Boxing's Fab Four Part One: Introduction

Updated: Aug 7, 2019

Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran was born in Chorillo, a slum on the east side of Panama on 16th June 1951. He was raised in great poverty, which would reflect years later in his fighting style. He was known as a 'Cholo' as he had part Indian, part Spanish blood. His absent father was an itinerant American soldier from Arizona who carried the Indian/Mexican heritage, left Duran's mother before he was born.

There are many stories about the escapades of Duran's youth. He learnt to fight on the waterfront and it was said that as a twelve-year-old he struck down grown men with his bare hands. He would make daily raids of the mango plantations, swimming two miles across the Panama Canal with a knife held between his teeth. He would sell the mangoes to help his abandoned mother raise him and his eight siblings. Duran would also busk on the streets,singing and dancing for change, shoe shining, the list is endless. It is also said that when fully grown he knocked a horse senseless with a single blow.

At the age of thirteen he was expelled from school for punching an older assailant down a flight of steps. By the time he was fourteen Duran, who followed his elder brother into a gymnasium supervised by Nestor Quinones, slipped into amateur boxing. After winning thirteen of his sixteen contests he turned professional on 23rd February 1968.

His first opponent was fellow Panamanian Carlos Mendoza, who was looking to go 2-0. The bantamweights had to go the full four round distance, with Duran coming out on top, 40-36 on all three judges cards. Mendoza also became a fighter of note, challenging WBC super-bantamweight champion Wilfredo Gomez in September 1978, losing by a tenth round TKO.

Duran then went on to stop, or knockout his next nine opponents, before being taken the six round distance, winning unanimously against Eduardo Frutos to go 11-0 (9 KO's). Duran kept winning and by his twenty-second contest was a fully fledged lightweight,knocking out Jose Acosta in the first round. In 1971 Carlos Eleta bought his contract for just $300 from Panamanian jockey Alfredo Vazquez.

Carlos Eleta was a millionaire racehorse owner and a former Panamanian tennis player, who had an eye for spotting raw talent and was influential in Latin American sport. He still remembered the youngster who he caught stealing coconuts from his plantation back when Duran was still a street urchin.

Duran with veteran trainer Ray Arcel

Duran fought crudely and was a natural brawler, taking on every contest as a test of strength and will.

In order to refine his new acquisition, Eleta lured the legendary trainer, Ray Arcel, out of retirement. The respected American helped mould sixteen world champions, including Barney Ross, Tony Zale, Ezzard Charles and the Englishman Ted 'Kid' Berg. Eleta also recruited Freddie Brown, another legendary veteran, at Arcel's request.

Still Duran kept winning and on 13th September 1971 made his American debut at Madison Square Garden, New York. He chalked up another knockout victory, stopping Benny Huertas in the first round. Also on the bill that night was Scotland's Ken Buchanan, who successfully defended his WBA lightweight title against Ismael Laguna in a rematch.

Buchanan was bleeding profusely from cuts, but kept his cool to retain his crown with a fifteen round unanimous decision. Both boxers were now on a collision course. Duran went back to Panama and won a further three contests, before challenging the Scot for the world title.

Marvin Hagler

A young Marvin Hagler