Feature | Premium | May 12 2019

Roberto Duran and Esteban De Jesus: The enduring friendship between two fierce rivals

It's 20 years since Esteban De Jesus, former world champion and hopeless heroin addict, died from AIDS. On his deathbed his ring rival Roberto Duran came to visit
roberto duran
Richard Mackson/USA Today Sports

He came a long way to see his nemesis, Esteban De Jesús, in his dying days, out to Rio Piedras and to a converted milk factory where the malarial sunlight filtered in through grimy windows overlooking sickbed after sickbed. Now wraith-like, 90 pounds, and seeking solace from a future afterlife, De Jesús had been an addict, a killer, a convict, one of the top lightweights in the world, and, for a little while, at least, a national hero, the first man ever to beat Roberto Durán.

WITH José Torres retired and Carlos Ortiz, the gifted ex-champion whose prime began during the West Side Story era, nearing the end of a creaky comeback, New York City was ready for another Puerto Rican star. In 1972, Esteban De Jesús, born in hardscrabble Carolina, debuted at the Felt Forum in Madison Square Garden, stopping George Foster in eight rounds. A stablemate of Wilfred Benitez, and trained by Gregorio Benitez, De Jesús was a precise counterpuncher with a ruinous left hook and enough dark secrets to last a lifetime. After building a record of 33-1, De Jesús, already dabbling in the nightlife, set his sights on bigger targets – and the temptations that often accompany such ambition. In New York City he had impressed the afición with his sharpshooting skills, but not many believed he would be a threat to young Roberto Durán, the recently crowned lightweight champion stalking greatness.

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