The film Hands of Stone, the story of boxer Roberto Durán, hits theaters today, and it’s no surprise it got made. There’s more than a touch of Rocky Balboa to Durán. A poor boy from Panama, he achieved American celebrity by taking on a series of fighters both younger and bigger than him.
However, nobody ever compared Rocky to Charles Manson, which is how heavyweight legend Joe Frazier described Durán’s ring entrance.
And come to think of it, Rocky never followed around Apollo Creed’s wife, talking about how he’d make love to her after killing her husband—as Durán did to Sugar Ray Leonard’s spouse.
Quite simply, Durán has had a life big and weird enough to fill a Netflix series for at least two seasons. Here are the highlights.
Durán hung up his gloves with 103 wins and 16 losses, with 70 knockouts. Let’s put this in perspective. Sugar Ray Leonard fought 40 times, going 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts.
1. He Had to Start Fighting Early. Margarito Durán was a 22-year-old in the U.S. Army when he fathered Roberto, who was born in 1951. Decades later, Margarito recalled being transferred by the Army and completely losing touch with his son: “I was sent to Arkansas in, I think, ’54. That was the last I heard of him.” Living a life of extreme poverty, Roberto got his first pro victory in 1968 at just 16.
2. He Was a Ludicrously Good Lightweight. No one has ever dominated anything the way Durán dominated this. In a weight class with a maximum of 135 pounds, he went an absurd 71-1. The only blemish: He lost once by decision to Esteban de Jesus, but knocked him out in both their rematches.
3. He Stepped Up to Sugar. Durán went up to 147 pounds to fight Leonard at welterweight in 1980. The biggest boxing star since Muhammad Ali–Leonard even used Ali’s trainer, Angelo Dundee–Leonard was 27-0 with a gold medal. What’s more, he was fighting at his natural weight class. (Also, Leonard was deeply angry with Durán, on account of Durán stalking his wife and such.) So it came as a shock when…
4. He Beat Sugar. Leonard later reflected, “I didn’t know he could hit that hard. That son of a bitch can hit. He hit me so friggin’ hard for 15 rounds.” A winner by decision, Durán achieved almost cartoonish levels of super-villainy during the bout: In addition to Leonard’s insulted wife reportedly fainting in the 8th round, afterwards he contemptuously waved off Leonard’s attempts to congratulate him, pointed to his crotch while calling Leonard a pussy in Spanish and decked Ray’s brother Roger in the post-fight bedlam, as if he couldn’t get his fill of hitting Leonards. Related to this…
5. He Impressed a Young Mike Tyson. Tyson has declared Durán his favorite fighter: “When I saw Durán fight, he was just a street guy. He’d say stuff to his opponents like, ‘Suck my fucking dick, you motherfucker. Next time, you’re going to the fucking morgue.’ After he beat Sugar Ray Leonard in that first fight, he went over to where Wilfred Benitez was sitting and he said, ‘Fuck you. You don’t have the heart or the balls to fight me.’… Man, this guy is me, I thought.”
6. He Says He Never Said “No Mas.” Ahead of their second fight, Leonard trained relentlessly while Durán chose to “drink, eat and party with my friends who are millionaires.” He insists he never used the actual words “no mas” with the referee during the Leonard rematch later that year. Indeed, it appears he quit because he desperately needed to poop.
Tell us more, Christie Brinkley, who, in addition to being a supermodel, found time to photograph the fight (seriously, kids, the ’80s were awesome): “I was at the eight o’clock weigh-in that morning, and Durán didn’t make it… I knew what he was doing during those four hours: laxatives, steam room, all that stuff in order to make the weight. And you know, those laxatives don’t stop working just because the fight’s on. Here you’ve got macho man in the ring… and that’s what happened. No mas! Get me to the bathroom!”
7. He Continued Fighting, Even As He Got Much Bigger. Durán kept moving up the ranks as a super welterweight (up to 154 pounds), a middleweight (up to 160) and a super middleweight (up to 168). Any time a boxer moves up in weight, he discovers that he doesn’t hit as hard while his opponents are hitting harder, making the repeated climbs particularly impressive. For a bonus level of difficulty, Durán fought younger opponents, notably legends “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler (nearly three years younger), Leonard (nearly five), Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns (seven), Wilfred “Bible of Boxing” Benitez (seven), Iran “The Blade” Barkley (nearly nine) and Héctor “Macho” Camacho (nearly 11).
8. He Was Written Off Prematurely. In its February 8, 1982, issue, Sports Illustrated declared: “It’s probably safe to bet the rent that Roberto Durán will never again be paid to appear in short pants and padded mitts.” They missed the mark by just a little, in the sense that he fought another 42 times over 19 years and won middleweight and super middleweight titles, before finally retiring in 2001 at age 49.
9. He Compiled a Ridiculous Record. Durán hung up his gloves with 103 wins and 16 losses, with 70 of those victories by knockout. Let’s put this in perspective. Leonard fought 40 times, going 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts. Mike Tyson fought 56 times (50-6 with 46 knockouts). Muhammad Ali fought 61 times (56-5 with 37 knockouts). Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins, who made his pro debut in 1988 at age 23 and famously won a title at 49, has only fought 64 times, going 55-7-2 with 35 knockouts. If you take Floyd Mayweather’s career and add his dad Floyd Sr.’s career, it still only comes out to a combined 77-6-1 with 43 knockouts. Essentially, the man had enough career for two or three Hall of Fame fighters.
10. Still, After All Those Matches, He Didn’t Want to Retire. Interviewed in 2006, Durán explained how a near-fatal car accident stopped him from fighting: “Eight broken ribs. A punctured lung. A broken nose. And I still have pain in my ribs. My doctors have told me that my lungs will never be the same. And since I can’t breathe properly, I’ll never be able to fight again.” (Another reason Durán probably shouldn’t have been fighting: He was frickin’ 55 years old.)
11. People Wrote Music About Him. Durán makes people break into song. Boxer Paul Thorn was knocked out by Durán and turned to music, resulting in the tune “I’d Rather Be a Hammer Than a Nail.” Boxing fan Miles Davis gave him “Duran.” And Roberto himself has proven to be a surprisingly catchy salsa performer, as you can see here. (And yes, props to him for performing the song in the ring.)
And above all…
12. Durán Pulled a Real-Life Mongo. Who doesn’t love Blazing Saddles? I mean, so ridiculous, right? Er, no, because apparently Durán really did knock out a horse. Take it away, Roberto: “Someone bet me a bottle of whiskey that I couldn’t do it. I didn’t know where to hit the horse—it didn’t seem to have a jaw. But my uncle, Socrates, told me to catch it just behind the ear and down it went… I ripped my hand open. You could see right down to the bone. But I was too drunk to feel it and I won the bet.”
Hands of Stone, indeed.