Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Boxing History: The Night When the Hands of Stone Dulled The Blade

By Peter Silkov

Twenty seven years ago today, Roberto Duran performed his last act of greatness within the roped square.  He had been an all-time great World lightweight champion during most of the '70s, then crowned his greatness by moving up in weight, and beating Sugar Ray Leonard, for the World welterweight title. At that point, after he had become the first man to defeat Leonard (he would be the only man to ever beat the 'peak' Leonard) Duran was untouchable, a living legend already, and undisputedly, the best fighter pound-4-pound in the world, bar none.  But, it didn't last.

Barely 5 months later, an ill-prepared Duran lost the welterweight title back to Leonard, in the now infamous 'no mas' fight.  Duran was forsaken overnight by many supposed friends and followers. The fighter, who many regarded as a God, was insulted, and ridiculed. His reputation and legacy was a tattered ruin.  Losses to Wilfred Benitez and Kirkland Laing continued his slide, and he was labelled a has been, and much worse, some even questioned whether he had ever been as great as they once thought. Then a funny thing happened, Duran was a champion again. 

Duran won a third world championship against the very talented, but inexperienced, Davey Moore, with a performance that made people remember the fighter he had been in the 70s and in his first clash with Sugar Ray Leonard.  Then Duran took on the new pound-4-pound, number one in the world, undisputed World middleweight champion, Marvin Hagler. Although Roberto was beaten, Duran became the first challenger to take Hagler the distance, in what was such a close fight, that Hagler needed to rally in the last 3 rounds to keep his title.  He had made Hagler look human. Suddenly Duran was great again, and most people now looked at 'No Mas' as an aberration. After his great performance against Hagler, in his next fight, Duran was knocked out in 2 rounds by Thomas Hearns, but few could hold it against 'Hands Of Stone.  After all he was now 32 and even great fighters don't last forever. Duran retired, after the Hearns loss, with his greatness unquestioned. 
 However, Duran would rival Frank Sinatra, for the number of retirements and comebacks he would make during his boxing career.  Two years after losing to Hearns, Roberto was back, again, fighting a series of contests against a range of opponents. The best fighter that Duran faced during his early comeback fights was Robbie Sims, Marvin Hagler's half brother.  Sims beat Duran on a split decision, and although many thought Duran had done enough to win, the fight and Duran's performance, seemed to underline that his championship days were now well and truly over.

When Duran was given a shot at Iran Barkley's WBC world middleweight championship on February 24, 1989, most thought 'Hands of Stone' had little chance of victory against 'The Blade.' The 'Stone Hands' were 37 years old now, the spark and dynamite were gone, and the speed was just a memory.  Then came the night of the fight, and corny though it may sound, the spectators at the Atlantic City Convention Center, and the audience watching the fight on TV, saw a sporting miracle. It was the kind of performance that happens very rarely in sport. Duran was young again. Duran, the shorter, older, smaller man, went toe-to-toe with Barkley, and using all the wily skills and experience he had gathered during his career. He summoned up an almost otherworldly level of fitness and determination, Duran out-thought and out-fought Barkley in one of the best World middleweight title fights ever seen. The spark was back, there was venom in his punches, and a speed and sharpness in his movement. At 37 years old, Roberto fought like a man in his 20s; like the Duran of 10 years ago.  'Stone hands' clinched his victory by flooring, a by now battered and bloodied, Barkley in the 11th round. By the 12th round, even Barkley's body language seemed to signal that he knew he had been beaten.

Duran won by a split decision, but anyone watching that night would tell you that there could only have been one winner that night. It was a night when a short, slightly pudgy, and bearded ex-world lightweight champion, became the first Latin American to win 4 world titles. Duran was great again. Duran's reign as WBC world middleweight champion would be short, he vacated the title in order to take a 3rd match with Sugar Ray Leonard, but it didn't matter, he had done more than enough on that night of February 24, 1989. Some fighters’ greatness can be seen encapsulated in one fight. They are fights where the fighter in question has to reach into and display nearly all those aspects of himself that go into making him a great fighter. They are fights, when watched, you will say to yourself, “yes I can see it.”  For Muhammad Ali, it was his first fight with Liston.  The no. 3 meeting of Foreman and Frazier it was there.  For Roberto Duran, watch Dejesus 2 and 3, Leonard 1,  Hagler,  and Barkley.

Copyright © 2016 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved. Peter Silkov contributes to

1 comment:

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