By Scoop Malinowski
Orlando Montalvo won a bronze medal at the 1976 Olympics in the flyweight division for Puerto Rico, the only medal for the island in Montreal. Three years later at the Pan American Games in San Juan, Montalvo met Roberto Duran. “I won a gold medal over there. So Roberto saw me, he asked, ‘Can you spar with me?’ I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’
“I went to his old gym in Panama. We were sparring and he said, You stay with me. I stayed two years.”
They’re still friends today, almost forty years later. Montalvo and Duran reunited this weekend at the Ring 10 Awards Fundraiser in the Bronx. They had last seen each other seven years ago. “He saw me today, he go crazy. We spent a lot of time together,” Montalvo said.
Montalvo served as a Duran sparring partner for many of his biggest fights in the 1980s. They spent many hours trading punches and boxing moves. “Being in the ring with Roberto is something great because he’s got so many experiences,” said Montalvo, now 60. “He’s so strong and you learn from him. And you never forget the punch. He can punch.”
Montalvo continued, “Duran in and outside the ring – he’s a gentleman. Roberto, when he go to celebrate, he celebrates [laughs].”
That comment reminded me of a story Duran once told me, about how he over-celebrated after winning his first world title (Lightweight) against Ken Buchanan in 1971 at Madison Square Garden. Duran said at the post-fight victory party he made the mistake of drinking too much champagne while also eating a vast array of different colored ice creams. He said the poor nutritional combination gave him a very bad case of diarrhea that night.
“He could celebrate,” Montalvo replied. “When he fought Sugar Ray Leonard the first time and then the second time he came to camp at 220 pounds. We had to run him so hard in training to make the weight. Ten pounds before the fight he was still twenty pounds over (147).”
Duran beat Leonard by decision in Montreal on June 20, 1980 and was rushed into the rematch in November in New Orleans. That rematch ended infamously in round eight when Duran said “No mas” apparently caused by stomach pains.
“To me he is the best 135 pound fighter ever,” says Montalvo, a statement few ring observers would disagree with. “He made twelve defenses of the title at 135 pounds and then moved up to 147 and beat Sugar Ray Leonard. Then at 154 he beat Davey Moore. Then he beat Iran Barkley at 160 (at age 38).”
Montalvo had a professional career but enjoyed nowhere near the successes of his friend. He turned pro in 1979 and lost his first four fights. Montalvo did fight three future world champions – Billy Costello, Gary Hinton and John David Jackson – but he lost all three of those contests. Montalvo boxed at Madison Square Garden twice – in 1982 and 1983. His last fight was in 1986. Montalvo finished with a 4-14-1 record before settling in southern Connecticut where he has taught boxing for over two decades in the Stamford area. He currently operates Montalvo Boxing Gym in Stamford. “I want to keep teaching boxing until I die,” he says.
The fierce looking man with the friendly smile that could brighten up a room, says the best part of his career was “in 1975-76 when I was an amateur representing Puerto Rico.”