By Scoop Malinowski
A recent visit into the famous used book store on Main Street in downtown Sarasota, Florida called A Parker’s Books resulted in a major surprise – there on the shelf in the cavernous mini library of countless old books was a book I never knew existed. It was an English book about Roberto Duran called “I Am Duran: My Autobiography” published in 2016 by Blue Rider Press for $13.
Christian Del Guidice authored a Duran book about a decade ago but I hesitated to read it after personally asking the boxing writer himself if Duran approved of it? Del Guidice admitted to me, No, Duran didn’t like it.
Perhaps motivated by his frustration of the inaccuracies of the only known Duran book ever published, Duran decided to set the record straight and do his own book himself with journalist George Diaz. And as a long time Duran admirer I can tell you “I Am Duran” is a fantastic book, one of the very best sports biographies I’ve ever read.
For many reasons. Duran’s rags to riches story is well known but the details were not. Duran hides nothing in this book. How could a boy, so poor, so small become one of the most amazing boxers of all time? The first clue he said was in first grade where a sixth grader started beating up another first grader and Duran, fearless of the size and age disadvantage, stepped in. “I jumped in, decked the sixth grader and left him gasping for air.”
Duran’s boxing beginning was going to the gym with a friend who boxed. Duran saw him with a gym bag with gloves, headgear, wraps, mouthguard and protective cup. “I was spellbound, I wanted that. I asked Toti how I could get all that stuff?” “Become a boxer.” Duran was eight years old and 84 pounds. Duran lost his first three amateur fights!
Duran saw his hero Ismael Laguna fight Carlos Ortiz for the World Lightweight title in 1965 at Estadio Nacional by jumping on a cattle truck to hitch a ride to the fight. But with no money to get into the stadium, Duran waited till the last three rounds when “they opened the gates and you should have seen the people rushing to get in, like a swarm of ants!” Laguna won, “I followed him to his car. As they zoomed off I looked up at the sky and told myself, ‘I am going to be just like that man… two years later I was training with him.'”
Duran said he’s largely self taught: “I learned ring strategy and I taught myself how to cut off the ring. I learned those skills by myself. They’re not the kinds of things someone can pass on to you.” Duran said if someone hit him with a good punch, any punch, jab, hook, right, he would immediately adapt and make sure it didn’t happen again.
Duran went pro because of politics screwing him out of going to Winnipeg for Pan Am Games after he won the qualification fight, the crooked colonels sent someone else instead. Duran’s first pro fight was a 4 round decision at age 16, 118 pounds in 1968.
A year later, Carlos Eleta, a wealthy businessman, was impressed by Duran’s pro progress and bought his contract for $300.
Duran became famous fast in Panama. He said he even met John F. Kennedy Jr who was ten years old, Duran gave John John his gloves from the Lloyd Marshall fight in 1971.
Duran’s big win vs Ernesto Marcel opened the door to be introduced to the mecca of boxing in New York City in September 1971 vs journeyman Benny Huertas on the Laguna vs Buchanan undercard. Duran finished Huertas in a minute with a right, then a left.
The captivating quality of the book is Duran’s talent for sharing so many details and his direct style, no BS, no filtering. He is not afraid to show his humble moments either.
His description of the whole Lightweight title reign and then the decision to go to welter and how the Leonard fight was made are mesmerizing. Re-living whole The Brawl In Montreal of June 20, 1980 saga, which Mike Tyson has said was his favorite fight of all time, is almost as good as the fight itself.
Duran is also open about No Mas and though he mentions the accusations of it being fixed, interestingly he does not deny it. He drops hints about being rushed into it, so everybody could make their fast money. He also questions why Leonard didn’t want the third fight immediately after all the loose ends and controversies surrounding the New Orleans rematch in November 1980. Duran wrote, “Maybe they should have asked him why.” The takeaway is Duran at his best was better than Leonard, but the American was the long term franchise moneymaker. You can connect those dots.
Duran said he made only $75,000 tax free for his first fight after No Mas, vs Nino Gonzalez, “a hundred times less than the second Leonard fight…”
Another highlight is the Davey Moore fight when he was a 5-1 underdog and became a world champion again inside an electric Madison Square Garden in 1983, with a 16 year old Mike Tyson sitting in the nosebleed blue seats.
Every page actually is a highlight. Details about Duran’s generosity, humility, and various career details are exhilarating to learn. And then there’s the pet lion and horse KO tales for laughs. I’d give it ten stars out of ten stars. To read about the life of arguably the greatest fighter who ever lived is a special privilege – and a steal for $13. Find yourself a copy and get it.
One part which was missing from the book was a quote by Sugar Ray Robinson, who once told New York City boxing reporter Melvin “Doc” Stanley, “The greatest boxer I’ve ever seen besides myself is Roberto Duran.”
Roberto Duran may actually, really be the greatest boxing champion there ever was. And his autobiography is a masterpiece.