Roberto Duran Biography Review

by Fran on August 12, 2010

Roberto Duran Biography - Hands of Stone

Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Christian Giudice

Milo Books

The world of professional in the 1970's was by and large a fairly unremarkable affair.  Aside from Muhammad Ali lighting up the heavyweight division with some of the most seismic clashes in boxing history, there were no other 'stand out' types that caught the attention of the wider public beyond the boxing fraternity.  That is apart from a certain lightweight killing machine named Roberto "Manos de Piedra" Duran.  Duran did not so much dominate the lightweight division for the entire decade, he absolutely terrorized it!  Anyone who wishes to go some way to understanding the psyche of a boxer, to understand the many contradictions of undertaking the sport, could do worse than to gain some understanding of Roberto Duran.

Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran by Christian Giudice is a comprehensive study of the Panamanian marvel.  From the outset, the author seeks to separate fact from fiction, and starts with the small matter of the 'No Mas' incident.  For those who don't know, this relates to Duran's 2nd fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in which he inexplicably capitulated in Round 8, supposedly by stating the now infamous words "No Mas", or "No More".  The author clarifies the fact that these words were not uttered by Duran, but by a ringside broadcaster.  The words Duran used, translated, were "I do not want to fight with this clown".  Does this really matter in terms of the significance of the act?  Maybe not, but in terms of a true account of the night's proceedings then absolutely it matters and this I believe is a signpost as to the way the book deals with the subject matter.

On June 16, 1951, Roberto Duran Samaniego was born in the tough barrio of El Chorillo in Panama.  The poverty into which Duran was born was all consuming.  Giudice, being a journalist by trade, articulates the level of poverty in which the young Roberto and his peers had to survive in a way that leaves a lasting impression on the reader.  The author describes in detail the day-to-day battle of life in the tough, impoverished barrio and seems tireless in his search to find sources of first-hand accounts of Duran from family, friends and acquaintances.  Some of these accounts are clearly contradictory, but this feels reassuring as to me it is clear evidence of journalistic integrity and rigour.

Duran's relationships with key individuals to both his development as a person and as a boxer are well defined.  From his uniquely tough mother Clara, to his absent father Margarito and the value of the encouragement of his stepfather Victornino Vargas.  Giudice also documents Roberto's remarkable relationship with Candido Natalio Diaz, known as "Chaflan" on the streets of Panama City, and how this man guided not just Duran, but many of the other street children as to how they could survive by hustling for money in all kinds of ways.

Duran's introduction to the sport by way of a relatively short amateur boxing career is covered.  Again, the detail captured by the author is eye-catching as he managed to seek out contemporaries of the boxer and provide some detail as to the nature of Duran's formative style.  This period in Duran's life is also where he began his career long association with Nestor "Plomo" Quinones, the coach who stayed with him through good times and bad.  The involvement of Carlos "Papa" Eleta is also dealt with, and this was likely the key catalyst that opened the necessary doors for Duran in his professional career.

Christian Giudice has produced an outstanding reference and analysis of the fighter and the person, capturing the essence of Duran.  Duran was a walking contradiction, capable of jaw-dropping brutality and savagery in the ring, yet also of such heart-breaking generosity, sensitivity and honour.  The book provides solid evidence of both the former and the latter, check out Jose Torres' account of Duran's final meeting with his nemesis Esteban DeJesus.  DeJesus was in the final days of an AIDS-related death and Duran hugged and kissed him whilst DeJesus was on his death bed, this at a time when AIDS was not properly understood and many would not have wished to be present in the room, let alone hugging the afflicted man.  As I said, the Duran is the ultimate contradiction.

I suppose when writing a book about Duran, it would be difficult not to provide moments of humour.  A couple of accounts (amongst many) are particularly memorable in this sense, the first being the Duran family debate about from whom Roberto inherited his incredible punching power.  The consensus view seemed to be that he had in fact inherited his unnerving ability to knock out man and beast alike (check out the 'Horse' incident) from his Grandmother Ceferino Garcia.  All I can say is that those Panamanian women sure are tough!  The second was the press conference before the Lou Bizarro title defense, absolute comedy gold!

In terms of coverage of the key boxing matches in which Duran was involved, again the author's analysis is sound.  He clearly understands the technical and tactical application of boxing skills and provides enough for the reader to understand the development of Duran through the key phases of his career.  Duran is a hero of mine, and some of the content of the book makes uncomfortable reading.  One wants a hero to be beyond reproach, and Duran clearly isn't.  He could often be accused of being cruel beyond necessity, as with the Ray Lampkin comments, and in many ways I feel that his image is tarnished.  However, I actually feel that this is a positive for the book.  Duran as a person was hard on the outside, and (very slightly) soft on the inside.  The author captures the honour of the man and his humility ("I am from El Chorillo, I can only be humble") in equal measure to his ferocity and callousness.

This is a book that I would recommend.  I have read many boxing biographies over the years, and I have to say that this is up there with the very best of them.

Hands of Stone: The Life and Legend of Roberto Duran

Christian Giudice

Milo Books

Roberto Duran Products

Some other selected stuff that you may be interested in:

For a stylish and distinctive T-Shirt with a depiction of the great man, click on the link below and enter "Roberto Duran" in the search box. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Cool and unique T-shirts on the web from Bathroom Wall

Finally, and if you haven't already, check out this article on a technical, video-based analysis of the Roberto Duran boxing style.

The links on this page are affiliate links.  This means that if you click on the link and subsequently make a purchase, then I get paid a small commission.  If you do intend to buy (no pressure!), why not do so via these links as they do represent value for money and it all helps me keep our site going!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Fran December 5, 2012 at 9:05 pm

Cheers Carl. You’re going to really enjoy it I’m sure. Really good read.

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