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'I Am Still A Pistol'
William Hack
November 07, 1983
So says Roberto Duran, who three years after "no más" is challenging Marvin Hagler for his fourth world title
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November 07, 1983

'i Am Still A Pistol'

So says Roberto Duran, who three years after "no más" is challenging Marvin Hagler for his fourth world title

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Whatever Duran's feelings were at the conclusion of the fight, he masked them, like the burgler who smiles at the cop turning the flashlight on him in the back of the store. "He tried to hide all his feelings, so he did the opposite of what you'd expect," Eleta says. The party began. When Eleta came by, the whole entourage was there. Some of the hangers-on were dressed in white Panama suits that Duran had bought them. They were drinking, singing, dancing, shouting. Eleta was enraged. "Everybody out!" he yelled. "Out!"

Eleta took Duran to the hospital to have tests run on his stomach. In the car, Duran wept. "Yo estoy arrepentido," he said. He was so sorry. "Embarrassed," Eleta says.

Clara Samaniego had had nine children, two of whom were boys fathered by a Mexican sailor, Margarito Duran. "A good man," she says. "He was kind to me." One child, Alcibiades, died of heart disease at age three and was buried in a municipal cemetery in Panama City. Now his full brother, Roberto, had quit in the ring, and she feared for his life.

Samaniego already suspected why her son had lost. She believes in santería, a form of witchcraft involving both Catholic saints and spells. Before the fight, a friend had told her that Roberto was not going to win: "He's under a witch's spell. Mrs. Benitez put him under it because of envy." That would be Clara Benitez, the mother of three-time world champion Wilfred, who had lost his welterweight title to Leonard in 1979. Mrs. Benitez denies all, saying, "Impossible. Ridiculous. Are you sure that his mother didn't cast a spell on that fight and it backfired?"

Suddenly, stones crashed through a window in the front of Samaniego's house, and she heard voices cry out, "Hija de perro, su hijo se vendio!" (You son of a bitch, your son sold out!) Felix Suñe, a boxer with whom she was living, called her immediately after Duran surrendered. He was in South America, preparing for a fight. "Lock yourself in the house and don't go out," he told Samaniego. She did, for a week. "I was scared, I was alone," she says. "But thank God my other children weren't here. I don't understand why people reacted that way. Roberto gave enough glory to the country."

Duran returned to Panama City in disgrace. "Sitting in the airplane, I knew what was coming," he says. He had been pummeled by the media and denounced by the people before he arrived, and the vilification continued after he got home. Graffiti painted on the seawall of La Avenida Balboa accused him of going into the tank, DURAN IS A TRAITOR read one sign. He was having a house built in the city, and policemen had to guard it from vandals.

Felicidad remembers the obscene calls in the middle of the night: "They would phone at three, four in the morning and insult us, curse us. 'Son of a whore,' all such things. I was scared for my children." People taunted Duran in public, calling him "un cobarde" (a coward) or "una gallina" (a chicken). Behind his back they branded him a homosexual, the ultimate Panamanian insult for a man renowned for his masculinity.

"I would go into a bar, and people would say I was crazy," Duran says. "Once I went to a fight, and the people mocked me. I told them, 'Someday I will return to Panama, and you people will applaud me.' I was in Panama during Christmastime of '80. My morale was spread all over the floor. The Panamanians, instead of helping me, put me down like I was a thief, a murderer. I couldn't get up. I stayed two, three months locked up in my house. I didn't go out. When I did, everyone gave me dirty looks."

He did have some visitors out of the past, among them Luis Spada, an Argentinian who had become close to the young Duran when Spada worked for Eleta. Spada told him, "Roberto, if you need me at any time to carry your bucket for you, I would do it without pay." Duran would not forget that.

The days grew longer in Panama. Mostly, Duran sat in his study with the 15 or so friends he had left—after New Orleans, dozens from his entourage had deserted him—and watched horror films from his extensive collection. He's a buff of the genre and is able to recall in detail scenes from movies such as Night of the Living Dead, which is about zombies running amok. He had become something of one himself, staring at the screen all day, no longer the exuberant, joyful, joking raconteur that he'd been.

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