ROBERTO DURAN’S LAST STAND AS CHAMPION!
San Francisco, CA– Although we will be going back in time with the great Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran to early 1989, this story and segment of Duran’s career really begins in 1986. Roberto’s ex-manager Hector Martinez and I were on our way to Palm Springs, CA and the Palm Canyon Hotel where Duran is conducting a training camp. Boarding in San Francisco a flight to Palm Springs with a unannounced stop in Ontario, CA, this was PSA Airlines, AKA the Southwest of yesteryear.
PASSENGERS SCREAMING, “GOD HELP US”
Martinez and I, friends for decades have had our shall we say experiences traveling. First of all, we were both scared to death of flying at this time. This fear came from a rough flight out of Las Vegas in 1981, the morning after Salvador Sanchez, Mexico’s greatest fighter had drilled unbeaten Wilfredo Gomez of Puerto Rico. The plane hit air pockets, the worst in the 21 years the lead flight attendant had ever been in, and the plane was dropping for split seconds at a time. People remained composed at first, but when the plane started dropping more often and for longer intervals of time, people began screaming and panic had set in!
NO DRINKING OR CAROUSING PRE-BOARDING THIS TIME
Having had jets pull away from the gate on us as we either ate, drank, were bull s*itting, or all three, Hector and I presented our boarding passes and sat down in assigned seats. The plane starts to roll out of the jetway and that’s when when they announce we are going to “Ontario.” My ticket says “Palm Springs.” When I got the attention of the flight attendant, while she admitted it was the fault of the airline, some printing problems with the boarding passes and gates numbers, there was no way the plane was going back to the gate. “May as well relax, you’re spending the night in Ontario.”
FREE BOOZE, HOTEL & SPENDING MONEY TOO!
As if we needed the free booze, by the time we hit Ontario, the flight attendant said the airline would cover a hotel and give us some money for food as the next flight to Palm Springs was tomorrow morning. After tearing up Ontario in a rented car until the wee hours, PSA gets us to Palm Springs about noon. The airport in Palm Springs in 1986 looked like a 1960’s motel. You drove up, got out, gave your bag to the skycap and you figuratively just walked to your plane. Quite a different world it was prior to 9-11 when it came to air travel.
“LATE GREAT” IRVING RUDD WAS THE ON-SITE PUBLICIST
Roberto was training with Barry McGuigan, then World featherweight champ, they were sharing a giant tent the hotel put up for them. Barry, who would lose to Steve Cruz, imploding in the 100’+ heat. McGuigan, a likable guy who is now a TV broadcaster of note, his coming from Ireland, he never encountered this kind of heat. His being taken to and fro around the desert resort in a golf cart, the only time Barry was outside was to train in the afternoon and run in the pre-morning darkness. That and a broken eardrum led to his being beaten on points by Cruz in 15 rounds.
PUNDITS AGREE THAT DURAN IS FINISHED AFTER LOSS
Duran was training for Robbie Sims, the stepbrother of then middleweight king Marvin Hagler, whom Duran had went the route with three years earlier. Having little respect for Sims, Duran trained accordingly. One night, Hector and I were leaving his room when a man with a small sheet cake from a local bakery was coming in. Training on cake and cutting weight at the end, Sims would out point Roberto over ten very forgettable rounds. Duran, the man who said “No Mas” (no more) to Ray Leonard in 1980, was he finally done? Having been knocked out by Tommy Hearns in June 1984 after extending Hagler six months earlier, Roberto Duran had just been beaten by an average fighter.
ROBERTO PICKS UP THE PIECES IN PART II
Part II, the final installment of this look at Roberto Duran, one of the greatest fighters to have ever lived. Part II Monday here at www.RingTalk.com