At age 43, Duran keeps going . . . and going

January 14, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- Could you find two more improbable fighters still boxing than Roberto Duran and Vinny Pazienza, who meet in a 12-round rematch at the Convention Center tonight for Pazienza's International Boxing Council's super-middleweight title?

Pazienza's amazing comeback from a broken neck in a near-fatal auto accident four years ago would test even a Hollywood screen writer's cynicism.

Five days after he was released from the hospital, he resumed training while his neck still was encased in a metal halo.

"I like living on the edge," he said. "I like to be in the danger zone. And what I like to do best is fight."

And yet, the fact that Duran, 43, is still fighting and harboring dreams of winning a sixth world title is even more incredible.

His career has encompassed four decades, 21 title fights and 104 bouts in eight weight classes ranging from 118 to 168 pounds.

The Panamanian, who gained a reputation as a barrio fighter by felling a horse with one punch to the ribs, turned pro at the age of 17 in 1967. He claimed his first championship in 1972 by leaving then-lightweight champion Kenny Buchanan draped helplessly over the ropes in the 13th round at Madison Square Garden.

Before the Buchanan fight, Duran's trainer, the late Ray Arcel, needled his protege: "I suppose you won't go back to Panama if you lose tonight."

"If I lose, I'll commit suicide," Duran replied without the trace of a smile.

Eight years later, Duran was too ashamed to return home after his still-unexplained "no mas" surrender to a taunting Sugar Ray Leonard in their championship rematch at the Superdome. The celebrated macho warrior had been stripped of his aura of invincibility and branded a quitter.

When forced to face the media, Duran said: I have been fighting for a long time. I've gotten tired of the sport. I think it is time for me to retire."

The retirement lasted nine months. And the past 12 years have included the exhilarating highs of winning titles from Davey Moore (154 pounds) and Iran Barkley (160), plus a near-upset of then-middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in 1983 when title fights were 15 rounds.

But there were setbacks when even his most ardent supporters questioned the wisdom of his continuing to fight when he could live a life of luxury and adulation in Panama.

In 1984, he was left with his nose pressed against the canvas at Caesars Palace after he was destroyed in two rounds by Thomas Hearns.

Five years later, he staged a remarkable turnabout, surviving a fierce beating in the early rounds to whip Barkley and claim the middleweight title.

In the winter of 1989, Duran tried to exorcise the "no mas" demons in a "rubber" match with Leonard in Las Vegas. Inevitably, questions were raised about his uncharacteristic surrender in their previous encounter.

Finally, a frustrated Duran said: "Don't offend me. I've done everything in boxing. I'm a four-time world champion. How many fighters can say that?"

Leonard-Duran III was a slow, passionless waltz. Leonard's few flashes of brilliance were enough to earn a decision over Duran, who seemed almost indifferent.

That humiliation kept Duran out of the ring for 15 months before veteran promoter Mike Acri convinced him to fight again.

His return in March 1991 against journeyman Pat Lawlor seemed to signal the end when a sore shoulder forced Duran to quit in his corner after six desultory rounds.

But Acri kept the faith, continuing to match Duran against a series of club fighters trying to make names for themselves against a legend. Duran showed enough of his old fury for Acri to arrange a lucrative pay-per-view bout with Pazienza last June.

Duran floored Pazienza twice, but lost a disputed decision, leading to tonight's rematch.

Pazienza, 32, who held world titles at 135 and 154, has much more at stake. There is talk of matching him against unbeaten super-middleweight champion Roy Jones.

NB "But first," said Pazienza, "I want to retire Duran for good."

FIGHT FACTS

Who: Roberto Duran (94-10-0, 65 KOs), Panama, vs. Vinny Pazienza (39-5, 27 KOs), Cranston, R.I.

What: For Pazienza's IBC super-middleweight title, 12 rounds.

Where: Convention Center, Atlantic City, N.J.

When: Tonight, 9.

TV: Pay-per-view on United Cable and Comcast in the Baltimore area.

Undercard: Hector Camacho (48-3, 28 KOs), Puerto Rico, vs. Todd Foster (33-3, 29 KOs), Missoula, Mont., for vacant IBC welterweight title, 12 rounds.

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