Proud Father, Proud Fighter

January 15, 1995|By New York Times

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- He has his father's roundish face, smooth Latin complexion and expansive nose. Adolescence may one day bring him a goatee. For now, the piercing brown eyes, tucked beneath the steep ledge of his brow, must suffice.

The grip in his handshake is remarkably firm for age 13, but then, what would one expect from Manos de Piedra (Hands of Stone) Jr.?

"I am very proud of my father," Robert Duran said, straightening a baseball cap on his head as he shuffled his feet, awaiting his father's entrance to a hotel ballroom. "Even though I am worried for him sometimes, I know he will be OK because he is a great fighter."

Robert Duran is asked if he dabbles in boxing. "I am a swimmer," said the Panamanian youngster. "In my country, I can make the national team. I don't box. It's a dangerous sport. I'm not sure if my father would allow it."

The elder Duran discourages his children from boxing, just as many others discourage him from continuing to fight.

Roberto Duran knows his sons will make their own decisions, and he will be powerless to stop them. It is this same resignation he took with him into the ring last night against Vinny Pazienza at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

At a time in America when old boxers never die -- they merely go on to more paydays -- the 43-year-old Duran (94-10, 65 knockouts before last night) made $500,000 in challenging Pazienza (39-5, 27 KOs) for his International Boxing Council super middleweight title. The champion received a guaranteed $750,000.

A near sellout of 13,000 was anticipated. Thousands of homes were expected to buy the pay-per-view showing. And old-man Duran, the wild-eyed Panamanian with the same nasty disposition he once used to intimidate Ray Leonard and Pipino Cuevas, was again hoping to circumvent the physical laws of nature with determined counterpunching and genuine disgust for his brash opponent.

Though he knocked down Pazienza in their first meeting last June, Duran lost by a decision and admitted he wasn't as strong in the latter rounds of the fight. He said he had trained 9 weeks, instead of 4 1/2 , for this fight and he weighed in at a svelte-looking 162 pounds Friday, 6 pounds under the division limit.

His management team was said to be angling for a fight with Hector Camacho at 160 pounds if Duran upset Pazienza.

"You can see the cuts in his face, the definition in his body," boasted one of his co-managers, Hector Martinez. "He likes the money, of course. But that is not why he is still fighting. He still enjoys boxing."

It is now 28 years since his pro debut, and nearly 15 years after "No Mas." He fought Esteban De Jesus. Wilfred Benitez. Marvin Hagler. Davey Moore. And, yes, Sugar Ray Leonard. In the days of 15-rounders, nine of Duran's fights went past the 12th round, five went the full 15.

Felix Trinidad, the Columbian knockout artist who holds the International Boxing Federation welterweight title, was not even born when Duran won his first title in New York against Ken Buchanan 22 years ago.

There was the right-hand bomb he unloaded on Leonard in their first fight in 1980, a punch that wobbled Leonard in the second round and dictated the terms of his 15-round decision by aggression.

There was his resilience against Iran Barkley in 1989.

Even Pazienza, whose pre-fight remarks always come packaged with mean-spiritedness, understood the emotions Duran still evokes from his following.

"I'm fighting a legend," he said earlier this week. "I think it's remarkable that he's still fighting at his age. He's still cagey in the ring and he isn't that far off from when he fought Barkley and Leonard."

Idolatry still surrounds him. Alex Quiroga, a 24-year-old welterweight from Miami and one of Duran's sparring partners, was taking a beating earlier this week when Duran suddenly began clowning, laying off his power punches and playfully wailing away, using Quiroga's head as he would a speed bag.

After Quiroga developed a mouse under his eye, he had Duran autograph it for him. With another punch.

"I am worried about how people think of me all the time," Duran said through an interpreter on Friday. "There is always a danger in fighting too long. It is something I think about a lot. But I am enjoying this and I am hungrier now than I have been in a long time."

Some of his followers are immune to the notion of Duran's skills eroding. They cannot see the diminished power. They only see the legend, Manos de Piedra.

"I watch the tapes of my father because I was not born when he fought Leonard," Robert said. "My favorite is the Davey Moore fight.

"I am very proud of him. He was such a great fighter."


"I mean, is," Roberto Duran's son said.

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