Updated: Jul 16, 2020
Born in Puerto Rico on the 2nd of August 1951, Esteban de Jesús was a skilful boxer with a fast array of sharp punches. He turned professional in February 1969, aged eighteen, defeating fellow debutant El Tarita. De Jesus won by a second-round knockout and Tarita never boxed again.
In his twentieth contest, he travelled out of his homeland for the first time to take on Venezuelan Armando Mendoza, in his home city of Caracas. Mendoza had only lost the one contest in his thirteen fight career, but De Jesus kept his undefeated record going with a seventh-round TKO victory.
He next fought 6 weeks later on 24th July 1971, challenging Josue Marquez for his Puerto Rican lightweight championship. Marquez had only been champion for a month after his points win over Victor Ortiz. De Jesus was too good for the defending champion, taking the title with a twelve round points decision.
He knocked out Ortiz in the 4th round, his national title not at stake, before facing Marquez once more at the beginning of September. He had to go the distance again, keeping the crown after twelve rounds.
De Jesus returned to Caracas, where he had four fights, losing the last contest to Antonio Gomez on a ten round points decision. De Jesus dropped to 26-1 (18 KO's), getting back to winning ways with a unanimous decision over journeyman Percy Hayles from Jamaica.
He made his American debut at the Felt Forum in New York, outclassing George Foster. The Puerto Rican put his man down in the second, third & sixth rounds before referee Mark Conn halted proceedings in round eight.
Three weeks later he was at the Felt Forum again, defending his Puerto Rican lightweight title against Josue Marquez. The challenger must have been sick of the sight of De Jesus, who stopped his man in the twelfth and final round, meaning Marquez had lost to the same man three times in a ten month period.
Four victories later he found himself in with the undefeated WBA lightweight champion Roberto Duran, whose title wasn't on the line. The slick De Jesus rocked Duran with a high right hand and moments later the Panamanian was on the canvas from a left hook. Duran got up, shaking his head, smiling from the knockdown. Duran pressed forwards, but it was the slick moves of the Puerto Rican who was landing the telling punches, notably the left hook and the occasional right.
It seemed that Duran couldn't shake off the effects of the left hook, as De Jesus went on to control rounds two through to seven with his combinations and dangerous left hook. His punches were keeping his man bemused and off balance, but De Jesus still had to be careful as Duran was landing some of his trademark solid shots.
A right hand to De Jesus's eye in round 8 looked like Duran would turn the tables on his opponent, but the Puerto Rican survived to win a unanimous decision, as Duran suffered his first defeat in his Thirty Second contest. De Jesus improved to 34-1 (20 KO's) but had to wait until March 1974 to get his shot at Duran's WBA belt.
The victory over Duran earned him a shot at the vacant NABF lightweight title against Ray Lampkin. De Jesus used his superior punching power as he knocked his undefeated opponent down twice in the 1st round and once more in the 12th and final round, winning by a unanimous decision. After another two victories, he defended the NABF belt again against Lampkin. There were no knockdowns as the champion retained the title with another unanimous decision. Four more wins finally got him a rematch with Duran for the WBA lightweight crown. Both men had similar records, the champion was 41-1 whilst De Jesus was 42-1, but the power was with the Panamanian who sported thirty-five knockouts, compared to the challenger's twenty-three.
Duran was a 2/1 favourite to avenge his sole loss, but the Puerto Rican challenger failed to read the script. With ninety seconds of the contest elapsed, Duran found himself on the canvas from a blistering hook, just like in their first meeting. Last time out the champion couldn't shake off the effects of the punch; this time he got up and exchanged blows like nothing had happened
The 2 warriors traded power-punches freely in round 3, with Duran's home crowd cheering with every big shot the Panamanian landed. By the middle rounds the champion was showing his dominance, thanks to his blistering pace and the hot humid conditions his home country had to offer.