Thursday, May 25
Career set to hit fifth decade


PANAMA CITY -- Veteran Panama boxer Roberto "Hands of Stone" Duran broke training on Thursday to announce that his record-breaking June bout against Pat Lawlor had been put back two weeks to June 16.

Duran and Lawlor were due to meet on June 3, in a twelve-round rematch for the vacant National Boxing Association (NBA) super-middleweight belt, but the fight was put back to accommodate backers.

"We made a contract with CBS television, and they wanted us to change the fight to June 16 for publicity reasons in the U.S.," Duran told Reuters at a Panama City press conference.

The bout, which falls on Duran's 49th birthday, is set to extend the four-time world champion's 117-fight career to a record fifth decade.

Fight sponsors Cervezas Baru confirmed that officials from the Guinness Book of Records will attend the promotion at the capital's New Panama Gymnasium to verify the record.

"It won't be an easy fight, and for this reason I've been training hard," a fit-looking Duran told reporters.

The former champion, who lost to Lawlor over six rounds in a 1991 clash, added that he was going to "make him pay."

Duran learned his aggressive, two-fisted style in the tough streets of Panama City's El Chorrillo neighbourhood in the 1950s and 1960s, where from the age of seven he earned a few cents shining shoes and dancing in the local bars.

Making his professional debut in 1968 at the age of 17 in a four-round fight in the Caribbean city of Colon, Duran went on to win world titles at four different weights.

The first came in 1972 when he put tartan-clad Scottish lightweight champion Ken Buchanan down in the 13th round of their Madison Square Garden clash.

Duran went on to defend the title 12 times before over the next seven years, before moving up to beat Sugar Ray Leonard for the World Boxing Council (WBC) welterweight belt in an epic 15-round battle in 1980.

Two further titles followed at junior middleweight against Davey Moore in 1983, and a final crown at middleweight in a surprise upset against Iran Barkley in 1989.

More than a decade has passed since his glory days, but Duran says he has no plans to hang up his gloves.

"This will be my last fight in Panama City, but I will have two more in the U.S. and then I will make a tour of Europe," he said.

Giving away more than a decade in age, Duran will have his work cut out for him to beat San Francisco-based Lawlor.

But with ten pounds to go to reach the 168-pound weight limit, Duran has been helped by the two-week postponement.

The former champion said he would also be helped by training once again in Panama City under the guidance of his old mentor Nestor "Plomo" Quinones.

Quinones, who has worked with Duran since he was an eager youngster in El Chorrillo, is overseeing a harsh daily training schedule, including road and bag work, together with eight rounds of sparring.

While many in Panama would like to wish Duran an honourable retirement, veteran trainer Rigoberto Garibaldi said the former champion remains in good shape.

"Duran hits hard with both hands, and his reactions are still strong," Garibaldi told Reuters with an indulgent smile. "I've trained three world champions, and he carries on being the best of them."

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