Politics, Culture and Heroism highlight the Roberto Duran story in "I Am Duran"
By Hector Franco | Senior Writer and Editor
Published: June 11, 2019
Boxing is a sport that exposes a fighter's strengths and weaknesses under the brightest lights. Even those who have proven to be ranked amongst the annals of the all-time greats have shown that even they can be exposed.
Throughout the history of boxing, there have been few fighters who have had a career like Panama’s Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran (103-16, 70 KOs).
With a career that spanned over four decades and 119 fights, there have been many ebbs and flows of positivity and negativity in Duran’s time spent inside the squared circle.
British filmmaker Mat Hodgson in his new documentary “I Am Duran” takes a look at the cultural and political aspects of his life that had an impact on his boxing career. The film succeeds in showcasing why Duran is considered a legend and in many respects helps that legend grow.
“It’s drama, people can relate to drama at the end of the day,” stated Hodgson in an interview with Frontproof Media in association with RBR Boxing. “Whether it’s about boxing or whether it’s about aliens landing. It’s drama. That’s what you need in a film to draw in those other audiences.”
Hodgson is no stranger to the world of boxing as he directed a documentary on former British world champion Ricky Hatton in 2013 called “Night of the Fight: Hatton’s Last Stand”. The documentary surrounded Hatton’s final fight of his career against Vyacheslav Senchenko.
Much like Hodgson’s film on Hatton, “I Am Duran” does focus on certain fights in Duran’s career that helped progress the film’s story. Duran’s Lightweight career in some respects takes a backseat as only one match from his time in the weight class is highlighted.
“It’s difficult because you can’t show everything,” said Hodgson. “You want to show everything, but you have to select, you have to edit, you have to filter. And we felt that there were some pillars to Duran’s career that we would use as pillars to our story.”
Most fans and pundits when it comes to Duran’s career will focus mainly of his fights with the “Fab Four” with Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, and Marvin Hagler.
While these bouts do have a large portion of focus throughout the film, some of the best stories of the Panamanian’s time in the ring are lesser-celebrated matchups where the focus is strictly on Duran.
The one Lightweight bout that is featured in the film is Duran’s first world title victory in June of 1972. At the time Duran was only 21 years of age, and he was challenging veteran Ken Buchanan for the WBA Lightweight championship at Madison Square Garden.
Duran would ultimately stop Buchanan after the thirteenth round to win his first world title. The fight highlights the ferocity in which Duran fought at even such a young age.
In the documentary, Buchanan is interviewed, stating, “I was a boxer, he was a fighter.”
Throughout the film, there is a theme of internalized anger with Duran. In many instances, Duran’s life outside of the ring influenced how he performed inside the ring.
Whether it is from his lack of a relationship with his father, which is only briefly touched on in the film, or his being raised in the dangerous “Canal Zone” of Panama, Duran carried anger with him anytime he stepped between the ropes.
“You’re really starting this at rock bottom, and he would have had no ambition in life because that was what would been drilled into him by his environment as a young boy,” stated Hodgson. “He’s not the first fighter to have been born to abject poverty. But he had a brutal, brutal upbringing.
And it’s horrific to think a young boy could go through that. I think that’s where the anger would have come out. He is an angry fighter, and I think that’s a product of that environment for sure.”
One of the significant bouts highlighted in the film is Duran’s fight with Davey Moore for the WBA Junior Middleweight title. The match took place on Duran’s 32nd birthday on June 16, 1983, in front of a raucous crowd at Madison Square Garden.
With the film showcasing Duran at his weakest in and out of the ring, specifically in the aftermath of the “No Mas" bout with Leonard, the fight with Moore shows a resurgence for a fighter that thought he lost more than just a boxing match.
The fight with Moore contributed to Duran receiving The Ring Magazine’s Comeback of the year in 1983. To this day Duran is the only fighter to win the award twice as he also received the award in 1989.
The politics of Panama that coincide with Duran’s career are shown in the film with a focus on political figures like Omar Torrijos and Manuel Noriega. The film accomplishes in showing just how much of a legend Duran is viewed as in Panama.
Panamanian political commentator Juan Carlos Tapia in the film, states, “There is always a mix of legend and reality about the heroes of a country.”
Duran comes from an era in the sport that is considered to be one of the best and is often viewed as a ‘golden era.’ With the boxing world and the world, in general, having changed so much since Duran’s prime, it is doubtful that we will see many fighters like him in the future.
“There was kind of, they thought a bit more liberated, I would say back then boxers, it felt like there wasn’t tactical master plan of a career path,” said Hodgson. “We’re seeing it a lot now, people waiting and waiting. That didn’t happen in that era. These guys were monsters who just took each other on.”
Boxing, as a whole for years, has been categorized as a niche sport, a sport that has had its death called upon for decades. However, what drives sports are relationships and characters.
Few characters in boxing history have sustained a relationship with boxing fans quite like Roberto Duran. Boxing may be a niche sport, but the story behind the man is something that all people can have something in common with.
“I think that Duran is a film that we’re exceptionally proud of and hopefully it will stand the test of time,” stated Hodgson. Boxing fans are so enthusiastic. They are not like other sports fans. I’ve done other sports, and you get a mixed response sometimes, often because other sports are quite tribal. But Boxing seems quite an open sport as far as fans go. People love talking boxing.”
Boxing is a sport like all others that will continue to change and evolve as time passes.
What “I Am Duran” brings to the forefront is what it means to be a hero. Duran is a hero in Panama, not a perfect one, but a diverse one that brings people of all types together in unison.
"I Am Duran" isn't just a documentary about a boxer, but a story about the human condition told through the eyes of a cultural hero.
(Featured Photo: AdHoc Films)