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Boxer Duran Goes for Another Title

June 4, 1998

NEW YORK (AP) _ Roberto Duran didn’t exactly fight his way to what might be his last title fight. After more than three decades in the ring, he didn’t have to.

To the legend goes the spoils in boxing, in this case a middleweight title fight Saturday night with WBA champion William Joppy.

``Hopefully, he’ll take advantage of this opportunity,″ said Elias Cordoba, president of the WBA’s world championship committee and, like Duran, a Panamanian.

Twenty-six years after he stopped Ken Buchanan in Madison Square Garden to win the first of four titles in different weight classes, Duran returns to a place he has had some of his greatest success.

He hasn’t fought for a title in nine years, and was knocked down in the first round of his last fight before rallying to beat Colombian Felix Hernandez earlier this year in Panama.

Hardly credentials for a shot at Joppy, but Duran still has a name. And promoters hope that will lure some fans Saturday night on the undercard of the Evander Holyfield-Henry Akinwande heavyweight title fight.

``You’re going to be certain to see a very different Roberto Duran than you’ve seen lately,″ Duran said. ``I’m ready for the fight. You’re going to be surprised.″

Fighting at the Garden is a homecoming of sorts for Duran, who made his debut in the United States by knocking out Benny Huertas in the first round of their 1971 fight.

Later, he roamed the streets of Manhattan hoping no one would recognize him. No one did.

``I made up my mind right then that the next time I fought here everyone would know my name,″ Duran recalled Wednesday. ``And the next time they did know who I was.″

Duran would return a year later to stop Buchanan and win the first of four titles in different weight classes. Now he is still fighting at the age of 46, and running out of chances.

``This is like my home here,″ Duran said. ``I’m just happy to be back here.″

Duran hasn’t fought for a title since losing his middleweight crown to Sugar Ray Leonard in a 12-round decision on a chilly Las Vegas night.

But while his contemporaries have all long since retired, Duran keeps on fighting, motivated both by a love of the sport and the need to erase some long-standing tax debts. Saturday night will mark the 116th time he has stepped into the ring as a pro. He has won 102 of those fights.

``Who could imagine he could be fighting on at his age?″ said Buchanan, now a 52-year-old carpenter in Coatbridge, Scotland. ``But there is an exception to every rule, and I guess Duran is it.″

It was the Buchanan fight on June 26, 1972, that not only made Duran a name fighter, but gave him the WBA and WBC lightweight titles.

Duran beat and battered the Scottish champion throughout the fight, finally ending it on a low blow that put Buchanan on his hands and knees as the 13th round ended. He could not come out for round 14.

``I was not doing very well at all, which might be because Duran was having such a good night,″ Buchanan said. ``To go 13 rounds with that Roberto Duran in Madison Square Garden was a feat. It seems more a feat as time goes by.″

That Roberto Duran, though, is not the Roberto Duran of today, a portly fighter who has had to struggle to get down to 160 pounds to fight Joppy.

But Duran has won fights before that he wasn’t supposed to win, and Joppy isn’t selling him short.

``He’s tricky and I do have to watch out for him,″ Joppy said. ``But if I don’t knock him out, I’ll beat him badly for 12 rounds.″

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