If Saturday's ABC Fight of the Week had been televised in Panama, it might well have convinced Roberto Duran, the lightweight champion of all of the world lying outside the boundaries of New York State, that he is wise to stay home.
Esteban DeJesus, the young, compact Puerto Rican who battered out a decision over Duran in a nontitle bout back in November, underlined his claim to a title fight with the champion by defeating Ray Lampkin in New York's Felt Forum before 2,871 customers, most of them Puerto Ricans constantly chanting, "HEY-zeus! HEY-zeus!" He won by a unanimous decision, with both judges and the referee awarding him the fight. Arthur Mercante, the referee, scored it 10-2, one judge had it 8-3-1 and the other 6-5-1. The last was closest to what happened. Although there can be no real quarrel with the decision, the bout was close enough that, given other circumstances and a different milieu—say Lampkin's hometown, Portland, Ore.—it conceivably could have been scored a draw.
This should come as no consolation to Duran, however. Duran is a charger and a swinger, a fighter who is willing to accept punishment in order to inflict it; Lampkin is a much more subtle, sophisticated boxer. Against Duran last fall, DeJesus looked flawless, since he is a sharp, accurate and extremely hard-hitting counterpuncher. Against Lampkin, a much less explosive but more complete fighter, DeJesus was not as effective.
It was primarily DeJesus' aggressiveness that won him this bout. Lampkin is certainly not as heavy a puncher as DeJesus; indeed, it seems doubtful that any other lightweight in the world can match DeJesus' firepower. Nor, for that matter, can many match his ability to take a punch with no apparent ill effects. In this fight he took a lot more of them than did Lampkin. Time and again, DeJesus moved in on his opponent, Hailing away with both hands. As DeJesus' rights whistled wide of the target, Lampkin would hit him in the belly with hard, looping left hooks, the blows landing with a soft, muffled boom. Normally, this kind of consistent body attack would slow a fighter in the late rounds. In this case the blows seemed only to reassure DeJesus that Lampkin could not seriously damage him; he was at his strongest and best in the last three rounds of the 12-round fight.
In his style, DeJesus is oddly reminiscent of a scaled-down Joe Frazier. He fights out of a modified crouch, bobbing and weaving and bouncing from one foot to the other just before launching one of his all-out attacks, which consist mostly of ripping hooks to the head.
In the first fight between these two, last February in Puerto Rico, DeJesus had put Lampkin down with a smashing right in the first round and knocked him down twice more on the way to a unanimous decision. This time, quicker on his feet than DeJesus, Lampkin made sure to stay out of range during the early rounds. DeJesus, lunging after him, looked awkward when his sweeping hooks missed their mark. The Puerto Rican is no dance master; his preferred method of attack is moving straight ahead behind a steady drumfire of those hooks. Against a Duran, who has much the same style, he is most effective, since he punches very quickly with both hands.
DeJesus' most effective blows in the early rounds against Lampkin came in flurries when Lampkin gave up his circling, jabbing tactics to move in and exchange punches. From the sixth round on, after he had been tagged with a brisk left hook that raised a lump under his right eyebrow, Lampkin was content to allow DeJesus to make the fight. And Lampkin's constant dancing from side to side finally told on his legs. In the last three rounds he was unable to avoid DeJesus' rushes as cleanly as he had earlier. In the 12th, Lampkin caught the hardest punch of the bout, a booming left that landed flush on his cheek and sent him skittering sideways across the ring.
For his efforts DeJesus received $10,000 and a belt emblematic of the American lightweight championship, a new title invented by Madison Square Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner to lend some importance to the series of fights he has arranged for Saturday afternoon television. The belt, a gaudy affair with a buckle the size of a hubcap, looks like something Brenner found in a box of cereal. It is the fitting token of a trumped-up title.
In his dressing room following the end of the fight, Lampkin was sure that he had won. He is a handsome man, with long sweeping sideburns and a thin Fu Manchu mustache, and his face was virtually unmarked save for the purplish-blue swelling distending his upper right eyelid.
"I guess they don't count body punches in New York," he said morosely. "I hit him in the belly anytime I wanted to, and nobody gave me credit for it. He never hurt me at all, even when he hit me in the last round. That was a good shot, but it didn't hurt me. I covered up because I know how he fights and I know he is going to be coming, but I wasn't hurt. I sure wish I could get him out of New York or Puerto Rico."