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When Dave the plasterer fought boxing legend Roberto Duran

Roberto Duran
Steve Bunce looks back on the night when a Yorkshire plasterer fought a bona fide legend, Roberto Duran

DAVE the Plasterer hurt Roberto the Fighting God in round four when the pair somehow met at a casino in South Africa. This happened, by the way. At the end of eight rounds, Roberto Duran got the decision and Yorkshire’s Dave Radford got the memories from one of the sport’s oddest nights and fights. And friendships. Duran went to the opening of Radford’s gym in Hemsworth back in 2010, 13 years after their fight.

“David can take a punch better than a horse,” Duran said. “He arrived very late for the fight and I knew nothing about him – I knew one thing: David was not scared.”

Radford looked up and smiled: “Too right, I was not bloody scared.”

Well, that was the translation at a meal one night at Bar Sport in Cannock, a night when Roberto spent 20 minutes detailing his early career knockout of a horse. It is, by the way, a complicated story of love and knockout precision, and not just a tale of a big left hook sparking a pony.

It was a pleasure to be stuck in the middle of them that night.

The story of Radford vs Duran is simple, I guess. Roberto Duran was fighting at the Carousel Casino in Gauteng, South Africa, in November 1997 on a Saturday. On the Monday, Duran needed a new opponent when PJ Goossen, his opponent, broke his ankle. Meanwhile, in Yorkshire a plasterer called Dave Radford was out at 6am on the Tuesday of that week plastering a kitchen in Pontefract.

Six weeks earlier Radford had drawn over six rounds with Danny Ryan in Belfast. That had also been short notice, a lot of Radford’s fights were short notice by that time in his career.

“I had to stop work and get home, get me gear and get over to Manchester in a hurry to start the journey – I just left the kitchen,” said Radford. “I never really had a chance to think about what I was doing or who I was fighting – I just got on my way.”

Duran was looking for his 100th win that night. He had beaten Jorge Castro in his previous fight, lost on points to Hector Camacho over 12 the previous year and just a few months later would lose a world title fight in Las Vegas to William Joppy. Radford would box just twice more.

“I got there and they treated me like a king – I had never had that,” said Radford. “It was an honour to share the ring with him and going the full distance was about all I could hope for.” At the end of the night a bottle of champagne was delivered to his suite, but Radford was in too much pain to drink it. That was a first.

It took Radford nearly 15 years to finally get a copy of the fight, a copy that he could carry on his phone to prove to people that he fought Duran. “I was getting sick and tired of telling people that I fought Duran and nobody believing me – I just show ‘em the fight now,” Radford told me at Bar Sport that night. I imagine doubting Radford’s word, basically calling him a liar, was not a smart thing to do.

“Roberto was a dirty fighter and a good dirty fighter,” added Radford, his words bringing a genuine smile to Duran’s face. “He was clever with it, but I knew that there was no chance of the referee throwing him out – I gave him back a bit of it, don’t worry about that.”

After the fight Radford needed a hernia operation, a painful reminder of Duran’s loose fists. “He hit me so hard, so hard – I never knew a man could hit like that,” added Radford with pride and looking down at Duran, whose son was whispering the translation in his ear. “I was a plasterer from Yorkshire and he was Roberto Duran, one of the greatest fighters of all time. You know what? It was a bloody good scrap.” Duran stood at that point and the pair punched their chests. I was six feet from Duran and I swear there was a tear in his eye.

Radford last fought in 1998. It was a simple and painless loss on points, his 12th loss in 28 fights.

“You have to remember that I was working and working hard full-time to put food on the table for my family,” Radford told me. “I got inside the British top 10 once and I could have stopped working and trained full-time and who knows what would have happened? But that was not me – my training? Yeah, I kept off beer for a week.”

Roberto Duran

In his retirement from the sport he had bare-knuckle fights, unlicensed fights and some under MMA rules. He fought and lost to Michael Bisping in the cage, claiming that he only went as a spectator on the night he fought him. The tale might be exaggerated slightly – so what? “He needed an opponent and I had done a bit of floor training – I was just sitting there; I took it, I would take any fight, against any man, at any time. I lost, but that don’t matter.”

He also fought Nigel Benn on the unlicensed boxing circuit in 2012; it was a real scrap, not an exhibition. Up close, Radford’s face has the history of his life in fights, puffy, raw in parts and scarred. His fists were equally formidable the night I sat with him at the Duran meal. Dave Radford was a hard, hard man.

Radford is part of a lost breed of men that just love to fight, have no fear of damage and consider it a privilege to entertain. That night in Cannock he met another lifelong bruiser. “I’m a fighter, he’s a fighter and we never wanted to stop,” he said.

Sadly, that also translates as ‘never knew when to stop.’

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