Iran Barkley and Saoul Mamby both boxed Roberto Duran and shared some fascinating memories and insights on what it was like to duel against the Panamanian legend.
Saoul Mamby boxed Duran on May 4, 1976 in Miami Beach, FL in a non-title fight. Duran was 24-years-old and in the midst of his reign as world lightweight champion. From the Bronx, Mamby was 28, and struggling along with a record of 19-8-5, in his seventh year as a pro.
Were you intimidated going into the ring with a ferocious destroyer in his prime like Duran?
Mamby: “No. We had worked when he was getting for Esteban DeJesus. We sparred and we ran together in Central Park. I know he was a very good fighter, very strong, very sharp. He could box and he could punch. I remember he hit me with a right hand and the punch – the pain lasted for about three months. In my rib. And I still had to go and fight Cervantes after that. So I couldn’t miss that (L 10 in November in Venezuela).”
Did you learn anything in the fight with Duran that was different from sparring with him?
Mamby: “Nothing really much. He was more vicious in the fight than he was in sparring.”
What were some of the technical tactics you were able to employ to success against Duran would you say?
Mamby: “I survived!”
Did anything surprise you in the fight with Duran?
Mamby: “He respected me a helluva lot. He didn’t just try to roll over me. He knew I could box. I wasn’t a big puncher but I could put accumulative punches together. And he respected me. After the fight he told me, Very good fight.”
Last time we talked you said Duran wasn’t the physically strongest fighter you fought.
Mamby: “No. Saensak Muangsurin of Thailand, also Thomas Americo of Indonesia. They weren’t as sharp or as fast as Duran. And they weren’t as smart as Duran. They were physically stronger than Duran though.”
What was your strategy against Duran?
Mamby: “Tie him up, box. If you give him leverage he’ll kill you. You can’t give leverage away. He doesn’t have room to hurt you.”
After losing to Duran, Mamby lost on points to Muangsurin in Korat, Thailand in 1977 for the WBC Super Lightweight title. Mamby got another WBC world title shot in 1980 – when his record was 28-13-5 – and stopped Sang Hyun Kim in the 14th round in Seoul, Korea. Mamby, whose own manager didn’t even bother to make the trip to see the title-winning performance, defended the title five times against Thomas Americo, DeJesus, Termite Watkins, Jo Kimpuani and Obisia Nwankpa before losing to Leroy Haley.
28-year-old Iran Barkley fought Duran 13 years later in 1989. After falling short against Marvin Hagler in 1983 and Thomas Hearns in 1984 – for the world middleweight and junior middleweight titles, respectively – Duran was attempting to revive his career at 37 by winning the WBC middleweight title from Barkley. Duran vs. Barkley was later named “Fight of the Year 1989” by Ring Magazine.
What memories stand out about the Duran fight?
Barkley: “The memories that stand out about the Duran fight with me is Duran fought a perfect, clean fight and we were able to get past some things that we got passed in the years like when he fought Davey Moore, my friend (in 1983). But Duran didn’t have nothing to do with Davey. I mean, Davey died in a freak accident and you know Duran’s just a natural normal guy.”
Going into the Duran fight you probably had a certain expectation of his talent level and his skills. What were the things that most surprised you about the way Duran fought?
Barkley: “Well, I knew that he was a very crafty man. And I knew that I had to be up to par with this man because if I don’t…and a lot of people thought I would not perform as good as I did when I fought him because they knew that he was a world class legend, so. But I handled him well. He surprised me very much about him and I probably more surprised him that I was able to handle him the way that I did.”
What was your strategy against Duran?
Barkley: “My strategy against Duran was to go out and make him fight me. But I changed it when I got up in the ring. I said, I think I’m just gonna try and box. Because I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go through a slugfest. I said, I want to show the people that I know how to box and I’m capable of boxing. But I said, If it turns into a slug match then it just got to be a slug match [smiles].”
What caused you to decide to change your strategy at the last minute?
Barkley: “I changed my strategy because of the simple fact because I knew that I could box. And I knew that I had boxing ability. But everybody thought of me as a puncher. And they always seen me as a puncher. But I showed my boxing ability and my skills with punching power when I turned him around in the ninth round and stuff, hit him with a big punch and he turned around. Everybody was like, Whoooaa! You know why he didn’t fall from that? It was just – the reason I could understand why he didn’t fall was because, Duran, being the warrior like me, he knew that if he went down like that, that was going to be his last hurrah.”
(Note: This ‘last hurrah’ theory immediately conjured memories of Roy Jones refusing to go down after being badly hurt by Antonio Tarver in their third fight, and Lennox Lewis willing himself to victory against Vitali Klitschko.)
What was so difficult to offset with Duran?
Barkley: “You know, his style. You had to be willing and ready to really, like, take his stuff. Really be a thinker with him. Because Duran is very crafty. He’s a very creative fighter and crafty.”
When Duran comes to New York and you see him, how do you two get along?
Barkley: “Oh, me and Duran is like, it’s like we the best of friends [smiles]. Because there’s nothing but respect and love.”
Do you know that Sugar Ray Robinson said, after seeing you and Duran, he said about Duran’s performance: “That’s the best boxer I’ve ever seen.” Roberto Duran’s son told me that. Did you ever hear that?
Barkley: “No, I never heard that. Wow. I mean, he boxed that fight and he fought a clean fight, courageously. You could say that we both was the best fighters and boxers that night. It was a close fight but I know why I didn’t get the decision [smiles]. So I’m not gonna even go there with that [laughs].”
Iran Barkley, would go on to win the IBF Super Middleweight title in 1992 by KO over Darrin Van Horn. In the same year, Barkley defeated Hearns again for the WBA Light Heavweight title. Barkley’s last notable win was in 1997 – a 10th round TKO over former WBA Heavyweight champ Gerrie Coetzee.