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.
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.