“Among boxers these fascinating Four Kings of the ring won 16 recognized world titles. As of 1989, their records, excluding their fights against each other, were 33-0 (Sugar Ray Leonard), 46-1 (Thomas Hearns), 60-2-2 (Marvin Hagler), and 84-4 (Roberto Duran). Each of the four beat at least one of the others, and each of them lost to at least one of the others. Theirs is a shared legacy and their names are destined to be forever linked. They didn’t set out to save boxing from itself in the post-Muhammad Ali era. But they did. And we may never see their like again,” expounded Four Kings by George Kimball.
The Associated Press voted Roberto Durán as the #1 lightweight boxer of the 20th century. Many sports journalists even consider Duran the greatest lightweight boxer of all time. In 2002, Roberto Durán was chosen by The Ring magazine to be the 5th greatest boxer of the last 80 years, ahead of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Mike Tyson, and Benny Leonard.
Japan’s Hiroshi Kobayashi held the World Boxing Association junior lightweight title from 1968 until 1971 (but had been dethroned by Venezuela’s Alfredo Marcano less than 3 months before he boxed Roberto Duran). When Duran knocked Kobayashi out in the seventh round, trainer Ray Arcel (1899-1994) became a believer.
After winning the lightweight world title, by defeating Ken Buchanan in 1972, Duran boxed a non-title fight against Esteban DeJesús, a 32-1 Puerto Rican trained by Gregorio Benitez, Wilfredo’s father, at Madison Square Garden. DeJesus won on the scorecards but Duran would meet DeJesus in a rematch 2 years later. Once again Duran went down in the first round, but this time he got up and knocked DeJesus out with a right-hand punch to the head in the eleventh round.
“Roberto Duran would rule the lightweight division for the next half-dozen years. Apart from the first Esteban DeJesús fight, Duran won 33 times, 25 of them by knockout, and made a dozen defenses of his championship title,” declared George Kimball in his Four Kings book.
In his twelfth title defense, Duran met his old foe DeJesus, who had by then acquired the WBC version of the lightweight title. Their third match took place at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, 1978, and Duran reunified his championship with a twelfth-round TKO. The third DeJesus fight would be Duran’s last as a lightweight. To this day Duran’s name would be included on every list of the three greatest lightweights of all time… and in 1978 Duran became a welterweight champion.
Durán earned a pair of wins against former WBC Welterweight Champion Carlos Palomino and Zeferino Gonzales, setting the stage for a title bout against then undefeated WBC Welterweight Champion Sugar Ray Leonard. Durán resented the fact that he was getting only one-fifth the money Leonard would make despite the fact that Duran was entering the bout with an incredible 71-1 record. On June 20, 1980, Roberto Durán captured the WBC Welterweight title by defeating Sugar Ray Leonard via a 15-round unanimous decision. The fight became known as “The Brawl in Montreal.” “Duran is like Rocky Marciano. He never gives you the ball,” said trainer Freddie Brown.
WBC Light Middleweight title: After losing three bouts, Duran defeated Jimmy Batten. This marked the beginning of a comeback in which Duran beat former world champion and now hall of famer Pipino Cuevas via a fourth round knock-out, which earned him a second crack at the Light Middleweight title, this time against WBA Champion Davey Moore. The WBA title bout took place at Madison Square Garden on June 16, 1983, which also happened to be Durán’s 32nd birthday. By the end of the sixth round, Moore’s eye had swollen shut and he was floored near the end of the seventh. Finally the fight was stopped in the eighth round as Moore was taking such a horrific beating and Durán won his third world title.
In November 1983, Durán fought for the World Middleweight Championship, meeting Marvelous Marvin Hagler in Las Vegas, but losing in a very competitive bout that went the full 15 rounds, although after 12 rounds two of the judges had Durán ahead on points. Despite the loss, Durán became the second boxer to take Hagler to a 15 round decision and the only boxer to do so while Hagler was the world champion.
In February 1989, Durán won the WBC Middleweight title from Iran Barkley. The fight is considered one of Durán’s greatest achievements, as the 37-year-old former lightweight champion took the middleweight crown, his fourth title. Durán knocked Barkley down in the eleventh round and won a close decision. The bout was named the 1989 “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine.
Epilogue: Roberto Duran clearly dominated boxing’s lightweight division. Likewise, Miguel Canto dominated the flyweight division; Willie Pep dominated the featherweight division; Carlos Monzón dominated the middleweight division, and Rocky Marciano dominated the heavyweight division. (Duran sparred with Sly Stallone in Rocky II.)