Even though Juan Carlos Duran was born and raised in Argentina, he can be legitimately called a legend of European boxing. He fought his first 14 fights in South America (13 in Argentina and 1 in Uruguay between 1958 and 1960) compiling a record of 11 wins, 2 losses and 1 draw. He was also beaten on points by little-more-experienced Farid Salim for the vacant Argentinian middleweight crown.
But the place where Juan Carlos Duran got his biggest success is Europe. He fought mostly in Italy (where he married, had children, got the citizenship and was awarded the title Cavaliere by the President), but he was also booked to main event cards in England, Germany, Denmark, France and Austria. From 1960 to 1972, Juan Carlos Duran won the Italian and European middleweight titles, became European light middleweight champion, and faced such all-time greats as Nino Benvenuti. Juan Carlos Duran had 84 professional fights: 66 wins (21 KOs), 9 losses, 8 draws and 1 no-contest.
The fact that he became a superstar without winning a world title says it all about the quality of competition in his era. Today, most boxing fans don’t know the names of the four major champions in most weight divisions. Juan Carlos Duran had a spectacular style and his left hand was one of the best in the business. According to his son Alessandro: My father was very fast in throwing combinations and was good in keeping the rythm very high. He had also great mobility and used it to avoid his opponent’s attacks. Some journalists used to write that my father wasn’t a power puncher; that’s true, but his left jab was always on his opponent’s face. This explanation helps us understand why Juan Carlos Duran’s fights were so exciting that thousands of people paid good money to see him in action. He was also in the news for his rebel attitude, which led some people to conclude that he didn’t train properly.
That wasn’t true, as Alessandro points out: Just look at my father’s record. He fought 7, 8 even 10 times in the same year. He couldn’t do that if he wasn’t in top shape. Back in those days, boxers didn’t have as much information about training methods anddiet and didn’t go to the doctor regularly. But, they could fight often without getting seriously injuried. Almost all of them didn’t have health problems after they retired.
Juan Carlos Duran also made history for a tragic episode. On June 12, 1968 he went to Cologne (Germany) to defend his European middleweight crown against local favorite Jupp Elze. The two men had already faced each other on April 30, 1965, also in Cologne. Elze had won on points after ten rounds. The second match was supposed to be more intense because a major title was on the line. Duran won by 15th round TKO. Elze never got up; he went into a coma and died eight days later. Duran was so distraught that he went to Germany to give Elze’s wife part of the purse. Later, he invited Elze’s family to spend some days in Italy and they accepted.
A second fatal accident was avoided thanks to Duran on June 25, 1969 in Montecatini (Italy). Duran gave such a serious beating to Hans Dieter Schwartz that he asked his opponent’s cornermen to throw in the towel. They didn’t. During the 13th round, Duran pulled his punches against Schwartz. In the 14th stanza Schwartz couldn’t take it anymore, so Duran looked at the referee, genuflexed with his hands united (like he was praying) and asked him to stop the fight. Finally, the referee did it and probably saved the German’s life.
This sounds like a movie, right? Well, the life of a great champion is more unbelieveable than any movie. Given the punishment that Duran administered to his opponents, Juan Carlos’ punches must have hurt, even if he scored only 21 K0s. Anyway, Duran provided plenty of action and that guaranteed him a place in the hearts of the Italian fans who packed arenas in any city where he fought. Duran was also respected for avenging his losses. On September 11, 1969, in Copenhagen he lost the European middleweight belt against Tom Bogs. On December 4, 1970 Duran got it back, defeating Bogs on points. Bogs was one of the best fighters Denmark ever produced. He compiled a record of 77 wins (25 KOs), 8 losses with 1 draw. He became European middleweight and light heavyweight champion, challenged WBA/WBC world middleweight king Carlos Monzon (losing via 5th round TKO) and battled twice legendary Don Fullmer (1 win and 1 draw).
Incidentally, Juan Carlos Duran’s son Alessandro also had an hard time in Denmark more than 30 years later losing two split decisions to Thomas Danmgaard and Christian Bladt. Both fights were supposed to be easy for Alessandro since he had much more experience than the two Danish boxers. Obviously, Denmark brings bad luck to the Duran family. Juan Carlos Duran’s greatest accomplishment was getting back on top after everybody considered him history. He lost many pounds to make the light middleweight limit and won the European title. This made big news in Italy, since nobody thought that a 6’1” tall and 36-year-old fighter could lose weight and be competitive in the inferior division. The only episode that enraged the Italian fans happened on March 11, 1964; the fight against Emile Griffith. The two warriors were supposed to put up a great show, in Rome, but they didn’t.
Let’s hear the story from Alessandro Duran: Griffith couldn’t hit my father because there was too much difference in terms of height: Emile was 5’8”, my dad was 6’1”. The referee officially warned Griffith (twice) to be more aggressive, but he kept doing nothing. The Roman crowd thought it was a fix and started throwing objects toward the ring. Soon, the ring floor was full or bottles, glasses, oranges and everything else you can think of. In the seventh round, the referee sent the boxers to the dressing room and the fight was ruled a no-contest. My opinion is that the Romans wanted my father to murder Griffith, but he refused to do it and the match became boring.
Juan Carlos Duran retired after his loss against Jacques Kechichian (9th round TKO) on July 4, 1973. He kept in touch with the boxing world, however, bringing his sons to the gym and training them to become professionals. He was successful in that. HMassimiliano fought from 1986 to 1994 compiling a record of 19 wins (8 KOs) and 6 losses. He became Italian, European and WBC world cruiserweight champion. Alessandro fought from 1985 to 2002 (he also had one match in 1983) compiling a record of 51 wins (16 KOs) and 12 losses. He won the Italian, European and WBU world welterweight titles. Juan Carlos Duran died in a car crash on January 2, 1991. He is still considered an idol in Ferrara, where he always lived and where both his sons still live today.
Juan Carlos Duran
Born on June 13, 1936 in Rosario (Argentina)
Record: 66 wins (21 KOs), 9 losses, 8 draws and 1 no-contest
Italian middleweight champion
from July 22, 1966 to August 16, 1967
European middleweight champion
1st Reign: from November 17, 1967 to September 11, 1969.
2nd Reign: from December 4, 1970 to June 9, 1971.
European light middleweight champion
from July 5, 1972 to July 4, 1973
In 1972, he received the title of Cavaliere (Knight) by the President of Italy.
He died in a car crash on January 2, 1991.