The Tao Of Roberto Duran

It’s been more than two full decades since the final entry in the amazing prizefighting career of  the legendary warrior they call “Manos de Piedra,” but the standing of Roberto Duran has not diminished in the least in the time since, quite the opposite. In fact, any serious ranking of today’s greatest living boxers is almost certain to have Duran at the top, such are his accomplishments and his reputation as a true, pound-for-pound all-time great. Among other things, Duran is renowned for his ruthless domination of the lightweight division in the 1970’s, not to mention impressive victories over such top talents as Ken Buchanan, Ernesto Marcel, Guts Ishimatsu, Esteban De Jesus, Saoul Mamby, Carlos Palomino, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pipino Cuevas, Davey Moore and Iran Barkley.

Roberto Duran
Duran dominating former champ Palomino in 1979.

Duran would go on to claim four divisional world titles and he is regarded as one of the best inside fighters of all-time, not to mention both a great body puncher and a ferocious finisher. In recent years books, documentaries and even a Hollywood film have chronicled his amazing career and tumultuous life. Clearly Roberto Duran is more than just an outstanding prizefighter; he is a phenomenon and one of the greatest boxers, pound-for-pound, to ever step through the ropes.

All of which begs the question: how did he do it? What specific skills and tactics separate the great Roberto Duran from his peers and from other champions who were merely excellent? These questions lead us to one of Lee Wylie‘s great masterpieces, his in-depth look at the ring mastery of one of the best to ever do it, the incomparable Roberto Duran. Supplemented here with Lee’s detailed notes for each specific tactic (look below), this video is the perfect tribute to the unique combination of craft, power, talent and ferocity that is the ring genius whose career stretched for four decades and saw him become a living legend. Check it out:

Scroll One: Feinting (0:16)
Few were as deceitful between the ropes as “Manos De Piedra.” Duran used feints to throw off timing and create openings for attack and also to note his opponent’s tendencies. But above all, Duran used feints to threaten opponents and keep them on tenterhooks. Once Roberto had established that he could hurt his man, the effectiveness of the feints increased and everything else became easier. Just look at poor Carlos Palomino flinching from Duran’s menacing feints in the opening segment.

Scroll Two: Rolling, Slipping, and Ducking (1:00)
Duran may have been an offensive fighter first and foremost, but he was also a defensive master, brilliant at blocking and parrying punches or stepping in to smother them. It was the evasive movement from the waist, however, which made Roberto especially difficult to hit cleanly and enabled him to stay in range to return fire. Watch how Duran skillfully makes Pipino Cuevas miss with four consecutive punches simply by bending at the waist and moving his torso. Or how he stands in the pocket with Davey Moore, effortlessly rolling the right hand and then ducking under the hook.

Roberto Duran
Ink drawing by Damien Burton.

Scroll Three: Ducking, Weaving, and Countering (2:03)
This segment showcases Duran’s seamless transitions between defense and attack at mid to close range. Considering how aggressive he was, Duran’s punch anticipation was phenomenal, and he was an expert at predicting his opponent’s most likely counter-attack based on his own attack. So instead of waiting for openings to appear, Duran would create and exploit them proactively (i.e. throw a right to the body―immediately weave right to evade a counter left hook―then throw a left to the body directly off the weave). Essentially, what you’re seeing here is Duran countering the counter.

Scroll Four: Waltzing (2:52)
Duran’s rendition of a “waltz.” After slipping or ducking a right hand, Duran would place his left arm around his opponent’s waist and then spin him while pivoting in the opposite direction. Before the opponent could recover his balance, Duran would attack. This technique was especially useful for when Duran had his back to the ropes as it allowed him to reverse positions and regain the upper hand.

Roberto Duran
Ink drawing by Damien Burton

Scroll Five: Shifting (3:41)
Here we see Duran stepping through off his right hand to craftily close the distance and get weight behind an unpredictable left from the southpaw stance. The beauty of some of these clips is that they also highlight how Duran would punch and then immediately look to snake his arms inside of the opponent’s to gain the positional advantage for in-fighting.

Scroll Six: Baiting with the Jab (4:36)
This one is self-explanatory. Here, Duran uses a “pawing” jab as bait to draw out an attack from the opponent, usually a return jab, which he would then evade and counter. Incidentally, if you go back and watch the final clip of the “Ducking, Weaving, and Countering” segment, you will see Duran using his jab to coax one from Davey Moore so that he could duck underneath it and attack the body.

Scroll Seven: Tactile Reflexes (5:49)
The closer you are to your opponent, the more difficult it is to see and react to an attack. Therefore, the ability to “see” with the hands, arms, and body in order to “feel” the opponent’s intentions and respond instantaneously to his movements is crucial for inside fighting. Duran’s sense of touch was so heightened that I often wonder if he trained blindfolded. No, seriously.

Roberto Duran

Scroll Eight: The Uppercut (6:51)
Arguably his signature technique, Duran was brilliant at pinning the opponent’s right arm with his left glove and then throwing the uppercut with his right hand. Often throwing it sideways across himself, Duran required little space for the uppercut to find its mark.

Scroll Nine: In-fighting (7:40)
Most of the categories overlap and Duran’s superlative in-fighting features strongly throughout the video. But the last few clips against Ray Leonard and Carlos Palomino really put everything together. Spacial awareness; jockeying for the sought-after inside position with his arms; tactile sensitivity; savvy use of the head; switching his attack from side to side; pinning with one hand while hitting with the other; defensive craft and counter-punching; perfectly placed blows to the head and body: the genius of Duran is on full display here.

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5 thoughts on “The Tao Of Roberto Duran

  • January 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

    Duran is one of the most natural FIGHTERS ever. That waltzing move is pure instinct. Thanks for posting.

  • January 17, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I’d be interested to know who you’d back in a hypothetical Duran-Chavez fight at lightweight, Lee? Probably up there with my favourite hypothetical showdowns.

    • June 19, 2019 at 5:18 pm

      Que diablos tiene Chavez que ver con la carera de Duran?
      Por Dios!! La gente debe enentener que ambos brillarone n eras distintas, ante calidad de rivales distitnos y en divisiones distintas.
      Vamos acompar a Duran con gente de su epoca o de su era boxistica o de su division como fueron Benny Leonard, Ike Willams, Joe Gans, Carlos Ortiz, etc. Chavez es de otra epoca y sus logros mas notables fue en otra division.

  • January 20, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Great post, thanks!


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