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PAGE 16 BOSTON POST-GAZE'n'E, JUNE 3, 2016 HOOPS and HOCKEY in the HUB by Richard Preiss ROBERTO DURAN The Last of the Great Old School Fighters Roberto Duran. On May 16th, Hands of Stone, the movie biographic of Roberto Duran, opened to mixed reviews at the Cannes Film Festival. The movie is scheduled to pre- miere in the United States in August. I am looking forward to seeing it. Duran is played by Edgar Ramirez, with Robert De Niro portraying trainer Ray Arcel. Former boxing champion turned actor John Duddy steps into the role of Ken Buchanan. While anticipating this mov- ie, I have been reflecting on the career of Roberto Duran. Not just his fights, but his attitude, training methods, and amazing skills. I believe Duran was the last of the great ~Old School" boxers. Duran had a total of 119 bouts in a career lasting 34 years in which he fought in five different decades. In that time, he won five cham- pionships in four weight divisions. He began his career at 119 pounds and fought through the differ- ent classes going as high as fight-heavyweight. He was, of course, at his best while fighting lightweight, where he dominat- ed the division and will always be considered an aU-time great. He is ranked as the best ever by many boxing experts, and they certainly have a good argument for that view. Duran won the Lightweight Championship from Ken Bu- chanan on January 26, 1972, and remained champion until 1979 when he vacated the throne in order to take on Sugar Ray Leonard for the Welterweight title in Montreal, Canada. In a superb fight, Duran out-boxed and out- slugged Leonard over 15 rounds and came away with the belt. It was the highpoint of his career. The great lightweight champion had proven he could step up in weight and defeat the best. Of course, the glory was short-lived as Duran foolishly agreed to a rematch just five months later. Roberto had not even finished celebrating his victory, and celebrating was something he did with as much passion as fighting, He had ballooned to 180 pounds and had to trim down very fast to make the weight for his title defense. He also was not mentally prepared for the fight. Many believe Leonard, along with his very shrewd manager Angelo Dundee, pushed for the quick rematch knowing Duran would not be at his best in such a short time. The rest is history as Duran would forever have to live with the words "No Mas" after quit- ting in the 8th round. To this day, there has never been a definitive explanation given as to why the fearless Duran just threw his hands up and relinquished the title. Duran has said different things at dif- ferent times, but I don't think he is even sure why he did it. My belief is he just was not up for the fight, got frustrated by Leonard's brilliant boxing, and decided to call it a night. It was one of those crazy moments that were completely out of charac- ter for the great champion. As a side note, Duran never actually uttered the words "No masl" Now why do I call Duran the last of the great old school box- ers? First off, unlike today's overly cautious so called cham- pions, Duran fought often and against everyone. After winning the Lightweight Champion- ship, he was back in the ring for a non-rifle bout just three Duran taunts Hagler. months later. He fought an ad- ditional two times that same year, including dropping a non- title ten-round decision to top contender Esteban DeJesus. In- stead of then avoiding DeJesus, Duran went on to give Esteban two shots at the title, stopping him both times. From the time he won the Lightweight Crown until he gave it up in 1980, Duran fought 43 times in both title and non-title fights. He defended the champi- onship twelve times. Over that period, he absolutely dominated the division and was, next to Muhammad Ali, the most fol- lowed fighter. Every time he stepped into the ring, there was excitement in the air. Duran trained "Old SchooF and was taught "Old SchooF methods by Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown. He also had abundant natural talent, which made him reminiscent of Jack Dempsey. When you watch Duran in action, you are not just seeing a brutal punching slugger in there; you are also seeing an artist at work plying his craft. He had the moves of a cat, the punch of a mule, and the cunning of a fox. Look at almost any Duran fight and you will see brilliance. While watching him at his peak is always a pleasure for any Duran and Freddie Brown. boxing aficionado, I particularly enjoy viewing his 1983 match against Marvelous Marvin Ha- gler. Here was Duran long past his prime fighting way above his best weight against one of the greatest middleweight champi- ons of aft-time. On paper this should have been an easy win for Hagler, but Duran reached into his tool box, or perhaps I should say artist's palette, to come up with an array of box- ing moves that have not been seen since. He used body and head feints to confound Hagler. He would work his way inside and appear to be about to go for a clinch when he would suddenly unleash a combination to the body. He was roiling with and slipping punches. He knew how to take breaks in or- der to catch his breath. Going into the 13th round, Duran was actually ahead on two of the judges' cards. Just amazing. Marvin, with his eye swollen, had to fight hard in the remain- ing rounds to secure the victory. In my opinion, that loss made up ten times over for the "No Mas Fighff. Duran continued fighting until 2001 and even managed to win the WBC Middleweight Title in 1989 by defeating Iran Barkley. Duran was an all-time great Lightweight, an all-time great pound-for-pound fighter, and a true "Old School Boxer". It is doubtful the moves he ex- ecuted in the ring will ever be seen again. For all the talk of him being a slugger, it must be remembered how difficult he was to hit. He had amaz- ing defensive skills. Watching film of him gives you an idea of what great fighters used to do. For a special treat, go to YouTube and search for "Ro- berto Duran teaching boxing.~ There are some recent clips of him taken in gyms where he is showing young fighters boxing techniques. One in particular was taken in England and goes on for about 12 minutes. It is an absolute Master Class in box- ing. You will learn more about the "Fine Art of Boxing" just watching that 12 or so minutes than you will from two or more years in most modern boxing gyms. "Old School Boxing~ has become a lost art form. Care- fully watching Roberto Duran in action will teach you a lot. Watching him giving pointers in a gym is pure gold. He's come a long way from that first practice in WiLming- ton just after Labor Day in the fail of 1997, when a much an- ticipated wet-behind-the-ears teenager reported for duty at Bruins training camp. It was 19 years before he would be playing in his first Stanley Cup Final against Pitts- burgh as the veteran center for the San Jose Sharks. It was way back then that Boston had se- lected one Joe Thornton as the number one pick in the annual NHL Draft. And then, as now, there was a lot to like about him. One look at his statistics would make a scout's eyes pop out. In his final year of junior hockey while playing for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League, the big center (6'-4", 220 lbs} put up big numbers -- 41 goals and 81 assists, for a total of 122 points in 59 regular season games played. And there was something else. Thornton also seemed to be in the center of things when encounters became physical -- as in 123 minutes in penalties to go with that prodigious point production. Yes, there really was something jumbo about him -- not only in size, but in numbers. Or, as then Bruins GM Harry Sinden stated with some enthu- siasm: "He doesn't take any guff from anybody." So here he was on that bright sunny day in the suburbs north of Boston, in the same room with a Boston icon that was old enough to be his father. Yes, ev- erybody still liked Raymond, but as they glanced to the side there was the hope that they were not just looking at Bourque's suc- cessor, but also at a potential savior of the franchise. For a team based in the "Hub of Hockey,~ one that had not raised Lord Stanley's Cup since 1972, it seemed a lot to expect from an 18-year-old who had yet to experience the drop of a puck in an NHL game. But as all the representatives from the top Boston media out- lets clustered around him in their waning time of ultimate power --just before the advent of internet-based bloggers and social media-- you knew that is what they were expecting. But things didn't really work out that way in the Hub. Never really given a chance to develop into a star, but expected to be an instant one right out of the box, Joe couldn~ fulfill that role. Early on and perhaps quite properly, Thornton's morn in- sisted that he live with a faro- fly that also had teenagers, a residence where he would have home-cooked meals and engage in dinner table conversation ev- ery night. It was a caring action by a parent who realized her son was not quite an adult. And then, over time, the su- per high numbers that he put up in junior hockey were not duplicated during his years in the Hub. Joe Thornton was not a failure. He was a very good NHL player. But often he was treated as a failure by the media and an in- creasing number of fans. Why? Because he did not live up to the artificially high, externally imposed standards that they had set. Joe grew unhappy and finally, after a little more than seven seasons, it all came down to November 30, 2005. It was on that day that he was supposedly observed crying in his car in the North End shortly after learning he had been traded to San Jose. What he really needed was a change of scenery, a place out of the 50,000-watt media glare of the Hub, a place where he could make significant contributions but not be expected to carry the entire load. He didn't know it then, but the B's were doing him a favor. Once out in California, and thus in a somewhat less intense hockey setting, Thornton blos- somed. Paired with Sharks wing Jonathan Cheechoo, the two clicked right away. Jumbo Joe amassed 92 points in 58 games after the trade and wound up at 29-96-125 for the season, win- ning both the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's top scorer and the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league's MVP. He was the first player in history to win the awards while playing for two different teams in the same season. The high number of assists also indicated that his role would shift over the years. Once thought of as a goal scorer as well as a player who contrib- uted assists, he would now be thought of as primarily a player who could set up scorers -- an assist man. Indeed, Thornton's last 30-goal season was back in the 2002-2003 campaign when he was with the Bruins. To be sure, the Sharks (and thus Joe Thornton), are no strangers to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team has missed the NHL's second season only twice since 1998. One of those times was in 2015, so it's been a big rebound year for the Sharks. From DNQ last year to reaching the final best-of-seven this season is a big leap. In, addition, it is the Sharks' first trip to the Stanley Cup Final in their 25-year history. Their success over the Blues that enabled them to advance to the SCF was also the first time they had won the Western Conference Finals. Joe Thornton has waited all his life for this moment, perhaps significantly longer than many others. He's waited 19 years; he's waited 1,356 career regular season games, and 150 career playoff games. He~l turn 37 on July 2nd. And while there might be a few more seasons left in the tank and some additional years when the team qualifies for the playoffs, he may not have another chance to win it all. To all the players (but espe- cially veterans) participating in the Stanley Cup Final, the words of the late coach Herb Brooks' pre-game address to his 1980 Miracle on Ice Olympic Team that faced the Soviets are appropriate here: "Great mo- ments are born from great op- portunity. And that's what you have here ... This is your time! Now go out there and take it!~ It should be a great series as the players and coaches pursue their shared dream of a lifetime.