Massimiliano Duran can legitimately be considered the best Italian cruiserweight ever because he was the only boxer good enough to win the WBC world championship against a great champion like Carlos De Leon. Son of legendary Juan Carlos Duran, Massimiliano has always been part of the boxing community. Unlike his father, he was subject to hard criticism when he decided to become a prizefighter. Many people in Italy thought that he would get nowhere. Massimiliano proved them wrong by becoming Italian, European and WBC world cruiserweight champion. Between 1986 and 1994, he compiled a record of 19 wins (8 KOs) and 6 losses. Let’s hear his story in his own words.

Massimiliano, tell us about the fight against Carlos De Leon.

It was a very tough match, but I knew it from the beginning because Carlos De Leon had been WBC champion for a long time and had fought WBA/IBF champion Evander Holyfield for the undisputed crown. After losing to Holyfield (TKO 8), the Puerto Rican had beaten Sammy Reeson (TKO 9) for the vacant WBC belt and had defended it against Johnny Nelson (a draw). Carlos De Leon was in top shape and nobody thought that I could win. I trained really hard and was ready for a war. When the match started, De Leon’s first move was putting his finger into my eye. I understood that he was ready to do anything to keep his title. As the fight progressed, he used every illegal technique you can think of; he even put his thumb into my throat. During the 11th round, he put his right arm around me and threw a left hook at my face; I saw it coming and tried to avoid it by falling to the mat. Even if the Puerto Rican didn’t hit me, the referee considered it a knockdown and started the count. I got up immediately and hit De Leon with a series of uppercuts to the body. He understood that the more he hit me, the more I was willing to answer back with my own punches. Then he got enraged and hit me after the bell. He didn’t hurt me, but I realized that I could capitalize on his mistake and I put my knee down on the canvas. I was aiming to get a point deduction, but I got much more: the referee did nothing and the WBC official told him to diqualify De Leon. Probably, the WBC supervisor was fed up to see De Leon get away with everything and said Enough is enough! It would have been better for my career if they let the match continue. I was ahead on points and would have won the last round too. After 11 rounds, two judges scored in my favor (110-107 and 109-107), while the third one saw it a draw (105-105). Nobody can deny that I legitimately won the WBC belt, but you know that a disqualification win always brings controversy. While I was training, my father had told me to be ready for any kind of illegal tactics because anything can happen when a world title is on the line (especially in those days, when there were only three respected organizations). I’m not complaining because I think that an highlevel boxer must be prepared to deal even with dirty tricks. I’m not putting down Carlos De Leon either, his career proves inequivocably that he has been a great champion. Between 1974 and 1995, he compiled a record of 52 wins (32 KOs), 8 losses and 1 draw. He kept himself at the top for ten years, reigning as WBC cruiserweight champion four times (1980-1982, 1983-1985, 1986-1988, 1989-1990) and defending the title against top opposition.

You won by DQ against Anaclet Wamba too.

Yes. It was my first defense of the WBC belt. We fought in Ferrara on December 8, 1990. Anaclet Wamba used every dirty trick in the book against me. I watched the tape and counted how many times Wamba headbutted me: 12! As a matter of fact, I needed 57 stitches on my head when the fight was over. The referee should have disqualified him in the early rounds, but he kept the match going. Wamba was deducted five points before they went and waved the fight off. I don’t understand why they stopped the fight in the final stanza, with just a few seconds before the bell. After 11 rounds, I was ahead on two scorecards. The fight generated so much controversy that a rematch was logical. It happened on July 20, 1991 in Palermo. During the first round, Wamba cut my forehead and I started bleeding. My cornermen tried everything, but couldn’t stop the blood. In the 11th round, I was too weak from the loss of blood and from the heat (well over 100 degrees) to continue and and I turned toward my corner. The photo of the ring covered with my blood was published even by Japanese newspapers. This led to a third battle. It happened on December 13, 1991 in Paris. I got the news only a month before, but I accepted because I wanted my revenge. Unfortunately, I lost by 11th round TKO.

Was Anaclet Wamba your toughest opponent?

He was as difficult as Carlos De Leon. I fought Anaclet Wamba three times because we were the best in the cruiserweight division and we guaranteed an exciting fight. We put up real wars and they were always close. You don’t fight against the same opponent three times if the previous matches weren’t close. Anaclet Wamba can be considered among the best French boxers ever. Between 1982 and 1995 he built a record of 46 wins (23 KOs), 2 losses and 1 draw. He held the WBC title for more than three years (1991-1994), successfully defending it seven times.

After your second loss to Anaclet Wamba, many journalists thought you were finished. You proved them wrong by becoming European champion.

I always proved them wrong. From the beginning I faced harsh criticism. I had the same problem as Sumbu Kalambay and many other Italian fighters: nobody believed in me. But I didn’t pay attention to the critics, kept training very hard and reached my goal. As for the European title, I’m proud of it because I defeated a top rated boxer like Derek Angol, who was feared for his punching power. He compiled a record of 27 wins, 22 coming by KO, with just 2 losses. In England he was very popular, having won the Commonwealth and British titles. Unfortunately, as many other power punchers, he had a suspect chin. He got knocked out by Tyrone Booze (the vacant WBO title was on the line) and by Akim Tafer (for the Euro belt). I faced him in Ferrara, on June 22, 1993. I gave my best and won by 11th round KO.  

Are you still involved in the boxing business?

Yes, I run the family’s gym in Ferrara, with my brother Alessandro. We promote 7 to 8 amateur events a year. We love to invite foreign champions, to give our amateurs the opportunity to fight against boxers with different styles. Right now, we are negotiating to bring a major national team to our next big event: the Juan Carlos Duran Memorial Tournament.

Massimiliano Duran

Born on November 3, 1963 in Ferrara (Italy)

Division: Cruiserweight

Stance: Orthodox

Height: 188 cm

Trainer: Juan Carlos Duran (his father)

Record: 19 wins (8 KOs) and 6 losses

Pro activity: between 1986 and 1994

Italian champion

He defeated Alfredo Cacciatore (TKO 10), on November 4, 1989 in Ferrara

WBC world champion

He beat Carlos De Leon (DQ 11), on July 27, 1990 in Capo d’Orlando (Sicily)

He defended the belt against Anaclet Wamba (DQ 12), on December 8, 1990 in Ferrara

He lost the belt against Anaclet Wamba (TKO 11), on July 20, 1991 in Palermo

European champion

He defeated Derek Angol (KO 11), on June 22, 1993 in Ferrara

He lost the title against Carl Thompson (KO 8), on February 2, 1994 in Ferrara