Why Roberto Durán Is the Greatest Boxer of All Time

Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard
Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard
Duran tangles with Marvelous Marvin Hagler
Duran tangles with Marvelous Marvin Hagler
Duran with Rocky Balboa
Duran with Rocky Balboa
Duran in retirement
Duran in retirement

"Hands of Stone" is now a movie!

Roberto Durán wasn’t just a great boxer; his career was legendary, his boxing accomplishments hard to believe. He fought in 119 professional contests, winning 103 (70 by knockout) and lost only 16. He won titles in four different weight classes and fought in five decades, the 1960s through the 2000s, and he was 50 years old when he fought his last fight.

Oh yeah, when Durán was 14, he reputedly knocked down a mule with one punch! This story doesn’t seem like fiction, because Durán was a fierce puncher whose competitiveness often astonished the crowd. In such a contest, few would have bet on the mule!

Let’s explore the career of Roberto Durán, alias, Manos de Piedra, translated in Spanish as Hands of Stone. Was he truly the greatest boxer of all time?

Mean Streets of Panama

Roberto Durán was born in 1951 in Panama and grew up in the slums of El Chorrillo in the district of La Casa de Piedra (House of Stone) in Panama. Yes, Hands of Stone came from the House of Stone. Who would believe it?

After a brief amateur career, Durán began his professional boxing career in 1968 when he was just 16. Fighting with little professional training, he still managed to win his first 21 fights without a loss, before wealthy landowner Carlos Eleta bought his contract for $300 and then hired trainers Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown to teach Durán the finer points of pugilism.

Durán then went from being a devastating puncher to one with excellent defensive skills. Oh, yes, and he could also throw a great left jab and take a punch, both required attributes of a champion.

First Title Fight

Initially, Durán fought as a featherweight (127 lbs.), but his first title fight was for the World Boxing Association (WBA) lightweight championship (135 lbs.) against Ken Buchanan at the famous Madison Square Garden in 1972. Durán battered Buchanan about the ring for 13 rounds, was way ahead on all score cards, and then at the end of the thirteenth round hit Buchanan with a body shot that Buchanan’s trainer considered a low blow caused by a knee to the groin, which video showed was not the case. Nevertheless, since Buchanan couldn’t continue the fight, Durán won the championship on a technical knockout (TKO).

Thereafter, as far as some people were concerned, Durán was a dirty fighter, though anyone with two good eyes knew he didn’t have to be. At this point in Durán’s career, he was 29 and zero.

Career as a Lightweight

Durán won his first 31 fights and then fought a nontitle light welterweight bout against Esteban de Jesús, who, a stylish boxer, outpointed Durán for ten rounds and won the contest with a unanimous decision. This was Duran’s first loss in 31 fights.

Two years later, in a rematch against de Jesús, Durán, repeatedly landing a left hook to the body, slowly wearing down de Jesús, finally knocked him out with a vicious – and memorable - right cross to the head in the eleventh round. For years, boxing fans remembered that punch. (Please note, in those days all championship fights lasted 15 rounds, not 12 as is the case nowadays.)

Sugar Ray Leonard

Durán, after amassing a record of 62 and 1, gave up his lightweight title in 1979 and began fighting as a welterweight (147 pounds). Continuing to win, Duran eventually squared off against Sugar Ray Leonard, the undefeated WBC welterweight champion. The fight took place at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, where Leonard had won a gold medal in boxing in the 1976 Olympics.

Duran didn’t like the fact that he would be paid one-fifth of what Sugar Ray was supposed to make, so he taunted and insulted Leonard in press conferences before the fight, hoping to intimidate him. Well, apparently Durán shook up Sugar Ray, because in the fight he continually beat Leonard to the punch, winning a unanimous 15-round decision, the fight later dubbed as the “Brawl in Montreal.”

The “No Mas” Debacle

In his first fight against Sugar Ray Leonard, Durán seemed to have the mental edge, which is very important in a fight, almost as important as the physical aspect. But in the second one, fought just five months later, Leonard was determined to intimidate the Durán. For instance, in the seventh round, Leonard wound up with a right handed bolo punch and then hit Durán with his left hand. Then, during the eighth round, Leonard landed a solid uppercut against Durán, who turned and walked away from Leonard and declared, “No más!” (no more), ending the fight. A TV analyst for the fight, heavyweight champion Larry Holmes kept saying “I don’t understand.” Seemingly, only Durán understood why he quit.

This was indeed a humiliating defeat for Durán, and if his career had ended at this point, he could have been labeled the biggest chump in the history of boxing. But Durán did what many people have done in the world of sport and the movies too, for that matter.

Always having a flair for the dramatic, Roberto Durán redeemed himself.

The Big Comeback

On a related note, Durán had a cameo role as a sparring partner in the movie Rocky II, in which the comeback kid himself Rocky Balboa wants another shot at the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed.

Durán soon climbed back into the ring, fighting as a light middleweight (154 lbs.). He lost fights close fights against Wilfred Benitez and Kirkland Laing. Then Durán signed a contract with legendary promoter Bob Arum and got a title shot at hard-hitting Pipino Cuevas, knocking out Cuevas in just the fourth round.

Also, in November 1983, Durán fought “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler, the great middleweight champion. Durán survived 15 rounds with Hagler, at the time, the only fighter to do so. Durán was ahead on the scorecards after 12 rounds but Hagler prevailed in the last three, winning the contest.

Next, Durán fought another title fight, this time in June 1986 against WBA light middleweight champion Davey Moore. By the fourth round, Durán said he knew Moore couldn’t hurt him, so he relentlessly stalked the champion, eventually knocking him down with a thunderous right hand in the seventh round and the fight was stopped in the eighth, as Moore could no longer continue. As coincidence would have it, this was Durán’s thirty-second birthday. After the contest, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Durán, who sobbed openly.

Regardless of the circumstances, Durán was nearly always a crowd pleaser and a hero to Latinos throughout the world, and the infamous “No Mas Debacle,” as the great announcer Howard Cosell dubbed it, became a distant memory.

In 1989, Durán fought Iran Barkley, the WBC middleweight champion (160 lbs). He knocked down Barkley in the eleventh round and then won a close decision. Since Durán was 37 at the time, it is considered one of the highest achievements of his career. Ring magazine called it the greatest fight of the year.

Twilight Years

Now in his forties, Durán continued fighting as a middleweight throughout the 1990s. Against many opponents, he looked very impressive, and he managed to win the NBA super middleweight title in 2000, beating Pat Lawlor. Nevertheless, he lost three of his last five fights, which must have told him something. Finally, in July 2001, he lost the super middleweight title fighting against Hector “Macho” Camacho and retired at . . . 50!


Today, there aren’t many professional boxers who will fight in over 100 bouts, much less win 103 of them. There aren’t many who will fight until they’re 50 years old either. Roberto Durán was certainly the last of a dying breed, soon to become extinct, it appears.

But Durán didn’t simply fight for a long time (34 years); he was a great puncher-boxer with a stainless steel jaw and the heart of a tyrannosaurus. People liked him too and enjoyed his panache and ferocity. Only once did he throw in the towel, but he made up for this “bad night” many times over.

Many boxing purists think Durán was the greatest lightweight fighter of all time, and this is almost certainly true. However, many think he was even better – the greatest fighter of all time. How about you?

Please leave a comment.

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Comments 42 comments

Trev Crowe 6 weeks ago

Anyone of the named fighters would not of lived at his natural weight. Without any doubt the full package, Greatest of all time. Roberto Duran.

Manuel 2 months ago

Hearns and Barkley were 6´1´. Leonard , Hagler and Davy Moore were 5´10´. Duran was 5´7. Do you think Mayweather would fight somebody that is 6´1? He will not even fight Golovkin who is 5´10.

Maltin 2 months ago

Duran es el mejor Peso Ligero de la historia y el mas grande boxeador latino.

Peleo contra los mejores y dio siempre ventaas de edad, alcance, estatura y peso y jamas puso condiciones o huyo de nadie.

No fue nunca apoyado por el CMB ni por Don King, ni le inflaron el records para hacerlo leyenda.

Que los mexicanos lo odien y no lo reconozcan como el mejor es algo insignificante, pues en el mundo entero a Duran si se le reconoce su grandeza

Russell 2 months ago

This entire article is a joke. Greatest boxer ever? Groupie galore. "No mas"

Ray 2 months ago

Duran TBE no doubt in my mind.

Dennis Ramdas 3 months ago

Certainly not the greatest however definitely in the Top 10. The fact that the majority of boxers from yesterday and today idolise him tells a lot.

jc 3 months ago

Dura was the greatest boxing writers even voted him fighter of the decade of the 70s over Ali . Ali stature grew bizarrely after he retired. Duran jumped over the junior welterweight division straight into the welterweight division and beat Ray Leonard in his prime. If leonard was the lightweight we would be talking about him right now. Then a few years later he gets in their with the great marvin hagler and gives him the fight of his life. Andfi Duran was only 5 ft 7 inches he was not a middleweight but if you watch his fights against Iran Barkley and even a close defeat against Robbie Sims man this guy could still punch real hard and hurt big middlewaeights. what Duran did would be like an ageing Shane Mosley getting in the ring with a prime glovekin and giving him the fight of his life.

john smith 4 months ago

Duran did things no other boxer could do like go 12 rounds with Hagler in his prime and he was the only boxer to beat Sugar Ray in his prime

I don't think Duran can be judged by the Hearns defeat because Hearns was freakishly good that night and one of the biggest punchers in history. The amount of punishment Duran took was incredible. It looked like Duran wasn't ready for that fight.

Also, the No Mas thing is ridiculous. It means nothing. Does anyone really think Duran lacks heart? Give me a break!

No Mas was a freakish incident that didnt reflect any deeper truth about Duran as a boxer.

Without question, Duran is the greatest of all-time, the only one who comes close is Muhammad Ali.

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Kosmo 7 months ago from California Author

Thanks for paying attention, Luis!

Luis 7 months ago

For me he is the greatest. Never seen any other boxer beating much younger and bigger opponents. Imagine yourself fighting a man more than 10 years younger and who’s natural weight is 30 or 40 pound above yours.

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Kosmo 10 months ago from California Author

I remember Buchanan - he was a stylish boxer but lacked power, a great match for Duran's strength and iron jaw. Anyway, in Duran's second fight against De Jesus, he knocked out De Jesus in the seventh round, a most memorable KO I seem to recall!

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gconeyhiden 10 months ago from Brooklyn, N.Y.C. U.S.A

Jeff Gordon, I was in Madison Sq. Garden the night Ken Buchanan defended his lightweight title against Laguna in rubber match. Duran was in undercard in his 1st. app. in US. andKO'd very game but over confident opponent. I was watching w my dad w binoculars from good but cheap seats seats. Buchanan was indeed a wonderful classic boxer who was full of fire but very disciplined. I used to wonder what really happened against Duran as my dad didn't buy tickets and it wasn't on TV. I came almost to the same conclusion you do in your comment..The end of their title fight really stunk ....really AWFUL. And then it app. Duran just didn't want to give Buchanan a much needed rematch. He was one of the few lightweights around who could go 15 rds. with young Duran, question is, could he beat him. I finally saw the Buchanan Duran fight..well a lot of it yrs later. Buchanan was putting up a good fight throughout considering he was being out gunned. Trouble was Buchanan was really a beautiful classic boxer, good defense w slight old school movements that gave his opponents trouble as he picked them apart from the outside. He had a good stiff straight jab but he really didn't have one punch KO power. He could have landed two perfect hooks against Duran and still not KO him. The low left hook thrown at the bell by Duran wasn't seen by the ref. The commission should have called for an immediate rematch. Buchanan surely deserved it. but I have to say, given the speed, power, aggression and conditioning of young Duran its obvious he had a distinct advantage over game cock Buchanan. against a young Duran only De Jesus and Leonard showed they could match up to him. De Jesus knocked him down and won 10 rd. non title fight then was beaten down by Duran in late rd. of title rematch. I think De Jesus also deserved another shot, a rubber match because De Jesus was very talented strong boxer puncher, His fights w Duran are classics.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 10 months ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, gconeyhiden. Hey, you certainly seem to know a lot about boxing and have actually seen, in person, some classic fights. Hail to you, sir! Anyway, I think they should return to 15-round fights - that's when you discover who's really the best fighter on that particular night. Leonard and Duran had a third fight, didn't they? I'll have to watch that some day. Later!

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gconeyhiden 10 months ago from Brooklyn, N.Y.C. U.S.A

I was in Madison sq. Garden and saw Duran in his very first pro fight, a 1st. rd. KO. so it would be fitting for me to agree w you, but I don't. I do however rank him as one of the all-time greatest, and perhaps the greatest lightweights of all time. I saw many of Duran's fights live on TV and in their 1st. fight Duran was surprised by De Jesus, a great puncher boxer. I won money on the first Duran vs Leonard fight as I took advantage of 2-1 money. But Leonard did something nobody really could do against Duran, granted it was kind of dumb, something Mayweather surely wouldn't have the balls to do. Leonard full of his own greatness thought he could beat Duran at his own game. Despite giving away smart advantages he almost pulled it off! Yes Duran may have won unanimous decision but it was very close in reality. by the 15th rd. Leonard was toying w Duran. he knew he had absorbed everything Duran came w that night and ray was full of fire, in tremendous shape. Leonard could have gone 20 rds. that night like the great old timers and come away w the win I knew the rematch would have a different ending.

duff gordon 17 months ago




argument every time. Duran was scared enough to cheat. The score up to that point is meaningless because I saw Kenny in good shape and could have snapped duran's head back, but instead duran snapped kenny's balls back and making his cup useless. The difference between the head and the groin duran had a hard time figuring out- KB knew the difference

alex 21 months ago

Greatest ever no doubt Manos De Piedra

Paddy Dwyer 2 years ago

I'm a bit late to this but Duran was an ATG - no doubt. And my favourite fighter of all time. He sits #3 on my all time P4P list behind only SRR and Joe Louis.

As for the Aaron Pryor talk, it's revisionist history. At no point in time was Pryor at the same weight to fight any of the Fab Four (SRL, Duran, Hearns and Hagler). Pryor was a great fighter in his own right but stuck at 140lbs while the rest of boxing looked to fight at welter or middleweight. Add Pryor's personal problems into the mix and it was down to no one else but himself that Pryor didn't get the fights which his talent deserved.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 3 years ago from California Author

Yes, Tommy the Hit Man beat Duran as badly as he's ever been beaten. Duran had so man great fights - that's why he's the greatest of all time. Don't you agree, Elio? Later!

Elio 3 years ago

Duran was the best ever...Too bad his parties didn't agree with the sports.

I also found out that he was very ill, and nearly 20 pounds over the limit like a week before the Tommy Hearns fight....

Alex McC. 3 years ago

Manos De Piedra.

Greatest Fighter of all time.

No - one comes close.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 3 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, lesliebyars. Yes, indeed, Roberto Duran is one for the books. Even at the age of 50 he was a champion - the super middleweight title, actually, then lost it to the Macho Man. What a career! Later!

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lesliebyars 3 years ago from Alabama

He is definitely the best lightweight boxer ever. I rank him number 5 on my all time list though. His victory over Sugar Ray and his middleweight title win over Iran Barkley during his later years was amazing and brutal. Hands of Stone is a true all time great.

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Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

You're right, BlackandGoldJack, Pryor doesn't belong with the likes of Duran, Leonard, Hearns and Hagler, great fighters all of them. Nevertheless, Pryor was very good until he "smoked" his way out of the boxing picture. Too bad. Later!


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

Hey Harry,

I've heard the rumors about Leonard and Pryor, and I just don't believe Leonard ducked anyone.

Pryor doesn't belong in the conversation with Duran, Leonard, Hearns, and Hagler. The latter are a notch above him. Now as far as these 4 go, they all fought each other, and nobody came out of it undefeated. So take your pick. You probably could make a case for any of the 4 being the best.

I just wish there were fights like those 4 put on now.

Harry. 4 years ago

To BLACKANDGOLDJACK. The reason I mention Aaron Pryor, is that he challenged Leonard to fight him, and he was a light welterweight. Leonard declined. Now Pryor had fought Arguello, who I think is one of the greats. Buy Leonard wouldn't fight Pryor who was lighter than him, and a threshing machine to add. Leonard always had the say on weight and when the fight should take place. There is also the rumour that Leonard moved up a weight before the olympics to avoid Pryor. And as for Thomas " The Motor City Cobra" Hearns, he was a great fighter himself, and I thought he beat Leonard quite comfortably in their second fight. If you look at the history of Hearns-Duran, you will see that Duran was not well before their fight. I don't think Duran would have beaten Hearns. Duran and Cuevas were meant for him. But if Pryor had weighed that bit more, he could well have been in the mix. And please check out what is said about Leonard ducking Pryor. And just to finish, Leonard has recently said that the man who hit him hardest was Duran, and the best defensive fighter he faced was Duran. I think the phrase " could'nt hit him with a hand full of rice " comes to mind. God Bless and thank you. Harry.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Yeah, the Hearns/Hagler bout was certainly a slugfest of note and definitely one to check out on YouTube - assuming it's there. Ha! Later!


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

Yeah Kosmo, he got clocked. Hey, how about that Hearns/Hagler fight? Man, what a war. Makes me want to go watch it again on YouTube or somewhere.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for reminding me of Tommy "the Hitman" Hearns. On that particular day, he certainly whipped Duran. Ouch! Roberto can probably still feel that punch (or punches)! Later!


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

Hey Harry,

Thomas Hearns destroyed Roberto Duran in 2 rounds. Probably Duran's worst fight, perhaps excluding "No Mas."

If Leonard fought Duran, Hearns, and Hagler, why would he duck Aaron Pryor? Do you think Duran, Hearns, and Hagler would have beaten Aaron Pryor?

Harry. 4 years ago

Sugar Ray Leonard was very clever asking for the second bout with Roberto just five months later. Although Roberto quit, I think it says more about the shambles his life was in at the time and the fact that his training had been about losing weight rather than the fight in hand. Leonard had a habit of setting fights up to his benefit. Leonard was good, but Duran was great. And their lies the difference. Maybe we should ask some of his other opponents. How about Thomas Hearns for one. I also think a certain fighter called Aaron Pryor called him out. I wonder why he didn't accept that challenge? I don't think Pryor called for special weghts. Leonard was a good fighter, not a great one. Thank you so much for letting me comment again...Harry.

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Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for providing the voice of experience, blackandgoldjack! In the boxing world, those were heady times when Sugar Ray and Duran fought those classic matches, and yes, boxing fans are probably the rowdiest bunch of fans and hooligans outside of a soccer game in the UK. Later!


BLACKANDGOLDJACK 4 years ago from Blitzburgh area

I don't know about greatest, but he was one helluva fighter. The atmosphere at his fights was incredible.

I saw him fight live once in Erie, PA, in 1976 when he chased around an undefeated boxer/dancer named Lou Bizzarro for 14 rounds until he finally caught him. I watched the "Brawl in Montreal" and "No Mas" Sugar Ray Leonard fights at closed circuit locations. And I'm telling you, it was rowdy. You had fans of both fighters screaming at every punch in the first fight. The "No Mas" fight was different. People couldn't believe what they were seeing. And then at the end, they screamed for their money back.

Yes indeed, those were the days.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Harry, you're definitely right about two things: Sugar Ray R0binson was the greatest Sugar Ray and Roberto Duran was the greatest boxer of all time. Duran could make a comeback and still win a title. Later!

Harry. 4 years ago

Hi Boxing fans. In my opinion, the only fighter who I might put above Roberto Duran would be Sugar Ray Robinson, the only Sugar Ray worth mentioning. Leonard used to plan his fights to his advantage. He would make fighters weigh a certain amount before he would fight them. Has anyone ever heard of Duran doing that? I don't think so. He would fight anyone at their natural weight with no excuses. Don't get me wrong, Leonard was a good fighter, but not a great one. He never dominated a division like Duran did. I have nothing but respect for any boxer who steps between the ropes, they are all heroes to me. But to class Leonard above Duran is a travesty of justice. In the words of the late Harry Mullan, Duran is the finest fighter to ever walk this planet. And please don't anyone take offence, I mean no slur on any fighters name and achievements. But there isn't a boxer around today that could have beaten him in his prime. Thank you for letting me comment. Sincerely, Harry.

Kosmo profile image

Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Mark Fowler. Duran was definitely the greatest fighter of all time. Later!

Mark Fowler 4 years ago

I agree the best Fighter i have watched a credit the the game

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Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

I appreciate the comment, jpcmc. And thanks for pointing out that many boxing fans still talk about how great Duran was. Later!

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jpcmc 4 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

My dad can't stop talking about him. He's like a superhero to him. This hub is a great tribute to a boxing legend!

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Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, arizonataylor. Duran was truly the greatest of all time, unless it was Ali, Louis, Johnson, Robinson . . . Hey! Later!

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arizonataylor 4 years ago from Arizona

Great article. I think you may be right. Duran, in any book, was at least one of the best, perhaps the best. Any look at his record and opponent quality reveals how great he was. More than that, he was exciting. Again, I appreciate your article. Great job.

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Kosmo 4 years ago from California Author

Thanks for the comment, Axaflaxar. Duran was definitely one of a kind. Later!

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Axaflaxar 4 years ago from Virginia

He was awesome...Period!

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