View Full Version : Legendary pugilists Duran, Whitaker head Boxing Hall of Fame class

6/10/2007 8:03pm,
Legendary pugilists Duran, Whitaker head Boxing Hall of Fame class
By John Kekis

CANASTOTA, N.Y. (AP) - Roberto Duran turned his "hands of stone" into palms raised skyward in thanks for a remarkable boxing career.

"I want to thank America. You opened your heart so I could enter. Thank you everybody who lives in the United States, who saw me grow into becoming a world champion," Duran said Sunday through a translator as he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. "My country is being inducted as well. The country where I was born, where I live, and where I will die. I'm happy, proud."

Duran, a world champion from Panama in four weight divisions over a career that spanned five decades, joined Olympic gold medallist Pernell Whitaker, another four-division champion. Duran and Whitaker were chosen from the modern era, along with undefeated Mexican straw-weight (105 pounds) champion Ricardo "Finito" Lopez, who held his world crown for more than a decade with a string of 21 successful defences.

Also among the class of 2007 were Argentine trainer Amilcar Brusa, longtime WBC president Jose Sulaiman and artist Leroy Neiman. Honoured posthumously were heavyweight George Godfrey, lightweight Pedro Montanez, light heavyweight Kid Norfolk, manager/matchmaker Cuco Conde, newspaper cartoonist TAD Dorgan, and 19th-century boxers Young Barney Aaron and Dick Curtis.

The three modern-era fighters were chosen in their first year of eligibility following a minimum five-year retirement. Members of the Boxing Writers Association and a panel of international boxing historians chose the inductees.

"This is unbelievable. It's a wonderful feeling, an honour, a dream come true," Whitaker said afterward as he toured the museum alone. "I knew it would come. I just didn't think it would come this soon. It puts a period at the end of 29 great years."

Sulaiman's speech was so long he received a standing ovation tinged with boos as he promised he was near the end.

"I'm deeply touched," Sulaiman said. "There are people who say I do not deserve this honour in boxing. I have only tried to be of service to the sport I love. I began in boxing since the age of 10, and 66 years later I'm receiving, perhaps undeservedly, the highest honour."

Whitaker followed Sulaiman to the dais, and he began with a smile after having sat through Sulaiman's acceptance, which rambled on for more than 15 minutes and caused trainer Lou Duva to nod off.

"Before I get started, I'm glad to be standing because that seat was killing me," Whitaker said as the audience roared. "First of all, I want to thank my mom and dad. For one day they had passionate love for one another, and here I am. These last four days have been the best four days of my life. At least I don't have to wait until I'm 80 years old (to get inducted)."

Duran, now 55 and a boxing promoter, grew up poor in Panama with little education. He started boxing for money, turning professional in 1967 at age 16, and fought until he was 50, finally forced to stop by injuries from a 2001 car accident.

Over five decades, the man with the "manos de piedra" compiled a 103-16 record, with 70 knockouts, and won world titles as a lightweight (1972-1979), welterweight (1980), junior middleweight (1983), and middleweight (1989-1990).

Duran's opponents included a half-dozen Hall of Famers. His most famous fights were with Sugar Ray Leonard, whom he fought three times in the 1980s.

Duran defeated an unbeaten Leonard in Montreal in June 1980 to claim the WBC welterweight title, then lost a rematch five months later in the infamous "No Mas" fight, in which Duran inexplicably quit before the eighth round. Leonard also won a rubber match in 1989.

Whitaker, now 42, was a southpaw with a stinging right jab who won more than 200 amateur fights and lost only 14 before capturing a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics and turning professional. He praised all of his trainers, especially Georgie Benton.

"Georgie taught me the science of being a professional fighter. He taught me the tricks of the trade, that the best defence is a good offence," said the man dubbed "Sweet Pea," who won the IBF lightweight world championship in 1989 with a 12-round decision over Greg Haugen and later that year added the WBC belt by beating Jose Luis Ramirez. "I just didn't like to get hit. If I can hit you and not get hit, then it's a good day."

Whitaker unified the lightweight championship by taking the WBA title from Juan Nazario in August 1990 and captured world titles as IBF light welterweight champion (1992), WBC welterweight champion (1993-1997) and WBA light middleweight champion (1995). Whitaker retired in 2001 with a 40-4-1 record, with 17 KOs.

The Mexican-born Lopez was one of the most dominant champions in ring history, finishing with a career record of 51-0-1, with 38 KOs. The only blemish on his record was an eight-round technical draw against Rosendo Alvarez in March 1998, an outcome he avenged in a rematch eight months later.