1. ROBERTO DURAN’S shot at WBA middleweight champion William Joppy was originally scheduled to take place on June 6, 1999, on the undercard of Evander Holyfield-Henry Akinwande until the spidery Brit tested positive for Hepatitis B and rendered the whole bill redundant.
2. DESPITE his glorious past, very few felt that Duran – at 47 years old – could add to his hefty miracle list against a man 20 years younger. It wasn’t only Duran’s advanced age that was going against him ahead of the August 28, 1998 showdown at the Las Vegas Hilton; the location did not bode well either. Duran had not won in Sin City since outpointing Luigi Minchillo in 1981. Since then, he had lost to Wilfred Benitez, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns, Robbie Sims, Sugar Ray Leonard, Pat Lawlor, and Vinny Pazienza.
3. ALTHOUGH Duran claimed he fought on for the love of it, money worries fuelled his long career. He owed money to the US taxman, as well as maintenance for a child in Florida. It was reported that his $250,000 purse was $50,000 short of covering his tax bill.
4. DURAN spoke confidently, with a typical sneer, before the bout. “His fighting style resembles Ray Leonard’s,” Roberto said about Joppy. “Running. The first couple of rounds he’ll run. Afterwards, he’ll fight.”
5. THE capacity crowd of 2,000 was made up almost exclusively of Duran supporters. But any hopes of the clock rolling back towards the old man’s best looked slim when a passive Duran removed his robe to reveal a podgy, pale torso. Joppy – golden, muscular and confident – presented quite the opposite impression.
6. BY the end of the opening round, Duran looked even worse. It was clear his reactions were shot, and his timing had been lost in the past. After taking a steady beating he trundled back to his stool, his face reddened by his rival’s accurate blasts.
7. CRIES of “Duran! Duran!” were heard in the second round but they were desperate, not expectant. The old man began the third with a wild left and that was closer to a clip than a hook. It was perhaps Duran’s finest moment in a turgidly one-sided mauling, and the final punch he landed in world championship boxing. Joppy jumped on the eroding warrior, landed hard and fast blows, over and over. Duran was helpless, sagging in the corner.
8. THE fans who screamed for Duran to win now pleaded for his safety, and loudly implored Joe Cortez to stop the fight. Eventually he did. “I okay – no problem,” Duran limply objected. The referee defended his late stoppage: “I gave [Duran] every benefit. I felt from the first round it was just a matter of time. My job is to protect the fighter. When he took one punch too many, that’s when I stopped it.” Surely, some argued, it was the official’s job to stop the fight before, rather than after, that “one punch too many.”
9. JOPPY’S joy struggled for attention among those mourning the end of Duran’s world championship career, but the 27-year-old – who supplemented his income from boxing with stints as a window cleaner – did his best to enjoy the moment. “He’s a great man,” he said of Duran. “I love him. I grew up watching him, but I got his name now.”
10. BUT Joppy’s career did not come close to matching Duran’s accomplishments. He was knocked out by Felix Trinidad two years later, and suffered stoppage losses to Lucian Bute and Beibut Shumenov late in his career. Duran fought until 2001, winning two of four fights. His final bout was a 12-round points defeat to Hector Camacho but it was a car crash that forced him to retire and conclude a largely fabulous career.