at the weigh-in and Don King’s genuine concern that the bad blood would make the press conference unmanageable, the final showdown between these two warriors turned out to be a bit of a damp squib compared to previous ones. encounters in terms of total action. But for Duran, it was one of the best performances of his glittering career.
Duran was unusually patient in the opening stanzas and almost the antithesis of the man whose primal strength had terrified the onlookers during practice. But his reserved opening allowed him to seize control of the fight early on, using his stiff left jab to put De Jesus under constant pressure. Within a few laps, Duran’s dominance was overwhelming, leaving his rival of over six years in a state of frustration, unable to escape and with only a glimmer of hope for the counter-punch.
The questions about Duran’s standing among the all-time greats looked more and more justified with each lap. The stone-handed 26-year-old moved around the ring masterfully, tearing apart the only man to have easily won a professional victory over him.
As the fight moved into round eleven, with their attack hopelessly behind on points, De Jesus’ corner urged the now exhausted De Jesus to go into the intermission. However, Duran literally defeated him, leaving DeJesus crumbling to the canvas with an evil right. The Puerto Rican stood up bravely, but it was the beginning of the end and after another barrage of one-twos that once again landed him in serious trouble, his corner stormed into the ring to save their man and once and for all. always putting an end to one of boxing’s most bitter rivalries. all of them.
Duran is often regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. When all was said and done, he took titles in four weight divisions, became the only man in history to fight in five different decades and, along with Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard, would help the sport reach its last real. great era in the eighties.
Where Duran is on the all-time pound-for-pound list is debatable (although he should be quite high on any list). What isn’t is where he puts one of the best lightweights of all time. He is quite simply the best ever to practice his trade in the division, and his superb third performance against De Jesus was his 135lb magnum opus.
The couple would meet again, but under completely different circumstances. In 1980, DeJesus was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a 17-year-old in a traffic dispute in his home country. Five years later, De Jesus learned that his brother Enrique, with whom he had shared needles, had died of AIDS and that he was starting to show symptoms himself.
De Jesus was allowed to spend his remaining days with his friends and family and learning of the fragile state of his old rival, Duran traveled with his daughter to visit him. AIDS was a much misunderstood disease at the time, and it was believed that it could be spread through touch. Duran wasn’t worried though and hugged his old enemy, kissed him on the forehead and told his daughter to do the same.
It was one of the most astonishing acts of compassion ever seen in sports. DeJesus died in 1989.