The March 16, 1974 battle between Roberto Duran and Esteban De Jesus brought out the core animalistic cravings in all fight fans who bore witness to the spectacle. In front of 15,000 some odd fans and battling 100-plus degree weather in Panama City, Panama, Duran came out like a man with an ax to grind, and De Jesus like one who was just waiting for his opponent to mess up before going in for the kill.
A lightweight bout for The Ring and the WBC titles, the spectators in attendance were all on their feet for their national hero Duran. Tension was in the air before the bell even rang, as both gladiators sarcastically smiled at one another from across the ring.
Coming into the fight, Duran was 41-1, with his only loss coming against the same foe. Mr. “Hands of Stone” was dropped in the first round during their first fight. De Jesus came with the same 41-1 record.
Early in the fight
Both pugilists were ultra aggressive once the opening bell sounded. Like pit bulls taken off of their leashes, they gave new meaning to “feel out” rounds. Duran and De Jesus were certainly feeling each other out alright — feeling every square inch of each others’ upper extremities with vicious combinations. It was an early headhunting extraordinaire.
Neither fighter relied too heavily on their jab. In a serious case of déjà vu, Duran landed an awkward right hand before De Jesus delivered a bomb of a left hook right to the Panamanian. Duran was dropped in the opening round again.
After getting back on his feet, and starting fresh in a new set of rounds, Duran became even more aggressive, landing two- and three-punch combinations that staggered De Jesus. An incalculable amount of uppercuts were thrown by the future Hall of Famer when in close, and De Jesus would always retort with exquisite counterpunching.
After three, I scored the fight: R1 10-8 de Jesus, R2 10-9 Duran, R3 10-9 Duran.
In the thick of things
As the fight graduated to the middle rounds, there was more of the same from each fighter. Their respective stamina was incredible, as each had a very high punch count early, and kept up a similar level of activity. They displayed superb footwork, navigating around the ring with pace and grace.
Good head movement was exhibited from De Jesus, but Duran was just relentless with his onslaught. After Duran outboxed De Jesus in rounds four and five, the Puerto Rican came out dancing in the sixth. In his best round of the fight, he simply did more than Duran, making him miss and catching him with a snappy left hook midway through the affair.
By round seven, expected fatigue set in. This could be seen from a decreased punch count and less ground covered in the squared circle. Duran mustered up enough willpower to season De Jesus with a punch sequence that included a jab, a punch to the back of the head, another effective jab, and a right hook that returned the favor and dropped his opponent.
After seven, I scored the fight: R4 10-9 Duran, R5 10-9 Duran, R6 10-9 de Jesus, R7 10-8 Duran.
The Grand Finale
With the war coming to a surrender, Duran caught a second wind and was clearly looking for the knockout. A lot of heart was shown by De Jesus, who was still effective with his jab and uppercuts, as well as his counterpunching, showing that he had cojones. But his volume remained down, which was optically deleterious to his image with the judges and fans.
In round nine, De Jesus made contact with a great uppercut to Duran’s chin. That’s about all he did in the round, and the rest of the fight. Drenched in water, and giving it everything he had with a re-energized punch count, Duran showed model defensive instincts and better offensive tactics, with sweeping shots to the body. The battle ended with an 11th round right hook from Duran that made the Puerto Rican take a knee, not to rise again.
Prior to the stoppage, I scored the latter rounds: R8 10-9 Duran, R9 10-9 Duran, R10 10-9 de Jesus, R11 TKO.
Roberto Duran would remain undefeated for the duration of his lightweight career before moving up to welterweight, where he most notably defeated Sugar Ray Leonard for the WBC and The Ring titles. As for Esteban De Jesus, he went on 16-3 run to end his career, falling to the likes of boxing great Antonio Cervantes, and Duran again in a trilogy fight in 1978.
This was certainly an entertaining fight from start to finish. If you’re into punishing affairs and true slugfests from fearless, championship-caliber boxers, this is a match you’ll definitely want to add to your queue.