LOS ANGELES – With flashbulbs blazing and photographers forming an umbrella shape in front of a glowingly happy Roberto Duran, the great boxing icon, accepted the plaque signifying his place in the World Boxing Hall of Fame, but minus the famous sneer that made opponents cringe.
“I came from a house made of stones and now I’m called Hands of Stone,” said Duran after his introduction to the crowd. “It’s an honor to represent my country Panama and to be a member of the Hall of Fame.”
Duran and several other former world champions like Matthew Saad Muhammed, Eddie Perkins and Julian Jackson were formally inducted to the World Boxing Hall of Fame before more than 2,000 people at the LAX Marriott Hotel on Saturday.
The former lightweight, welterweight, junior middleweight and middleweight world champion Duran talked about coming from a country where many of his earlier fights took place and about coming to the United States to gain a reputation for ferocity, machismo and glory.
“Most people don’t know this but my father was Mexican (a former American U.S. Marine stationed in Panama),” Duran told the shocked crowd. “I want to thank you the people of the United States who gave me the opportunity to fight here.”
Duran captivated the American public and became the symbol for Latinos with his willingness to tangle against adversity and against the odds despite his diminutive size.
“It was important for Latinos to have a hero like him,” said State Senator Gil Cedillo (D-East Los Angeles) who presented Duran with a special state commendation. “He was a great champion.”
During his prime Duran engaged in historic bouts against Ken Buchanan, Wilfredo Benitez, Pipino Cuevas, Tommy Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Davey Moore, Iran Barkley and Sugar Ray Leonard.
“Roberto Duran wasn’t afraid of anyone,” said Tony Rivera, who worked in Duran’s corner for more than 25 years. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen.”
Speaking as a boxing columnist who grew up in an East L.A. boxing family, I witnessed countless prizefighters perform in person and on television. I recall my great grandfather Battling Ortega watching Duran fight on a televised promotion in the late 1970s and asking me and my father the name of the fighter belting the other guy on the screen. We told him it was Roberto Duran. He looked at us for a moment and said calmly and succinctly, “That’s the best fighter I’ve ever seen.”
We looked at each other surprisingly because my great grandfather had always admonished the fighters of the modern era as “rookies and softies.” He felt the fighters in his era (between 1915 to 1930) like Benny Leonard, Ted “Kid” Lewis, Harry Greb, and many others were much better. He had fought all of them and saw them as superior prizefighters until he laid eyes on Duran.
“That Duran can really fight,” said Ortega, who quickly became a fan of Duran.
Light heavyweight great Muhammad accepted his induction plaque calmly. He’s already a member of the International Hall of Fame in Canastota and spoke briefly about a film depicting his life currently in production.
“I had a hard life growing up,” said Muhammad. “Boxing changed my life.”
Former junior welterweight kingpin Perkins accepted his induction plaque with his son at his side.
Boxing historian Dave Martinez said of Perkins: “He’s a fighter who set the path for today’s champions.”
Former middleweight champion Jackson, a native of the Virgin Islands, spoke effusively about the others in attendance and his sport.
“I’m honored to be among the best of my field,” said Jackson. “It’s a final topping and a kick for my career.”
Others inducted to the Hall of Fame in the posthumous category were Ike Chestnut, Billy Peacock, Gil Cadilli, Jackie Graves and Bert Gilroy.
In the non-boxer category trainer Nacho Beristain, sportscaster Barry Tompkins, referee Robert Byrd and boxing commissioner Joey Olmos were inducted to the Hall of Fame.
Also receiving a special award was Fontana’s Larry Ramirez for his contributions to amateur boxing in the Inland Empire.
“He’s one of the reasons a lot of kids out there are good citizens,” said Armando Muniz, president of the World Boxing Hall of Fame.
Juan Manuel Marquez in first Golden Boy show
WBO featherweight titleholder Juan Manuel Marquez defends his title against Philippine slugger Jimrex Jaca on Saturday Oct. 21. It’s Marquez’s first fight under Golden Boy Promotions and takes place in El Paso, Texas. Jaca is an unknown quantity, but if he’s not an elite fighter he won’t last long against the super accurate Marquez.
Also on the fight card will be WBO junior featherweight titleholder Daniel Ponce De Leon defending against speedy Al Seeger of Georgia. It’s not a good match for De Leon, who has trouble in the past with tall speedy boxers. Seeger has the style to beat De Leon – but the big question is his chin. Bu one thing is certain: Ponce De Leon is bound to land one of his big bombs sooner or later. In his one loss against Celestino Caballero almost two years ago, the tall Panamanian absorbed numerous shots from the Mexican powerhouse. If Seeger can’t take the punch, he won’t win. But he has the speed to keep away all night long.
In a junior welterweight bout, Juan “Hispanic Causing Panic” Lazcano meets Manuel Garnica who upset former world champion Carlos Maussa in his last contest. The three bouts will be aired on HBO pay-per-view.
Fights on television
Fri. Telefutura, 8 p.m., Jesus Soto Karass (14-3-2) vs. Michel Rosales (16-0).
Sat. HBO pay-per-view, 6 p.m., Juan Manuel Marquez (45-3-1) vs. Jimrex Jaca (27-2-1); Daniel Ponce de Leon (29-1) vs. Al Seeger (27-1); Juan Lazcano (36-3-1) vs. Manuel Garnica (20-5).