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Nino Gonzalez Recalls Facing Roberto Duran 1981



By Scoop Malinowski

Roberto Duran’s first fight after the infamous No Mas fiasco in November 1980 was against Nino Gonzalez in August 1981, in Cleveland, Ohio, televised by CBS. It was a close, hard fought ten rounder. The scorecards were 44-48, 45-48 and 43-47.

I was able to chat with Nino Gonzalez about his Duran fight memories…

Question: What is your first memory of Roberto Duran?

Nino Gonzalez:  Talkin shit at the press conference [laughs]. He was talking shit about Puerto Rico and beating Esteban DeJesus twice after DeJesus beat him the first time. Duran was saying he was gonna teach me a lesson I wouldn’t forget. I got mad, I said, “A Puerto Rican might go down but he doesn’t quit!” I also called him Manos de Mierda, instead of Manos de Piedra, instead of hands of stone, I called him hands of shit! He hated that. When we fought, he put out his hand to give a high five but I tried to kick his ass.

Question: You sparred with Duran a year before the fight right?

Nino Gonzalez:  I sparred with him about a year earlier, before his first fight with Leonard. We sparred three rounds. I believe it was in Great Gorge (a ski resort in Vernon, NJ). I kicked his ass for two rounds. He asked for another round and I kicked his ass again. Then I kicked his friend’s ass too. I loved training up there in the mountains, there’s hills and it’s beautiful, up and down slopes to run on.

Question: So how did the Duran fight offer come to you?

Nino Gonzalez:  I had two choices – fight Wilfred Benitez for the junior middleweight title (Nino was ranked no. 10 in WBC 154 division), or fight Duran. My people didn’t think I was ready for Benitez yet so we fought Duran. I watched Duran fight on TV with my father before I even started boxing. My training camp for Duran was in Cleveland. Because I wanted to get out of Bayonne, NJ and being with the wrong people, and smoking grass every day. I trained in Cleveland for four and a half, five weeks. I ran every day, ate good, went to bed early. I had two sparring partners Gil Rosario and Lamont Haithcoach, who had good hands, good moves, he drew with Buddy McGirt (in his first pro fight in 1982). I was in the best shape of my life. Even my own family told me Duran was going to knock me out. People in Bayonne didn’t think I could beat him.

Question:  What made Duran great?

Nino Gonzalez:   He was a bad mother fucker. Very, very smart. Very good technique. He knew his shit, bro. He was hitting me with punches I don’t know where they came from. In the 8th and 9th rounds I started to feel the pain. I was in shape. I tried so hard to win that fight. I could have beaten anybody that day. I thought I won the fight. But Duran is Duran. He was Don King’s fighter.

Question: Have you ever seen Duran since the fight in 1981?

Nino Gonzalez:  No. One night one of his friends called me from New York at 2 am. He said he was with Duran and Duran wanted to send a limo to pick me up and hang out. I said no because I was working. I couldn’t go fuck around with him.

Question: How did you get into boxing?

Nino Gonzalez:  My father was an amateur boxer, he was five-foot-four with really fast hands. I got into boxing from seeing Chuck Wepner vs Muhammad Ali (1975). When I heard he’s from Bayonne, I said, I’d like to do that one day. My friend took me to Bayonne PAL. I was maybe 12.

Question:  Did you sustain any injuries from fighting Duran?

Nino Gonzalez:  My shoulder. He kept hitting me on my right shoulder. Every time I threw a right it hurt but I had no choice, I had to keep throwing right hands. I had a little black eye and some scrapes on my face from the gloves.

Question:  How much did Don King pay you for the Duran fight? He paid Duran $75,000 tax free.

Nino Gonzalez:  $50,000. My best payday. We waited a couple of weeks after the fight then we drove into New York City to Don’s office (on east 65th Street). What a beautiful office he had. And his two secretaries were knockouts. I remember Don yelling, “MY MAN NINO!” He gave me a check for $50.000. Went to the bank, waited for it to clear, then came back and they gave us the $50,000. They used the counting machine twice.

Question: Would you say the Duran fight was your finest performance?

Nino Gonzalez:  One of my best performances. Then I fought in Giants Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ) against the Jewish middleweight… Rusty Rosenberger. Everybody was telling me I was gonna lose. I gave him his first loss. I never was knocked out. I was stopped three times. I was stopped by John “The Beast” Mugabi in London (KO bty 1 1984). I never should have taken that fight.  I was stopped by that Kronk middleweight, I forget his name. He had a bullet lodged in his neck. He got shot in the mouth. (Duane Thomas TKO by 8 in 1983 in Atlantic City.) And I was stopped by Matthew Hilton (8th round 1984 at Montreal Forum).

Question: Who was the hardest puncher you fought? Was it Duran?

Nino Gonzalez:    No. It was Matthew Hilton. That mother fucker could hit. I was sure he had something in his hands. He chipped my two front teeth. He knocked me down in the first round. I didn’t know where I was but I got up. I was stopped in the eighth round.

Question: Duran talked about your fight with him in his book “I Am Duran” for three pages, did you know that?

Nino Gonzalez:  Really? I never knew that. I’d love to see that. Mike Tyson mentioned me in the Cus Damato book. I have that book. I’m saving it to show to my sons but they’re eight and ten years old, still a little too young to understand.

Notes:  Nino’s last fight was against Charles Williams was three months after the Mugabi loss. It was at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, a TKO win.  Nino turned pro in May 1978 at Totowa Ice World, a decision win vs. Henry Rosa. His final ring record was 30-7-1 with 17 KOs. He won the NJ Welterweight Championship in 1980.

Interesting Nino Gonzalez Mike Tyson Cus Damato story link here

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