by Fox Doucette
Tonight, on Historical Fight Night, we’ve got a matchup between a seemingly ageless 37-year-old Roberto Duran, who went through hell itself against Iran Barkley in the 1989 Fight of the Year en route to a contested split decision and the middleweight championship of the world, and Carlos Monzon, fresh off his beatdown and 12-round TKO of Nino Benvenuti in the 1970 Fight of the Year, the fight that first won Monzon the middleweight title. Can the age and guile of “Manos de Piedra” beat a 28-year-old was right in the midst of a 31-fight winning streak that spanned the last eight years of his professional career and cemented his place in any argument of the greatest middleweight fighters of all time? Or will the superior range, natural size, and youth of Monzon get the job done?
Our co-feature pits one of the great warriors of Philadelphia boxing history against a career journeyman who nonetheless ended his career with a run as the light heavyweight champion of the world, as Matthew Saad Muhammad, fresh off yet another Fight of the Year, this one from 1980 against Yaqui Lopez in which Muhammad came back from the dead to win a 14th-round TKO, against Willie Pastrano, who comes to us from 1964 and an 11th-round knockout of Terry Downes in the penultimate fight and final win of the 29-year-old’s run in the squared circle. Pastrano may be limited as a boxer, but he could throw and take a punch, and the former Matt Franklin was, if nothing else, known for all-action scraps.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Willie Pastrano (11/30/1964, 62-12-8, 14 KOs) vs. Matthew Saad Muhammad (7/13/1980, 27-3-2, 19 KOs)
Matthew Saad Muhammad had a simple fight plan for this one that amounted to the old boxing axiom that “straight punches beat round ones.” Pastrano had two major weaknesses, both of which Muhammad was in prime position to exploit. For starters, he had a tendency to bounce rather than set his feet; his footwork was not the footwork of a champion but rather the dancing of a guy whose low knockout percentage was attributable to an inability to get set.
More pervasively, Pastrano threw his punches wide, with sweeping left hooks and long-windup chopping right hands that were potent when they landed but perilously easy to dodge and counter.
Muhammad had a different weakness, namely his tendency to try and lay on the ropes and box rather than take the fight to his opponent, which is how Yaqui Lopez was able to build a huge lead on the scorecards through the first eight rounds of their fight before Muhammad came off the ropes to take the fight to the enemy and score the late stoppage.
For Muhammad, the game plan was to watch, time, and block in Round 1. This was the anti-particle to Round 8 of the Muhammad-Lopez fight visited by the time machine. Pastrano danced, Pastrano threw a feather-fisted jab, Pastrano hooked from the parking lot, and Muhammad watched, timed, and played defense, and as the round went on, Muhammad began to meet the incoming attacks with a jab that consistently beat Pastrano to the punch. To the commentators, it looked like Matthew Saad Muhammad was timid. To the corner of the Philadelphian, it was all going according to the script.
There is a good reason why a good trainer trains the tendency to bunny hop out of a fighter right quick, and that was on display in Round 2. Whenever a fighter dances on his toes, there is a split second where that fighter must land, set himself, and then finally wind up and throw. It’s the quarterback looking at the receiver a split second too long, or the opponent in any boxing video game using a tell to tip off the player to what’s coming.
Muhammad, who solved the puzzle in the first round, started to anticipate the left hand coming in, and sat down on his straight right hand. When Pastrano landed, cocked his fist for the wide left hook, Muhammad struck with the straight right, used his opponent’s momentum against him…and boom. Any kindergartener could sing along at home.
Straight punches beat round ones, and world-class fighters with lengthy title reigns beat journeymen who grab a title during a down stretch in the division. Willie Pastrano was not Archie Moore, and he was not Bob Foster. If they had “interim” titles in 1964, Pastrano would no doubt have held one. Matthew Saad Muhammad saw to that.
RESULT: MUHAMMAD KO2 PASTRANO.
Roberto Duran (2/24/1989, 85-7, 61 KOs) vs. Carlos Monzon (11/7/1970, 68-3-9, 44 KOs)
An argument can be made that Carlos Monzon’s greatest weakness was Roberto Duran’s greatest strength. Monzon threw a bit of a lazy jab as a rangefinder, and Duran was an ace at getting the straight right hand over the jab.
What keeps this from being a straightforward style clash is that Monzon had a second variety of jab, one which he threw with a straight right or a sweeping right cross behind it. That jab tended to snap out in one motion along with the punch that came behind it, and Monzon did not telegraph just what you were going to get when he went into his motion. For Duran, trying to time Monzon’s jab would come at the risk of getting the two-punch combination and potentially getting hurt by a naturally bigger, stronger guy.
Meanwhile, Monzon enjoyed plenty of physical advantages here, since he was a natural 160-pounder who was always comfortable at that weight, while Duran turned pro at lightweight and never quite brought the same power in his punches as a middleweight that he had at lightweight or welterweight. If this came down to trading shots, Monzon also enjoyed a ten-inch reach advantage and a five-inch advantage in height. Ask Thomas Hearns what happens when you get to fight a range war against Hands of Stone.
Someone must’ve told Monzon to watch out for the overhand right, because not fifteen seconds into the fight, Monzon floated out a couple of those jabs, and it was right out of Sun Tzu. Specifically:
“All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.”
And, if that weren’t enough, “So it is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you can win a hundred battles without a single loss. If you only know yourself, but not your opponent, you may win or may lose. If you know neither yourself nor your enemy, you will always endanger yourself.”
Both guys could fit that second criterion; Duran knew himself, and Monzon knew himself, but the demonstration of the first criterion was found at that fifteen second point mentioned.
See, the Argentine floated out a couple of lazy jabs to lull Duran into believing that the first round would be all about the range-finding, and therefore the Panamanian could turn around and start with the counter punching.
The first time Duran threw the overhand right, Monzon slipped it, deflecting the incoming punch on his extended arm.
The second time? Monzon planned for it, snapped out the quick jab, then brought the crushing right hand behind it. Duran took it right on the chin…and stood right up to it, showing that he was not only “manos de piedra”, but “cabeza de piedra” as well.
For the rest of the first round, Monzon varied up his use of the jab and the use of the two-punch combination like a baseball pitcher mixing fastballs and change-ups to mow down opposing batters and never give up anything more threatening than a lazy ground ball in the infield.
Duran, rather than try to play that guessing game, instead decided to press forward and force the action to the inside, where his inferior reach would be an advantage; a man with shorter arms will throw tighter, crisper punches in close quarters, as Marvin Hagler, giving up three inches in reach and four in height, demonstrated against Tommy Hearns.
The aggression negated Monzon’s little guessing game, as there became only one correct answer to how to handle Duran trying to walk the South American down; Monzon would have to dispense with the rangefinder and instead throw the combination using the advantage of his size to keep Duran off him.
Sometimes it worked. Other times, Duran moved his head or shrugged off the violence of the punches coming at him or otherwise got in to where he could start working on the body of his opponent. The body shots were thrown with vicious intentions; the look on the face and the extended windup of the wide punches aimed at the ribs of Monzon betrayed a single intention; Duran was trying to break Monzon’s rib cage.
For four rounds, it was a game of cat and cat, as each fighter had moments where his particular stylistic decision appeared to all reasonable observation to be the correct one. Sometimes a Monzon right hand would back Duran up, followed by the Argentine throwing combinations to try and get the knockdown. Other times, Duran would get inside and start smashing bone. The rounds themselves bordered on impossible to score, but what was abundantly clear was that something was going to have to give.
The first thing to give was the chin of Duran. Monzon, seeing that he could only do so much with the same pair of punches, instead shortened up his shots and threw them from further out; rather than lead with the jab, Monzon instead led with the hook.
The effect was telling; Duran hesitated a bit, as if the confounding of his expectations had utterly baffled him. Rather than try to guess what was coming, Duran tried to go back to work, but a doubled-up hook and a right cross showed the futility of failure to adjust. Duran took the cross right on the coconut, and down he went. He rose, visibly hurt, at seven, and finished the round.
The seventh round was a survival round for Duran; Monzon tried to finish him; Duran showed superior defense and head movement to keep from being knocked out while he got his second wind. All the same, three points went into the bank for Monzon, putting him up on the consensus press row scorecard 68-64, five rounds to two including the knockdown.
All that changed when Duran rediscovered a weapon that was much more a feature of his earlier career at the lighter weights against smaller guys. Duran was never able to get behind his jab against big middleweights; he had to rely on movement on his way inside the reach of every man he fought.
Coming in against Monzon, however, Duran had to, to steal a line from Teddy Atlas, “put bugs on the windshield” in order to keep Monzon from simply timing him.
The problem with this was that Duran simply could not land first with a punch that was a foot shorter than the punch of his enemy, so he adopted the shotgun approach, throwing a cloud of leather. Once he got inside, on those occasions he was able to do the job, he resumed his crunching attack on the body of Monzon, but many wondered if he’d lost the ring generalship game on account of so often simply walking into anticipatory shots rather than getting inside and doing work.
Twenty seconds into the round, Duran landed a vicious tight uppercut right on the solar plexus of the Argentine. Monzon did not initially react, but after a left hook to the body, Monzon fell to a knee, the same look crossing his face as crossed the face of Arturo Gatti when Micky Ward dropped him in round nine of their first and greatest battle. The count got all the way to nine, referee Steve Smoger nearly completing the sequence that would end this fight in one astonishing stroke of fortune, and it was up to Monzon to survive.
Duran kept working the body, frenzied by the chance he had seized to regain the momentum in the fight, but therein lay the problem; by the time another minute had gone by, Duran had punched himself out.
Monzon, recovering, took his turn, uncorking hook and cross and straight right hand in a barrage of punches attempting at any price to hurt Duran. The exhausted Panama fighter took the brunt of every single punch, his fists leaden, his arms barely able to remain in a boxing stance. Monzon, smelling blood, went for the kill, but the damage done to the body sapped his stamina and allowed for only a thirty second offensive assault. With fifty seconds still remaining in the round, it was Duran’s turn to punch, and he took the attack upstairs, catching Monzon with a series of hooks and straight rights, including a hook to the head so vicious that Monzon looked out on his feet.
Smoger, however, would not stop this fight unless someone’s corner was willing to throw in the towel, and neither corner would do so. The bell rang to end round nine, and the crowd exploded in appreciation for three of the greatest minutes of boxing that anyone had ever seen.
Monzon, with a minute on the stool to collect himself and unconvinced that he still held the lead, came out for blood. A jab-straight right combination stunned Duran, and after a shove into the ropes, Monzon went to town on his weakened opponent. Duran’s occasional trouble with conditioning, while less of a cause for concern in the Barkley fight, nonetheless reared its ugly head here, a result of the pounding he had taken throughout this contest.
Backed up against the ropes, taking punishment, sweat flying off his hair and crushing blows landing one after the other on his chin, Duran betrayed his heart once more—to Smoger, he spoke the words that live in infamy when considering his legacy:
That body attack in the ninth, the punching himself out, it was all Duran had left, and now that his opponent had once again seized the advantage, Duran simply lost the will to see it through to the end.
He was, in the final analysis, probably wise to do so; the cards all heavily favored Monzon; all three judges were unanimous through nine rounds that Monzon led six rounds to three, 86-83 including the two 10-8 rounds; at best, Duran would have to fight a perfect fight just to salvage a draw.
All that was academic, though; Monzon had earned the late stoppage.
RESULT: MONZON TKO10 DURAN.
We’ve got welterweights in the main event, as a still-undefeated Miguel Cotto steps into the time machine fresh off his 2007 win over Zab Judah in order to take on Pipino Cuevas. Your co-feature? A 140-pound tilt between Kostya Tszyu, put into the time machine after inflicting on Jesse James Leija’s eardrum a punishment normally dished out by excessively loud heavy metal music, and Aaron Pryor, who gets a chance to redeem himself after getting knocked out by a combination of writer bias and a Micky Ward left hook back in episode three of this series. That will be next Friday, August 7, at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific, right here on The Boxing Tribune.
And one other thing…
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