Translated by Parker Asmann
Cycle of three fights: Roberto Durán, against Stephen De Jesús in the lightweight division.
Three bouts which signified the essence of the reign of the 135 pounders, of ‘Mano de Piedra,’ of his long monarchy of 5 years, 6 months and 25 days, for the threat that signified the Puerto Rican as the challenger and counterpart.
The unforgettable Panamanian boxer, Roberto Durán, wept for the first time June 16, 1951, in the ‘El Chorrillo’ neighborhood of Panamá City. An amateur that was competing up a mountain and with a very small trajectory, much like the vast majority of Panamanian boxers, which, more than anything, comes from the small population of Panama, which is less than 3 million people.
He began his professional career on March 8, 1967, by beating Carlos Mendoza in four rounds in the province of Colon, Panamá. In the first three years all his fights were held in Panamá.
On April 5, 1970, he made his first international appearance against Felipe Torres in México City and won in ten rounds. On May 16 of that year, he knocked his technical compatriot Ernesto Marcel, a model boxer at that time in Panamá, to contribute to Panamanian boxing with a firm promise.
On January 5, 1971, he returned to México to technically knock out Jose Herrera, and on July 15 of that same year, Fermin Soto. On September 13, 1971, he made his first appearance at Madison Square Garden, the cathedral of boxing, against Puerto Rican Benny Huertas, who was dispatched in the first round.
On June 26, 1972, he controversially knocked out Ken Buchanan in the 13th round to capture the lightweight world title of the World Boxing Association. Before starting the series of exhibitions as reigning champ of the lightweights, he held three, ten round bouts of training against Greg Potter, Lupe Ramirez and Esteban De Jesús, the latter surprised and annoyed him in ten rounds with a powerful left hook, which caused Roberto Durán to collapse and be defeated for the first time in his professional career as a boxer on November 17, 1972.
Durán lost his unbeaten streak in his 33rd professional bout. The Panamanian disputed the lightweight world title three times against Jimmy Robertson, Hector Thompson and Ishimatsu Suzuki, before going out on his first challenger and first victor, Esteban De Jesús.
Esteban De Jesús was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, on August 2, 1951, and debuted professionally on February 10, 1969, against ‘The Tarita’ in San Juan, Puerto Rico, whom he knocked out in two rounds. In 1969 and 1970 all the fights were held in Puerto Rico and it was not until 1971 that fighting internationalized, fighting four bouts in Caracas, Venezuela, against Lionel Hernandez, Frank LeRoy, Milton Méndez and Antonio Gómez, against whom he lost his first professional fight on December 10, 1971.
In 1972 he ventured to New York City on four occasions, the last of it to face the Panamanian Roberto Durán on November 17, 1972, in ten rounds to defeat the then world champion in an off the record, lightweight title bout.
1973 was fruitful for the Puerto Rican, triumphant in seven fights, two of them against Ray Lampkins, one in San Juan and the other in New York, challenging the reign of the lightweights of the Association of North American Boxing Federation (NABF).
On January 7, 1974, Esteban De Jesús knocked out former junior welterweight world champion, Panamanian Alfonso Frazer, in ten rounds. It was then that the astute promoter Don King favorably believed in a rematch between both fighters.
Company Promoter Don King Productions, Inc., agreed to the bout for March 16, 1974, in Panama City
The announcement of the rematch raised divided expectations in Panamá, even with Roberto Durán still being the authentic idol of Panamanian boxing, with three successful defenses of his title in Panamá City by way of knockout, he held three fights in preparation informally, with the echo not hiding the respect he had for the Puerto Rican, Esteban De Jesús, Panamá’s only winner in 43 professional fights.
On March 16, 1974, at 4:00 p.m. in the evening, the New Panamá Gym, today named the Roberto Durán Gym, was full to its capacity of 16,000 spectators. Confident fans of the triumph of their compatriot, other dubious, but the masses unrestrictedly supported their idol, Roberto Durán, who faced not only the man who took his label of being invincible, but also, the only boxer who sat him on the floor for the eight second count at the world famous Madison Square Garden.
Due to the announcement of the fight there were protests from the advisors of challenger Esteban De Jesús, whose coach and manager, Gregorio Benítez, the father of Wilfredo Benítez, protested because the referee assigned was of Panamanian nationality, and also the judge of the bout.
For regulations and to remind everyone of the rules of the championship fight, in the center of the ring, referee Issac Herrera went to Carlos Eleta, Roberto Durán’s manager, and Gregorio Benítez, Esteban De Jesús’ coach and manager. When the ceremony was held, the public was delirious with the desire to see the start of the fight.
Awaiting the call of the first round, the Panamanian crowd stood on their feet and supported the heat in the New Panamá Gym as good enthusiasts, the temperature was 95 degrees at 5:00 p.m., the start time of the fight, which was televised in the United States on the ABC Sports program titled, ‘The Wide World of Sports.’ The bout was narrated by legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell. Durán, the then lightweight champion of the World Boxing Association, was presented with green shorts with yellow stripes and challenger Esteban De Jesús, with blue stripes and white shorts.
The call at the center of the ring for the first fight was nervous for Panamanians, they knew the power of the Puerto Rican’s skills, but a strong start entirely initiated by Durán had him trying to quickly avenge that first defeat of his professional journey against Esteban De Jesús.
In this first round they successfully landed punches, with Roberto forgetting the indecipherable left hook for him from the Puerto Rican, who turned and reached to him and sat him on the ring for the regulatory eight second count. Roberto Durán sat up, but felt it. Upon resumption of the bout, the Puerto Rican found all of his strength to try and establish the match and reconnected accurately and courageously. The Panamanian finished answering the assault bravely, a clear attack from Esteban De Jesús, who scored a 108 for the dominant attack and the falling of Durán.
At Roberto Durán’s corner, he was refreshed and acted very professionally, and calmly assisted his veteran coaches: Ray Arcel, Freddy Brown and Nestor ‘Lead’ Quiñónez, who also advised him to take care of the Puerto Rican’s specialty hit.
With the bell that ordered the start of the second round, Roberto Durán came prepared to match the efforts, his people fell silent when he fell dramatically and given this present scene, launched strong jolts but, receiving responses from a growing aspirer of the title. Durán pressed the match in which neither fighter took a step back, the scuffle brought out courage and power. In bodily development, Durán took advantage of his faster extremities (arms and legs), which was the difference in the second round. He considerably assaulted Roberto Durán.
For the start of the third round, cries of “El Cholo, El Cholo, long man,” the Panamanian supporters cried, confident in delivering their boxing idol and once again the two engaged aggressively and were punished very hard, both determined to define the fight as soon as possible. Roberto planted painful hooks and brilliant combinations to the chin, with more ease and speed than the Panamanian, who unleashed anger against his rival, who received stiff punishment and punches thrown with the soul. Another chapter in favor of Durán.
In the corner of Puerto Rican Esteban De Jesús, his trainer and manager, Gregorio Benítez, sprayed him in the face with water and advised him to keep throwing the left hook, as well as adapting to the pace of the fight.
For the fourth round in the championship fight, Roberto Durán took over the show from the second he started to fight his counterpart. In the fourth Roberto was already loose and certain to dominate his opponent, he presented him an exhaustive performance style with continuous actions, receiving high praise from Esteban, an act that said that the bout was determined to conclude by way of knockout. This round was considered a tie.
In the fifth and sixth rounds, both fighters fought without compassion and in the body to body fight the Panamanian took advantage with quick arms and legs. The left eye of Roberto Durán was quite swollen from De Jesús. In the sixth round the fight was taken down a few notches, the blows were thrown more thoughtful and fatigue was reflected in the face of the Puerto Rican.
The two corners refreshed their boxers with a lot of water, the heat was intense and the mood of the fans grew, and trust that it made them cry, “Durán Durán Durán,” many with scarves fluttering, others wiping sweat, and in the end, the atmosphere was totally boxing.
With the call of the seventh round, Durán again pressed the fight, aware of the loss of vitality of his opponent, Esteban De Jesús, who fell by the impact of an electrifying right, followed by a repetition of hooks, for a regulatory count of 8 seconds. Issac Herrera, restarting the match, a close race, both were hit very hard, they knew at this stage that the period would not extend to the covenant of the fifteen rounds, having been in the ring with the two, with a lightning pace coupled with the dispute to crown the lightweight champion. Another clear assault where Durán scored 10-8.
After the eighth to eleventh, Roberto took over a whole function, fatigue was evident in the Puerto Rican who endured fearful and worrisome punishment. Durán did not slow his rhythm and that desire was punishing in the eighth, ninth and tenth rounds.
In the eleventh round, Roberto came to define the fight, his opponent was totally exhausted from shock and heat. Durán crashed his favorite right hand hit that sat Esteban De Jesús, who could not get up, down for the second time to get the eight second count and the knockout was declared in favor of Panamá, who retained their lightweight title for the fourth time.
The ring became a carnival, holding sportswriters, boxing authorities, citizens and fans, they offered honors for Durán’s win, which meant, eliminating one of its most qualified challengers and his only victor until then.
The third bout of Esteban and Durán of the lightweight division, from my view, was the presentation of the Panamanian supreme in the ring of the world.
With all the dominance that Roberto Durán imposed in the second match against Esteban De Jesús, it was his irritation that was superior, having divided honors into two grudges. Durán, the Panamanian, had exhibited his reign eleven times and the only fighter who had reached the covenant champion fight with him was Edwin Viruet, also Puerto Rican. The Panamanian, in 64 bouts, had only one defeat and wished for the unification of the reign to then be placed in another category.
Puerto Rico’s Esteban De Jesús, who had already recorded 54 fights, with three defeats inflicted by the Venezuelan Antonio Gomez, who later was featherweight champion of the world, Roberto Durán, supreme champion of the lightweights and the Colombian, Antonio Cervantes, made an admirable campaign champion at 140 pounds.
On May 8, 1976, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Esteban De Jesús, took over the world title of the World Boxing Council’s lightweight division, exceeding fifteen rounds against the torrid Japanese fighter, Ishimatsu Suzuki. After disputing the crown three times, he agreed to unify the division with the Panamanian, Roberto Durán, in a third fight after dividing honors in two. This time the fight was held at Caesar’s Palace Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, the first presentation of both in the capital of boxing and once again under the promotion of the company Don King Productions, Inc.
The third competition was held on January 21, 1978. This time, De Jesús had Many Sciaca as a coach and the referee of the fight was Larry Costello. With the difference being that this time Roberto Durán failed to make a fight of common style and totally confused the Puerto Rican by planning a technical combat, where sometimes he came to the fight caressing a box of dumplings, where the superiority of Panama was also noticeable.
The fighting lasted until the twelfth round with total mastery of Roberto Durán on all aspects of the fight. To finish as champion in the twelfth round he crashed his favorite righthand hit that made him famous and successful to topple Jesús, by the eight second count and mixed in a torpedoing combination into the midsection to remove him entirely by the most convincing way of knockout.
And in the cycle of three bouts, Durán won two by knockout and lost the first fight by decision in ten rounds. This number 12 of the Panamanian defense, concluded his reign as monarch at 135 pounds, to give the division up to venture into the welterweight category. The fights were narrated by Tim Rayan, Angelo Dundee and Gil Clancy by the CBS network for the United States.
P.S. As we know, Esteban De Jesús was convicted of murder, though he claimed that it was a drug dispute, and was sentenced to prison for life where he contracted the dreaded AIDS disease. It was then that the governor, Rafael Hernández Colón, pardoned him and he died at his residence on May 11, 1989, one month after having received remission without being visited by any celebrities such as: Orlando Cepeda, Cheo Feliciano and his arch-rival forever, Roberto Durán.
Roberto Durán, after failing in his second attempt at winning the Puerto Rican Hector Camacho on July 14, 2001, in Denver, Colorado, traveled to Argentina where he suffered a serious car accident and had to undergo surgery on several occasions, announcing his withdrawal from
boxing as a result on March 19, 2002.
On October 14th, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in Los Angeles, California, and on June 7 of next year he will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York.