Duran is a name that brings to memory many great fights. In the United States, it is synonymous with “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran. In Italy, you have to specify who you are talking about, because three Durans made it big in the ring: Juan Carlos Duran and his sons Massimiliano and Alessandro. While the Argentinian-born Juan Carlos was a true legend of the 1960s and early ‘70s, Massimiliano won the WBC cruiserweight title in 1990 and Alessandro enjoyed his golden moment from 1996 to 2002. Alessandro faced, among others, Thomas Damgaard, who will fight Arturo Gatti next January 28 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Alessandro, what kind of boxer is Damgaard?
He can fight, keeps the rhythm very high, and never takes a backward step. Anyway, he is not somebody to be scared of. I faced him on November 3, 2000 in Copenhagen. I was European welterweight champion, but I agreed to go to Denmark because the purse bid was very high: 430,000,000 Italian Lires. Right now, it would be about 222,076 Euros ($266,491). Being the champion, I was getting the biggest share of the purse. During the fight, Thomas never hit me hard. The judges gave him the victory because we were in Damgaard’s territory, but the European Boxing Union recognized that the verdict wasn’t fair and ordered an immediate rematch. Thomas didn’t want to do it and the title was declared vacant. On May 4, 2001 I faced Maxim Nesterenko in Bologna, TKOed him during the ninth round and became European champion again. I defended the belt against Douglas Bellini and lost it by split decision to Christian Bladt. Guess where? In Denmark.
Do you think that Thomas Damgaard can defeat Arturo Gatti?
Yes, he can. Arturo Gatti is on his way down. He proved it against Floyd Mayweather Jr. I picked Floyd to win, but not that easily. It was like watching a seasoned pro against an amateur. I don’t understand how could the fight be so onesided. By the way, I consider Mayweather the best boxer pound for pound: he has a great tecnique and is faster than anybody else.
Was Damgaard you toughest opponent?
No way. I faced many boxers more dangerous than him. One of them was Gary Murray. He was a Scot who lived and fought in South Africa. He hit really hard and played dirty. In our first battle, for the WBU welterweight crown, he broke my face with headbutts and was disqualified during the fifth round. In the rematch, I dominated and got an unanimous decision. Gary Murray was the classic southpaw that nobody ever wants to fight. He was ranked behind the WBC and WBA champions, by most experts.
Peter Malinga was another tough customer.
Yes, he was. I fought him twice. The first time, he won by 3rd round KO. I want to say something about it. Malinga and I were clinching and the referee separated us. While the ref was still screaming Stop, Malinga hit me with a left hook. I didn’t go down because the ropes were behind me. Malinga hit me again with a right hand while the bell rang and I was counted out. To me, the first left hook was illegal. The ref should have allowed me to recover and deducted Malinga a point. Three months and half later, we fought the rematch and I won by majority decision: 117-111, 115-113 and 114-114. I don’t understand how could one judge could consider the bout a draw. Anyway, the fight was so spectacular that I was on the front page of the Italian sports newspaper the following day.
You won most of the rematches.
Yes, I defeated almost any fighter who beat me. In 1992, I lost the Italian welterweight belt to Santo Serio (TKO 10). In 1993 I TKOed him in four rounds. In 1995 I lost to Adriano Offreda (TKO 10). In 1996 I got an unanimous decision. In 1997 I lost to Peter Malinga (KO 3). Three months later, I won on points. In 1999 I lost the European title to Andrei Pestriaev (TKO 6). In 2000 I regained the crown by unanimous decision. The only exception being Michele Piccirillo, who beat me twice.
Let’s talk about those fights.
The first time, I underrated him and didn’t train properly. That’s why he knocked me down in the third round and hit me at will during the fifth. My cornermen threw in the towel. In the second match, Piccirillo got an unanimous decision: 117-111 on all scorecards. Let me say that six points in his favor were too many. It was a very exciting battle; 2,100,000 people watched us on national television (at 11.30 pm). Thinking about it, we should have capitalized on our popularity and put up a third fight. I never saw Piccirillo fight like that again, he gave his best against me.
Is it true that you had promotional problems when you signed to fight Piccirillo the first time?
Yes, it is. I was discussing my future with promoter Renzo Spagnoli. He wanted me to defend the WBU title many times against easy opponents, while I wanted big fights for major purses. I got revenge against Peter Malinga and felt I could beat everybody. I asked Renzo to arrange a fight with former WBO and WBA lightweight champion Dingaan Thobela. On October 8, 1997, he gave a beating to Gary Murray (4th round TKO). After that, Thobela was highly ranked among welterweights by every organization. Besides, he was a star in South Africa and had sponsors who could guarantee a significant amount of money. Spagnoli didn’t want to work on that and I signed with Salvatore Cherchi. During my career I changed many promoters, but I never had a manager. I did it by myself and asked advice to my father and brother (who also trained me). Getting back to Dingaan Thobela, he proved to be an outstanding champion winning the WBC super middleweight title. Not many fighters won three major belts in two weight divisions.
Many boxers underrate the Italian title. You fought for it 17 times. Why?
Because I always considered a big honor to be Italian champion. My father had won the Italian middleweight belt in 1966/7 and built his popularity upon that. Besides, my purses were always right. With those 17 Italian title fights (my record was 13-4), I bought an apartment. Let me say that I consider the Italian belt much more prestigious than any intercontinental, international, European Union, Mediterranean or youth championship. There are so many phony titles that I’m sure I didn’t name them all.
You put the European Union title among the minor ones.
Yes, because it’s a minor title. They invented it to get the fee and make anybody feel like a champion. In my continent, there is only one major belt: the EBU title. Only one fighter in each weight division can claim to be European champion. The divisions are just 14 because the EBU doesn’t recognize strawweights, light and super flyweights. In North America, there are three titles: NABA, NABO and NABF. How can the fans understand who the real North American champion is?
Many people consider the WBU a minor organization too.
I know, but I won and defended the WBU crown against top rated welterweights. I think that the level of my competition makes the fights for the WBU belt worth of world title status. There are so many champions of the major sanctioning bodies who fight bums. I’m sure they get peanuts for that. A good training session would be more useful for those champions than an easy fight.
Why was your first pro match was in the United States?
Because I wanted to become a professional, but I was just 18-years-old and the Italian boxing commission (FPI) didn’t allow fighters my age to turn pro. I had relatives in Chicago, on my mother’s side, so I moved there. My first impression of American gyms was not so good: they put me in the ring with a guy who had much more experience than me. I found out that this happens often. To test a prospect, they ask him to spar a few rounds with a local boxer that maybe fought for the world title a month before. They don’t warn the prospect that he is facing a tough customer. Anyway, I won my first professional match (on points) in July 1983. When I went back to Italy, the FPI suspended me for a year and a half. That’s why my second fight was in October 1985. After having fought 63 professional bouts and made a lot of money, I’m convinced that an Italian fighter must go to the United States, if only to earn a purse he cannot earn here. But with a good promoter, an Italian boxer can win major titles and make money staying in Europe.
Born on February 5, 1965 in Ferrara, a town in the Emilia Romagna region of Central Italy
Trainer: his brother Massimiliano.
Record: 51 wins (16 KOs) and 12 losses
Italian champion (4 times)
1st Reign: from 25 October 1989 to 28 April 1990
2nd Reign: from July 10, 1991 to November 20, 1992
3rd Reign: from May 28, 1993 to July 28, 1995
4th Reign: from January 11, 1996 to August 17, 1996
WBU world champion (2 times)
1st Reign: from October 26, 1996 to July 30, 1997
2nd Reign: from November 17, 1997 to May 4, 1998
European champion (3 times)
1st Reign: from April 24, 1999 to October 16, 1999
2nd Reign: from March 18, 2000 to November 3, 2000
3rd Reign: from May 4, 2001 to January 18, 2002