Roberto Duran is one of the most celebrated boxers of all time. The Panamanian boxer had 119 fights in his career. Out of 119 fights, he managed to win 103, out of which 70 were from KOs.
However, it’s not these staggering stats that make him one of boxing’s greatest fighters but his abilities. His moves, his style, and elegance can never be repeated in a boxing ring. He was once in a generation type of fighter from whom we can learn a lot.
After discovering the current crop of talents in boxing case studies, it’s time for us to go classic this time around. Thus, far, only the Mike Tyson Boxing Strategy Analysis is from the previous century. With that said, let’s jump straight to the topic and learn from the Tao of Roberto Duran.
Duran, though he has over 100 career wins, his most fascinating bout was against Palomino. In 1979, Duran abandoned the lightweight division after an out and out domination. After that, he decided to take on the welterweight division.
The jury was still not supportive of Duran’s decision as they doubted whether Duran can compete effectively against naturally bigger men. At that time, he was pitted against one of the finest 147-pound fighters in the world i.e. Carlos Palomino.
As per the bookies, he might have been the favorite, but he still had a mountain of a challenge when facing the best in the welterweight division. I’m mentioning that, because most of the topics we talk about will stem from that fight, since, it was so EPIC. With that said, let’s move towards the first quality.
I hope the subheading is not an understatement, because many will agree that Duran was the king of the feint. He constantly made use of feints during his fights. Mostly, he’d use feints to draw a reaction from his opponent and then construct a plan based on his opponent’s reaction. Duran at the time was able to showcase the power of feinting and its ability to expose an opponent like never done before. Today, we know that feint is a great tool to expose an opponent and sense an opening.
In the clip above, you can see Duran doing multiple feints. First, you can see him feint the right hand, feint the left hook, and then feint the right uppercut. You can see that smile on his face, after doing it. Because Palomino is highly reactive to feints and this alerts Duran about the openings.
I mean feinting all knockouts blows while having the opportunity to land them just goes to show the confidence of this man. He was on a completely different level. Not just that, he was able to sense the opening his opponent was providing him and still opted for a slow kill.
Just after that smile, you can see Duran catching Palomino’s left hook and then counters with a left hook of his own to the body. Excellent counterpunching on display.
In the clip above, you can see Duran throwing the lead to the body, he then feints the right hand. Again, you can see Palomino’s overreaction. Duran catches him with a jab, you can see the same thing again in the next clip. Feint – Create an opening – Attack. That’s the pattern that Duran is following.
Let’s check out how this knockdown happens. First, Duran shows the lead hand. If you slow the clip down to x0.50, you can see two quick jabs. Not only is he measuring his distance and establishing his punching range. He is also occupying Palomino and giving him something to think about. Notice that Duran does NOT show the right hand to Palomino. (he just shows two quick jabs).
You can see Duran quickly changing the pace and landing a solid jab on Palomino. Not only does this jab freezes Palomino in his tracks, it also acts as a pickup jab. Duran capitalizes on this and uses it to flick Palomino’s head up and expose it for a right hand. Great boxing. Soon as he lands the punch, he doesn’t give his opponent a second to contemplate.
He instantly shoots the right hand catching him clean on the jaw. It enables him to land his right hand due to the constant use of feints and his ability to change the tempo and rhythm as he fights. Palomino got comfortable with the feints and couldn’t predict the original shots when they arrived.
Rhythm & Timing
Duran became one of the greatest fighters of all time because he had an absolute understanding of the power of establishing a predictable rhythm and then breaking that rhythm spontaneously to land clean effective punches. In our Floyd, Lomachenko and Canelo Alvarez tutorial we have seen how these fighters amazingly break their opponent’s rhythm.
But, talk about Duran, and we may be talking about something even better than what these fighters have. It’s single-handedly one of the most important of Duran’s boxing strategies. Thus, make sure you learn from it.
Upon watching the clips at x0.25, you’ll see how Duran establishes a predictable rhythm. He starts it by showing the lead hand once, shows the lead hand a second time, does it yet again and then he breaks the rhythm spontaneously by throwing a jab followed by the right hand.
You can clearly see him establishing a predictable rhythm. He breaks the rhythm with his jab. Carlos Palomino is simply not expecting the jab. Thus, he gets caught clean when Duran eventually throws one. By establishing and breaking rhythm during the right, you can easily keep your opponent occupied and reacting to your movements. It’s quite similar to how Duran works Palomino throughout the fight.
In the clip above, you can see Duran using the lead hand yet again. He shows it almost three times. In this instance though, Palomino knows that Duran is measuring him. And thus, when he expects the punch to arrive, he right ducks down low to avoid Duran’s right hand. THE TWIST HERE IS THAT DURAN DOES NOT THROW THE RIGHT HAND. He allows Palomino to get back up and then throws the right hand.
This is an example of Duran’s excellent timing and his ability to read what his opponents are going to do. It’s basically setting a rhythm and then breaking it to catch your opponent off-guard. We have seen boxers often falling prey to their own rhythm and getting caught in later rounds. But this strategy from Duran is a step ahead. Herein, he sets up the trap, makes himself look vulnerable and then counters off his opponent’s misjudgment. NOW THAT’S A COMPLETELY OUTRAGEOUS SKILL!
Catch Feint + Pull & Slip Counter
Having discussed Duran’s ability to feint himself. He was also an expert at catching feints and pulling or slipping a counter. Now that’s an ability which separates fringe boxers from the ultimate professional ones. Duran would bait his opponents into shooting a jab by dropping his left hand and sticking his right hand out in a catching position while leaning towards his opponent. When they take the bait, he slips or pulls and counters with a right hand over the jab.
In the clip above, you can see Duran signaling Palomino to shoot the jab. Notice, how Duran hangs his left arm low. When Palomino doesn’t shoot the jab, he forces him to throw by throwing a jab of his own. This incites Palomino to have a go and in the process of doing so, presents Duran with an opportunity to slip and counter. BRILLIANT TECHNIQUE.
Remember, when you want to bait your opponent and they aren’t accepting it. You must be the first one to land the jab. This inadvertently forces them to throw a jab. And upon their action, you can capitalize and make them pay.
Inside fighting & Countering
Duran was exceptional on the inside and would often bait and counter his opponents whilst working on the inside. Now that’s a phenomenal skill. It’s this boxing knowledge that makes Duran one of the smartest and the most technical fighters of all time. Thus, him being referred to as a brawler is in fact one of the most disrespectful things said in boxing.
In the clip above, you can see Palomino landing a left hook to the body. His first hit is partially blocked by Duran. Having felt Palomino’s power with the previous left hook to the body. Duran intentionally exposes the right side of his body to bait Palomino into shooting another left hook – which Duran intends to block and counter with a left hook of his own. That’s forward-thinking at its finest.
Palomino does what Duran predicted and thus Duran lands a left hook successfully whilst being on the inside of Palomino. But he doesn’t just stop there. You can see Duran picks Palomino’s head up with a lightning uppercut which stuns him. And as we’ve discussed in our Adrian Broner case study, hooks work very well after uppercuts and vice-versa.
Uppercuts setup hooks and hooks are great at setting up uppercut. Duran is able to explode with his offense because of his blistering hand speed. Keep in mind this is all because Duran was able to successfully bait and counter on the inside. Outstanding. Simply Exceptional boxing skill on display.
In the clip above, you can see Duran controlling Palomino and creating an opening down the middle. He is able to do so and the first thing he does after creating an opening is throwing a right uppercut. This element of Duran’s boxing goes to show just how talented he was when it came to working the inside of his opponents and countering them.
Effective use of Jab
For a change, let’s check out Duran’s jab abilities from a different fight. This time let’s take a look at Duran’s effective usage of jabs to control the fight against Hector Thompson.
In the clips above, Duran (in white trunks), is using his jabs while moving towards his left. He’s using the jab to control the pace of the fight. He throws and lands 2 types of jabs. Firstly, he throws purposeful jabs designed to land and do damage. He’s following those purpose jabs with slow jabs designed to bring his opponent forward.
You can see how he continues to use feints and head movements. The key thing to note is that after he draws response from Thompson with his jab, Duran fires quick, hard uppercuts and hooks to the body targeting Thompson’s liver and spleen. This lets his opponent know that when they attack, they will be met with a response from Duran.
Overall Defense & Ring IQ
One of the aspects of Duran’s highly underrated game is his defense. Duran had great head movement, could easily slip and roll punches effectively and remained in perfect balance while doing so. When it comes to defense, a fighter’s ability to move whilst balancing himself shows how good of a defense he has. And Duran seemed to tick all the right boxes with regards to his defensive abilities, which was often undermined.
In the clip above, we can see Duran rolling under his opponent’s left hook. Quickly after that, he slips the right uppercut and slips to the outside of the jab. That’s brilliant showcase of defense. What Duran does is that he simply leans back by transitioning his weight over to his trailing foot or his right foot. By leaning back, Duran is able to avoid the straight right hand from Cuevas. That’s an excellent display of defensive skill.
After he completes his defensive duties. He still remains in balance and in punching range. His opponent, Cuevas, is no safer now than he was before.
In the clip above, you can see Duran jabbing to the left shoulder of Cuevas. Therefore, he is able to obstruct his vision momentarily. After obstructing his vision, he is able to land the right hand on his opponent. If you’ve been following our series, by now, you must know that when a guy covers up but remains stationary, they are open on either side. Thus, they can be attacked viciously and in no time.
Here, we see Duran take a quick step to his right and shoot a left hook catching Cuevas. That quick step to the right opens the angle for Duran and allows him to attack his opponent on a preferred side. Thus, Duran throws a beautiful left hook.
In the clip above, you can see Duran throwing a jab, pulling back, shoots a jab again, feints the right hand and lands a beautiful uppercut. Beautiful display of breaking the rhythm by Roberto Duran. You can see that he’s holding on to his left uppercut momentarily and by doing so, he is able to land the uppercut with the finest connection.
By delaying an uppercut for split second, he makes Thompson react which ultimately leads his opponent to cover up. However, once, he realizes that the uppercut is not coming, he opens himself which then provides Duran with an opportunity to slip an uppercut. This shows the technical brilliance of a fighter.
In many ways, true in-fighting is now a forgotten art. Pugilists today just exchange punches on the inside and turn behind a high guard. However, boxers of yesteryear would actively vie for punching room while simultaneously taking it away from their opponent. True in-fighting then, is more or less of a game of spatial negotiation in which every inch matters and lapse of judgement proved to be costly. An at close quarters, nobody “negotiated” better than Roberto Duran.
In the clip above, you can see Duran’s right glove pressed firmly against Palomino’s left. While doing so, Duran can sense a left hook coming and thus he slides his right arm and intercepts it. By doing so, Duran is able to create enough space with his right forearm so he can see the left hook coming. Again, he is able to intercept the blow with his right arm, then immediately counters with a left hook.
Though it’s difficult to tell if the left hook lands or not. Duran, being an opportunist makes the most of the situation by using his left arm to pry open Palomino’s guard and create space for a right uppercut, which in turn raises Palomino’s head into the path of a left hook.
You can see Duran repeating the procedure: First opening Palomino’s guard with the left, then coming up through the centre with the right. By stepping back and straightening out his left arm, he is able to create space for another uppercut. Through this move he forces Palomino to abandon his overhook.
Duran’s transitions from defense to offense were often seamless. There simply aren’t many who can oust him with regards to the transition boxing. Even in the toughest of spots, he was always able to create a room and work his way out of tough situations.
In the clip above, you can see a left hook from Duran which forces Palomino to raise his guard and expose his lower side. Duran takes the advantage with a left hook before ducking underneath and weaving out to his right. You can see that Palomino’s left side is now exposed. Upon noticing that, Duran pounces with a short shovel hook downstairs and then prevents any kind of return by smothering his opponent.
Drawing the Counter
The creativity and variety of Duran’s offense was magnificent. He always continued to introduced new ways to open up his opponents. Against Palomino, we saw his best and his mind-boggling ability to use his jab not as a range finder or a distraction but rather as a bait.
In the clip above, Palomino tries to parry Duran’s lazy jab and immediately looks to counter with a jab of his own. But Duran is expecting it. He knows what’s coming his way, so he simply slips outside the jab and counters with a right hand. You can see the slip and attack on a number of occasions in the clip above.
Here’s an excellent video from Lee Wylie, demonstrating Duran’s indigenous strategies on display.
Often, it is the subtle things great fighters do that distinguishes them from the rest. Watching the great Roberto Duran in action is nothing less than a true master’s dissertation on the subtleties of boxing craft. Even though referred to as a raw, one-dimensional brawler, Duran proved everybody wrong. Under the tutelage of masterful trainers such as Freddie Brown and Ray Arcel, he became one of the most intelligent, multi-layered technicians the sport has ever known.