Roberto Duran Boxing Style Analysis

by Fran on August 11, 2010

Roberto Duran - Not Just Manos de Piedra!

Roberto Duran was, and remains to this day, one of the most fearsome knockout specialists ever to step in the ring.  "Manos de Piedra", or "Hands of Stone", earned this title for a very good reason.  Of his first 28 fights, his opponent on average could expect to last less than 4 rounds (3.96 rounds to be precise.)

By the time Duran had reached his 60th fight, 50 opponents had not been allowed to hear the bell at the end of the final round.  In short, Roberto Duran was about as devastating a puncher at lightweight that has ever lived, and his knockout power seemed to remain with him right the way up to middleweight and beyond.

It would be easy to say that Duran was simply a knockout puncher and that's it, but I really don't think this does the man justice.  In this article I want to explore the development of Duran the fighter by using the vast body of video resource out there.  I want to look at some of the specific technical attributes that made Duran what he was.

Not only was Roberto a KO specialist and top line pressure fighter, he was a wonderful counter-puncher, able to feint, draw a lead from the opponent and unleash devastating salvos of punches at will.

Duran also developed into a very elusive fighter, using slick footwork, body movement and covering up to avoid taking significant punishment; no boxer can expect the longevity at the pinnacle of the sport by taking heavy punches with any regularity.  Let's remember that Manos de Piedra won his first title (WBA Lightweight) in 1972 and his last title  (WBC Supper Middleweight) in 1989, that's a full 17 years later!

In order to maintain a balance, I also want to examine the type of fighters that handed Roberto his rare defeats.  What did they do that the myriad of other opponents could not?  Whilst I am a massive Duran fan, I don't want this article to become a 'rose tinted spectacles' view of the man; understanding what he struggled with is just as important as understanding those aspects of the sport at which he excelled.

Roberto Duran Boxing Style - The Pressure Fighter

Let's first take a look at Duran's winning performance that captured him the WBA Lightweight title against brilliant Scot Ken Buchanan in 1972.  We need only use one round during our analysis as the others up until the 13th when the bout ended were much the same in terms of the tactics.  At this stage in his career, Duran's approach is about overwhelming his opponents with a constant march forward, thus exerting intense pressure.

Duran couples pressure with power shots; when Roberto throws a punch he fully intends for that punch to hurt the opponent...badly.  As far as he is concerned, every shot thrown must be powerful enough to relieve the other man of his state of consciousness.  Duran doesn't so much throw pre-determined combinations of punches, he simply unleashes hammer blows 'as they come'.  Check out the highly aggressive barrage at around the 0.40 mark.

The pressure is constant.  The only time Duran takes a backward step is when the Scot physically pushes him back during the clinches.  Duran doesn't mind this as he still finds ways of driving short range uppercuts and hooks into the body and head of the defending champion.

There are no easily identifiable feints and his footwork is very functional and basic.  There is no discernible counter-punching by Duran.  He simply drives forward, using rough-house tactics and seeking to smash the champion to bits.  This is a performance of raw aggression and power-punching, with Duran quite happy to take a shot to land one and is in fact what many people define as the essence of Duran.

But, and this is a big 'but', this is only Duran's 29th professional outing after a short amateur career of about 30 contests.  At the time of this fight Roberto's manager Carlos Eleta had enlisted the services of the brilliant coaching duo of Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, and boy did they bring Duran on a notch or two.

Roberto Duran Boxing Style - The Jab Lights the Way!

Let's move forward one year now, with Duran taking on the redoubtable, tough and clever Australian Hector Thompson in a defence of the title that he won against Buchanan.  Duran has had 7 contests during the year, and has been handed his first defeat by the brilliant Puerto Rican Esteban DeJesus, with whom Duran had 3 very intense encounters.

The Duran we see in the Thompson fight is a world away from the Buchanan fight.  We see that Duran uses the jab.  He uses the jab a lot!  He is not storming forward, probably because he knows that Thompson is very strong and can himself hit hard.  Duran uses the jab to control the pace of the fight.  He not only throws purposeful jabs designed to land and hurt, he also throws slow jabs designed to bring Thompson forward.

The key thing is that after the jab has brought a response from Thompson, Duran fires fast, hard uppercuts and hooks to the 'centre of mass' of the opponent (targeting the liver and spleen); we see an excellent example of this at about 0.17 of the video.

Duran wants his opponents to know that every time they attack, they can expect to be met with fearsome force.  This expectation can often result in a mental 'switch off' and consequently the opponent will go on the back foot.  Once Roberto Duran made opponents back up with ease, then generally the end was not far away.

Notice also in the video that there is a marked increase in the body movement of Duran in comparison to the Buchanan fight.  He is now providing a more or less constantly moving target in front of his opponent.  This is a style characteristic that never leaves Duran and signals the defensive awakening of the man, opening up a range of angles that allow him to truly make opponents suffer after they miss their own shots.

The monster is becoming even more terrifying by becoming calculating, all opponents should now worry.

Roberto Duran Boxing Style - A Feinting and Counter Punching Master Class!

We move on now 6 years to 1979, with Duran having utterly annihilated the entire lightweight division, he jumps up to welterweight to face the fearsome Mexican puncher Carlos Palomino.  Many consider this to be one of Duran's finest technical performances, and I have to agree.

The range and effectiveness of Duran's feinting is quite amazing and has Palomino not knowing which way to turn.  It is a truly awful feeling as a fighter to be in the unfortunate position of flinching constantly because you don't know where the next punch is coming from.

Look at the superb feinted jab to turn into a thunderous left hook lead (4.34).  Examine also the feinted jab and bone-juddering straight right that drops Palomino (6.30).

The feinting of the jab that we first saw in the Hector Thompson fight has now become a mesmerising distraction for opponents, hypnotising them and rendering them vulnerable to just about any shot Duran cares to throw.

As an added bonus, look at defensive body movement from about 08.13 to 08.30.  Talk about make 'em miss make 'em pay!

Roberto Duran Boxing Style - Defensive Genius

During the Palomino fight, Duran's defensive skill was very evident, in particular his ability to slip and roll punches.  In this 1983 fight with the heavy hitting Pipino Cuevas, Duran's body movement is simply brilliant and opens up Cuevas to an offensive onslaught of counter-punching which leads to his crushing defeat.

At about 0.54, Duran uses deft body movements to make Cuevas miss with 5 shots.  He is tremendously economical with his movement allowing him to be in a position to counter with terrifying accuracy, flooring Cuevas in a blizzard of leather.

Check out also the use of the pivot to open up the angles for the crunching left and right hooks that floor the Mexican; simple, economical and brilliant!

Roberto Duran Boxing Style - The Struggles

Having covered what made Duran so great, ferocity, punch power, pressure, defensive prowess and counter-punching wizardry, let's review the style of fighter with which he struggled.  The key defeats which Duran suffered later in his career were to Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Wilfred Benitez.  I believe that the Leonard and Benitez best outline the key frailty with Duran.

It simply was not enough to run as he would chase down opponents and nail them in the later rounds.  Successful opponents had to be within punching range, make Duran miss and counter with meaningful shots.  I want to focus on the brilliant Puerto Rican Wilfred 'El Radar' Benitez, a supremely gifted defensive fighter, who Duran met in 1982.

Check out the series of straight right hand punches thrown by Benitez, starting at about 2.27 through to 2.49.  The way in which Benitez landed these shots are key to understanding why he was a winner against Manos de Piedra.  He doesn't allow Duran's feinting jab to control the fight.  He remains on the edge of range, swiftly steps in with annoying shots, and steps away to leave Duran throwing big shots at ghosts.

Duran becomes frustrated and can't come to terms with the defensive wizard that is Benitez.  The key thing is that Benitez does not run.  He fights, but he fights on his terms.  When up close, he ties Duran up and constantly makes slight foot movements to the sides to reduce the potential for Duran to punish him with short range shots.  He then moves away, often diagonally, back to long range.

Benitez knows that if Duran lands cleanly, then he's in trouble, so he can't allow this to happen.  This is total boxing by the Puerto Rican!

So there we have it, my brief, high-level analysis of the Roberto Duran boxing style.  I'm not sure we'll ever see another like him, to me he's one of the greatest to ever grace a boxing ring and as I said, he wasn't just about Manos de Piedra.  Duran was involved in some of the most memorable fights in boxing history, taking on some of the greatest names.  He is, in every sense, a true all time boxing great.

Feel free to expand upon (or contradict for that matter) any of the views I've expressed here by leaving a comment below!  Also, to find out more about the great man, check out this book review on the Roberto Duran Biography Hands of Stone.

Cheers

Fran

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Giuseppe Garibaldi November 29, 2016 at 1:39 pm

Roberto Duran, the BEST ever!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Fran December 15, 2016 at 8:01 pm

Definitely one of my favourites ever, probably #1 🙂

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den broon January 12, 2015 at 8:30 pm

read it twice fran, brilliant. you should write books on boxing… thanks

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Fran January 13, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Cheers Den – I live in hope 🙂

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saad January 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

Hello,
Excellent article.
Duran is probably one of my favorite boxers of all time. He was entertaining in the ring, regardless of how long he stayed in it (hell, the Hearns fight was fireworks even thought it was just 2 rounds). I also love him because of how well-rounded he was as a fighter. At his core, one could call him a “brawler” but that just does him so much injustice because he was refined in his own style, a “method to the madness” kind of fighter.

There is one thing I’ve always noticed with Duran in terms of his technique. He and Marquez share a similar habit of leaning forward on their front leg, which then allows them to not slip punches but also to throw in those punishing left hooks or hooker cuts to the head or body. Duran in particular tended to throw a right-cross or an overhand right and use to lean towards his left which would automatically not only make him close the gap with his opponent but also go into that leaning position that makes it so easy to just drill in those left hands.

Would you agree?

~Saad

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Fran January 26, 2014 at 6:26 pm

Hi Saad

Apologies for the lengthy delay on replying, time is a resource that I seem to have precious little of at the moment!

That ‘lean forward’ is a very interesting trait of the Duran style. He often did that at edge-of-range/long range and my theory is that it payed havoc with the opponent’s ability to understand the range at which Duran was operating. He was a masterly defensive fighter.

He always fully committed with that right hand (the shot he hit Davey Moore with springs to mind) and as you rightly say he would lean off to the left after it. Unorthodox but very effective when bringing home the left hook to finish the assault.

He was a wondrous force of nature was Roberto Duran. Thank you for you neat observations Saad.

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uthmaan April 23, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Where can I download the videos from

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paul stevo March 8, 2012 at 1:46 pm

brilliant analysis fran, ive showed it to our pro’s they thought it was great, the amateurs are getting treated to it tonight.
the site is fantastic mate, i love it!

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Fran March 8, 2012 at 10:28 pm

Paul. Coming from a trainer of your quality and standing that really means a lot mate. Mr Duran was quite some fighter, understatement of the week, and there’s always lots to learn from a master boxer like him. If the lads that you work with find this stuff of use that that has made my week. Thanks a lot me owld mate, hope everything’s going well at the gym.

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Ivan June 29, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Duran’s most impressive win in my opinion is the SD against Iran Barkley. Duran gave away 6 inches in height and about 8 inches in reach to his opponent. He also gave him a boxing lesson and a definition of the expression “tough guy”. Barkley comes from the projects in Bronx, he thought he was tougher than them all . He also moved up to heavyweight later on. Duran was a ballooned lightweight with a terrible personality who did not find it necessary to learn English. He spoke Boxing to them all.

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Fran July 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Great shout Ivan. Duran was never gonna win a Nobel Peace Prize, but arguably a more effective and prolonged threat to all from lightweight to middleweight has never graced the ring. the 11th and 12th were particular master classes. Duran’s jab often resembled a long range left uppercut, and it was landed with impacts ranging from hurtful to Armageddon-style extinction events! He was just so good! Thanks Ivan, enjoyed re-watching that one!

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James June 13, 2011 at 6:41 pm

Fran, love your site — I have scoured the internet for boxing skills training and your site is the most comprehensive and technical out there. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise.

After reading your excellent analysis of Pacquiao and now Duran, I have to ask if you would please analyze Tyson! I have a similar bodytype to him and I have studied his style extensively — however I would love to see what insights you could offer.

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Fran June 14, 2011 at 7:26 pm

Hey James. Thanks alot for the compliments mate, it is always welcome to receive a ‘pat on the back’ in this way.

In terms of a Tyson analysis article, absolutely. It’s a great suggestion and I’ll push that to the top of the list of fighters that we can look at. Too often Tyson was considered a ferocious puncher and not much else. This is an all too common misconception, he was a brilliant technical fighter, particularly during the earlier stages of his domination of the heavyweight scene.

It will be about 4 to 6 weeks before I can put something worthwhile together, mainly because of major commitments on launching the Boxing Training Foundation (the first product to be developed from the MyBoxingCoach website) but also because I like to really go in depth on these projects, much more so than just watching the fight (there’s quite a bit of re-watching!) Alongside the Tyson analysis I’ll put out some more free videos around body-punching, particularly the Tysonesque hooks and uppercuts! Keep an eye out mate.

Thanks for the request James, I hope you won’t be disappointed with the result when it arrives.

Cheers

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Tom March 14, 2011 at 1:36 pm

Great article. I agree with you that we will never see another boxer like Duran again. He was truly one of a kind. The Benitez fight definetely showed Durans weaknesses, but part of it was also that Duran was not sharp. Laing did the same thing to him in his next fight. I dont think the Duran that fought Leonard the 1st time would have lost to Benitez. Palomino and Leonard knew by the 2nd round that Duran did not look right in the benitez fight. I think the only fighter that Duran fought that would give him real trouble even when he was in his prime would be Hearns, because of styles. Hearns had a tremendeous height and reach advantage over him combined with speed, power and boxing ability. Hearns actually outboxed Sugar Ray Leonard and Benitez-two of the greatest boxers in history. Hearns only weaknesses were chin and stamina. A prime Duran may have been able to get inside and wear Hearns down, but it would have been tough.

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Fran March 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

Some great points there Tom, and I find it difficult to disagree with anything that you say. I think Hearns would have always caused Duran trouble, you’re right, the clash of styles. I think people often overlook the polished skills of Duran in favour of focussing on the deadly punches and vicious attitude.

You know, whilst I was was putting together a similar article on Pacquiao, there are a few parallels to be drawn with Duran. Cards on the table, I think a ‘tuned in’ Duran would have done Pac, but what a fight!!! Maybe I should put together an ‘Imaginary Matchup’ article and what kind of issues would have been played out if they would have ever met at their respective peeks. Interesting stuff.

Thanks Tom, great comment!

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Karl August 27, 2010 at 9:18 pm

oh believe me. There is plenty of things I need advice on! I have my own list of “things to work on”. lol – video – it’s unforgiving.

But seriously, I would appreciate any advice you can give me. Don’t hold back!!

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Karl August 26, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Well that’s an excellent analysis. I love what you pointed out about the ‘slow-jab’ drawout (0:19 – second vid). That’s a little tid-bit of information that my amatuer eyes wouldn’t be able to appreciate without a little help. Sure enough, he does exactly what you say. Gets me thinking…hmmmm… how could I use that.

When I spare with the experienced fighters in my gym, I notice how hard it is to find an opening. For us beginners its not a problem because we have lots of openings to exploit, but experienced guys are a whole different story. Usually we find ourselves just throwing punches into their blocks and parries.

That is the benefit of an expert analysis. How do you draw out your opponent and create an opening in his defense? Roberto Duran shows an excellent technique and now I’m eager to try it out.

I have to confess, my first impression of Roberto was not positive. I thought he was a bit of a brawler and I didn’t like the mind games he would play on his opponents during the run up to the fight. But as I learn more about him I find myself becoming a bit of a fan. You have to appreciate how far he’s come from his tiny poor village to the top ranks of boxing. I can only imagine the struggles and battles he’s had along the way. Wasn’t he even thrown in jail by his government when he returned to Panama, after he lost a fight to Leonard? I guess someone bigwig lost a bunch of money on a bet.

I’ve ordered the biography you reviewed in the other article. I’m looking forward to reading more about “Manos de Piedra”.

Fran, I’ve been away from your site for awhile. It’s great to see so much new content! I have a lot of reading to do. Over the last few weeks I’ve been working, travelling, and spending time with family. I also had my first amatuer fight!! Which you can see on my youtube channel.

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Fran August 27, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Hey Karl

Really glad that you find the article useful. I’ve plenty more of these in the pipeline so I’ll keep on plugging away. I’ll also make some time to check out your first fight on You Tube, and if I can offer any advice I will do so.

Thanks for the continued support Karl.

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