1. Roberto Duran
No contest. Roberto Duran, the Panamanian bundle of fire and fury, is considered by many the greatest fighter the world has ever seen.
In a career spanning 103 fights, “Hands of Stone” also won the welter, light-middle and middleweight titles, but it was at lightweight where the lean Duran was at his peak, making 12 defences of the crown.
Duran was a product of the impoverished barrios that spat him out. As a child he almost drowned while swimming a river burdened with a swag of fruit he’d scrumped.
Left to fend for himself, Duran soon established himself as a young man best given a wide berth.
Yes, he really did knock out a horse for a wager.
Yes, he liked nothing better than punishing much bigger American GIs on the cobbles.
And yes, he did spark out the wife of a beaten fighter who dared to climb on the ring apron and berate the champ.
Roberto’s break came when a local took a prominent US promoter to watch the hardcase in action. After witnessing Duran bludgeon a much bigger Yank on the beach, the New Yorker quipped: “Where did you catch it, and what did you do with its tail?” In the ring, Duran was just as destructive. He took the lightweight title from our own Ken Buchanan in 1972, felling the Scot with a blow that was well below the picketline, and dominated the division for six years. Duran faced the very best and destroyed them. Fine fighters such as Esteban De Jesus, Ray Lampkin, Guts Ishimatsu and Vilomar Fernandez were all chewed up by the human meatgrinder.
Duran, whose eyes smouldered with bad intent, wasn’t much for PR. After Lampkin was taken to hospital following his 14-round mauling, Roberto told reporters: “If I was in shape, he’d be in the graveyard.”
Duran, now 64, went on to cement his greatness with outstanding performances at higher weights, including a famous victory over Sugar Ray Leonard and a heroic points loss to middleweight champ Marvin Hagler.
Quite simply, an irrepressible force of nature that the fight game will never see the likes of again.