Joe Gans and Roberto Duran were two of the greatest lightweights in the history of boxing.
Joe Gans, known as “The Old Master,” dominated the lightweight division from 1902 until 1908. Except for a vacated title by Gans from 1904 until 1906, he was in control of the division for six years.
Roberto Duran likewise controlled the lightweight division as the Undisputed Champion from 1972 until he vacated his division title in 1979. Although Duran fought in other divisions, he fought at his best as a lightweight in the 1970s and is best remembered as the greatest lightweight of that era.
The outcome of a match-up between these two lightweight greats might be the best indication of who, through the history of boxing, truly dominated the 135-pound division.
There’s no scientific way to match fighters from different eras. To keep this from being more than pure speculation, the best I can do is look at the fighters’ capabilities, defensive skills and how each would handle the other’s style of aggressiveness.
Known as “Manos de Piedra” (“Hands of Stone”), Roberto Duran won the lineal lightweight championship from Ken Buchanan on June 26, 1972. The fight itself was reported to be “A battle between a clever, graceful ‘boxer’ and a powerful fighter.’’ Duran’s right cross and left hook became his trademark punches. They were the main weapons in his arsenal of punches that ended fights early for most of the lightweight contenders that faced the wily Panamanian. Buchanan became a victim of Duran’s vicious combination punches in the thirteenth round of the first 15-round championship fight of Duran’s lightweight career.
On March 16, 1974 Duran set out to avenge a tenth round decision loss to Puerto Rican fighter Esteban DeJesus, the only loss on his record at the time. The 15-round title defense started with Duran being knocked down in the first round. To even the score, Duran KOed DeJesus in the eleventh round with his trademark left hook to the head, a left hook to the jaw and a right cross to the head of DeJesus.
After his fight with DeJesus, Duran defended his title later that year against Japanese contender Masataka Takayama with a first round knockout. The following year, March of 1975, Duran knocked out Ray Lampkin in the fourteenth round of a 15-round title defense to record his thirty-fifth knockout in fourty-four fights. After the Lampkin fight Duran defended his lightweight title six more times, including a third fight against Esteban DeJesus. That fight ended with Duran scoring a twelfth round knockout to beat DeJesus for the second time.
At the end of the year, at the age of only 27, Duran gave up his lightweight title to compete as a welterweight.
Joe Gans was known as “The Old Master” because of his near flawless technical skills, as well as his ability to go toe to toe with the best power punchers of his era. Gans was also considered one of the best defensive fighters of all-time.
Gans became lineal lightweight champ in 1902 by defeating Frank Erne, the current titleholder at the time; Gans won the fight by way of a first round knockout. Gans’ most notable war was with Battling Nelson in 1906. The fight was a classic championship fight between the two greatest lightweights of the era. It was to be a 45-round showdown for Gans’ lightweight title, but Gans KOed Nelson in the forty-second round to remain unbeaten as the Lightweight Champion of the World.
Joe Gans owned the 135-pound division until losing back to back fistic wars to Battling Nelson in 1908.
A match-up between Gans and Duran would prove to be one of the most competitive and evenly matched bouts between any fighters in any weight class of any era. A seventy year span in time would prove to be the biggest difference between these two lightweight greats.
In a 15-round title fight using today’s rules with three judges, no standing 8-count, and a 10-point must system of scoring, rounds would be very close throughout the fight.
With everything considered, Gans would win a very close 15-round unanimous decision over Roberto Duran.
Since the fight would have been so close, a rematch could have easily gone the other way.