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I am Duran


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: January 5, 2017, New Delhi
Tags : Roberto Duran | Macmillan |



Author: Roberto Duran

Publisher: Macmillan




Price: Rs 499

If you are a boxer and don’t compete in the Heavyweight or Super Heavyweight categories, life is going to be a tad difficult. It will be more so if you want fame more than money. That is what the history of boxing has taught us.

Let’s admit that apart from the most enthusiastic of followers of the sport, most people don’t know many boxers outside these two categories. So much so, that when Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao sparred in what was considered the greatest boxing match of this century, pretty few outside of the game knew them. It simply did not matter that they were five division and eight division world champions respectively. What ultimately mattered was it was not a fight to reclaim the Heavyweight or Super Heavyweight crown.

Under the circumstances, it won't be surprising if one has not heard the name of a sensation called Roberto Duran. Nicknamed “Manos de Piedra” or “Hands of Stone,” Duran was a champion across four weight categories and one of the very few boxers to have competed across five decades. Such was his impact that when he left the sport at the age of 51, it was not because of loss of form, but due to a life threatening accident.

Continuously figuring in the list of all-time greatest boxers, Duran’s life is one masala movie. There were a few biographies in the market, but none of them could match up to the excitement that his life had thrown to the fans and detractors alike.

In came Macmillan with a six-figure deal and Duran agreed to have his “autobiography” ghost-written by Orlando Sentinel’s George Diaz. The result is I am Duran.

Considering it is based on the life of one of the most colourful and mercurial boxers that the world has seen, I am Duran reads like a thriller. It starts with a prologue where, rather unsurprisingly, Duran goes on to give the readers a piece of
his mind.

And so, in January 2002, I retired. I guess I was OK with leaving the sport like that, though before that accident I’d never given any thought to retiring, not even a few months earlier when I’d lost to Héctor ‘Macho’ Camacho. If I hadn’t been hurt so badly in that accident, I don’t know if I would have carried on fighting. In fact, being in good shape from that Camacho fight is probably what saved me in the crash. But even though I was fifty when I retired, I would gladly have beaten the crap out of all the deadbeats in the sport. The same goes with the boxers today: Pacquiao, Mayweather – they’re pitiful. I could have beaten all of them,” it reads.

The book then starts with his childhood, spent in abject poverty in the slums of Panama. The book deals with this section in vivid detail and almost no political correctness. This can also be because the ghost writer wanted to make readers believe that it is indeed Duran who is writing the book.

Duran’s rise started in 1972, when he beat Ken Buchanan to win the World Lightweight Championship at Madison Square Garden. Such was his overnight popularity that General Omar Torrijos, Panama’s then coup leader, actually sent a planeload of champagne and caviar to honour the 21-year-old. Duran had many more surprises waiting.

The book follows his rise in a meticulous manner and leaves no detail undiscussed. And this is where honesty comes in. Duran is 65 now and long retired. He could have easily hidden the details of his sex and booze orgy days. But he does not. It appears at time that Duran – a married man – revels in discussing his sexual escapades.

However, his honesty laves him halfway when he discusses some of his defeats in his career. It is clear that he never wants to take responsibility for any of them and looks for excuses to put the blame on either a third person or factors beyond his control. It is especially evident in the sections dealing with his two fights with another great pugilist Sugar Ray Leonard. While he is honest about his first bout where he defeats Leonard, he looks for excuses for his defeats in the rematch.

The book is also a window inside the mind of probably the most fearless fighter that there was. When he jumped into the ring in 1983 to win back his title against a much celebrated opponent, no one had put money on him. He was getting slower and his opponent was young. Not to mention a ferocious puncher. But Duran entered the ring and won back his title.

Reminiscing about that match, he writes, “My strategy was very simple. In my personal life I am not an animal, but in the ring there was an animal inside me. Sometimes it roared the moment the first bell rang. Sometimes it sprang out later in the fight. But I could always feel it there, driving me and pushing me forward. It’s what made me win, what made me enjoy fighting. The worst thing you could do with me was be scared, because I’d smell that fear. I never feared anyone, even when I was a kid. I grew up on the streets, and after the childhood I had, who the fuck was I going to be scared of? I fought in the streets before I ever fought in the gym.”

This year has seen a Hollywood feature film made on Duran that opened at Cannes, and boasts of an A-List star cast. In that way, the book is timely. This is a great gift for anyone who loves sports, and I am sure newer generations will also like to have a piece of Roberto Duran. They don’t make them like him anymore these days.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017