No question that Roberto Duran, he of the Hands of Stone, was one of the best fighters in the world, the scrappy soul from Panama who threw his first professional punch in 1968 and remained relevant in the ring way into the 1990s.
The man could hit.
That’s evident in the tale of his life directed and written by Jonathan Jakubowicz. The Argentinian starts the story on the mean streets of strife when Duran was young, watching the battle between his poor home people and the rich Americans stationed to guard the Canal in their midst. Little Roberto gained a bitter distaste for all things American, we find.
And the need to punch his way into and out of many situations.
Interesting, yes, as Panamanians rally to hone his talents, a pretty student catches his eye and gives him a handful of kids with the boys all named Roberto, a legendary American trainer catches notice of his pop and signs on to bring him to that coveted world championship.
Edgar Ramirez struts his stuff as the arrogant, pushy, powerful fighter. He’s not entirely likeable, this boxer, even when he’s giving away big chunks of his winnings to the poor people in the streets around him, thanks to the weight of the emotional baggage he lugs around with him constantly.
Robert DeNiro turns in a subtler and solid performance as Ray Arcel, the trainer who (mostly) patiently teaches Duran every nugget of strategy he can to make him a better fighter and man. Ray’s got a lot of stuff roiling around in his life back in the States, too, not to mention dealing with Duran flying off the handle as he prepares to meet American superstar Sugar Ray Leonard for that title.
Singer Usher, with the billing of Usher Raymond IV, plays Leonard, arguably the most dynamic U.S. boxer not named Muhammad Ali. He brings with him the necessary star power, yes, but as I sat there in the small Regal Cinemas’ chain theater in Syracuse mega shopping, dining and entertainment complex Destiny USA for the sparsely attended 4:10 p.m. Friday matinée, it struck me that Jakubowicz didn’t pick an actor that truly dazzled with all of Leonard’s intensity. And I also thought a Leonard movie might be way more interesting than a Duran movie. (Though I must confess this comes through the prism of a guy who spent the first four years of his career working for a newspaper in the same Maryland county that housed the Palmer Park gym where Leonard got his start, and whose roommate and best friend Greg worked for Leonard’s publicist, who got me passes and great press row seats for his hometown Cap Centre fight against Davey Boy Green of Ireland, not to mention entry into the press room for the closed circuit showings of the two Leonard-Duran fights …)
Yes, two times Duran had to fight the flashy American, and the second time, he had to drop 40 pounds to make weight … Which led to the infamous “No Mas” line and exit from the world championship lane.
As I thought back, it was all fascinating then. People poked fun at the quitter. His return, though, got far less recognition with the masses.
And now? Boxing got a bump in recognition, sure when the great Ali passed this summer. RIP. But most young folks who care about fighting at all pay more attention to the round ring of the UFC.
I’m not sure this version – unforunately, any version – of Duran’s tale has enough clout to turn heads.
Do you follow either boxing or Ultimate Fighting Championships, and if so, why? Where you a fan of Roberto Duran or Sugar Ray Leonard, and if so, why? Do you have a favorite Robert DeNiro boxing movie, and if so, what and why?