December 6, 2023

A subtle act of principled defiance thrills writers and scientists, but the general public rarely gets it. In the wake of the “no mas” debacle, the great puncher became a punchline. Arcel left his camp, at a loss to explain or understand his fighter’s behavior, and Duran himself careened into a disillusionment that kept him out of the ring for nearly a year.

Eventually he laced up his gloves again, and on his 32nd birthday, he got another title shot, against undefeated light middleweight champ Davey Moore. Duran, well past his prime, was not expected to win. But he demolished Moore in eight rounds, setting the stage for a massive match-up with middleweight champ Marvin Hagler. By any estimation, Duran was out of his league when he agreed to challenge Hagler, who resembled a Hollywood thug with a gladiator’s physique. Duran, over-the-hill and markedly smaller than Hagler, astounded the world by going the full 15 rounds before losing by decision. His performance recaptured the world’s respect. His next fight, however, was the worst of his career: a second-round knockout by Thomas Hearns. He had repeated the mistake of the second Leonard fight by coming in out of shape, and Hearns’ stand-up long-reach style flummoxed Duran for the first time in his career. To most people, he was done.

A year and a half later, at 35, he tiptoed back into the ring, starting with some easy fodder in his hometown. His power was gone, but he still had his skills, and he quietly began putting some wins together. Eventually, he did enough to receive a date with Iran Barkley, the WBC middleweight champ. “I was there, in Atlantic City and there was a tremendous energy in the air,” Farrell recalls. The energy flowed through Duran, who pounded Barkley for 12 rounds and won a split decision. “I was in awe,” Rivera says. “They said he was done, then he comes back and beats Barkley the way he did.”

It was Duran’s last hurrah. The Barkley fight got him a second rematch with Leonard, but Duran couldn’t put it together in the ring and he lost by unanimous decision. At this point, though he continued to fight and win against decent competition, Duran’s career was mostly finished. A car accident in Argentina in 2001 forced him to hang up his gloves forever, his final record an incredible 103-16, with 70 knockouts.

In 2002, Ring Magazine named Duran the fifth best fighter of the previous 80 years. In 2007, he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, an honor that seemed to do more than just validate his career; it officially forgave him for No Mas and allowed him once again to be his homeland’s champion. “My country is being inducted as well,” he said, shawled in the Panamanian flag during his induction speech. “The country where I was born, where I live, and where I will die. I’m happy, proud.”

In retirement, Duran has stayed low-key, splitting time between Miami and his beloved Panama. He’s dabbled in fight promotion, built a reputation for charity and goodwill in his homeland, and supported his daughter, Irichelle, a professional boxer.

Today, Duran is still Panama’s most famous athlete, perhaps its most famous citizen. The Nueva Panama Coliseum, site of many of Duran’s early fights, has been renamed Roberto Duran Coliseum. In August of this year he will be headed to big screen as the the biopic Hands of Stone starring Edgar Ramirez as Duran and Robert DeNiro as Ray Arcel will be released. Perhaps, allowing the entire world to get a 360 view of Duran, his career and life outside the ring.

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