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By Brendan Higgins, contributing writer
Photos courtesy of Yessenia Santelises Duran
Try to imagine pursuing a career in basketball if your father were Michael Jordan. Stepping out of the shadow of a legend is a daunting task. That is exactly what Robert Duran Jr is doing. He is the son of multiple time world champion and hall of fame boxer, Roberto Duran. The roots of the Duran family and the state of Rhode Island run deep. More on that later.
Anyone who might think this next generation fighter had it easy growing up is mistaken. Robert Duran Jr did not grow up with a silver spoon in his mouth. He has nine brothers and sisters in total. He has fought and clawed for everything he has. He is a survivor and a warrior.
I asked Duran Jr about his childhood. He was open and honest with his answers. He said, “When I was growing up in Miami, I was always fighting. Lots of street fights. I was getting suspended from school. My father was a fighter. The time I spent with him, we would go to the gym. I would watch him train. Then he got me hitting the bag and that’s how it started. I was around seven years old.”
I asked Duran Jr if he knew just how famous his father really was. He recalled, “I knew he was a fighter, but I didn’t know he was as big as he was. As I got older, I began to understand. My grandfather broke it down for me. He told me I needed to be a fighter like my father.”
When Duran Jr was nine years old his grandfather started taking him to the gym. He recalled, “It started with my mom first. She put me into martial arts. I wasn’t into it. I had no interest in MMA. Then my grandfather put me in boxing. The truth is, when I was nine, I wanted to eat and drink soda. My grandfather wanted the best for me. He knew I could be a world champion, but I was just a kid.”
From there, Duran Jr moved to New York and hit a rough patch in life. He had brushes with the law and found himself at a crossroad in life. He said, “I knew I needed to change my lifestyle. When I was 25, I got back into boxing. I trained at Sweatbox Boxing Gym for over four years. I went into the amateurs and eventually turned pro at 29-years-old. I didn’t have much of an amateur background because I don’t want to fight for a trophy. I want to get paid when I step in the ring.”
Since then, Duran Jr has stepped out of the shadow of his legendary father. He has a professional record of 12-3 (10 KOs) including an impressive victory at the Park Theatre on May 20th. Coming to Rhode Island was special for the entire Duran family. His wife, Yessenia Santelises Duran, grew up in Providence. The fans turned out in force. Some were family members, and some were boxing fans wanting to get a closer look at this exciting fighter. Duran Jr revealed he was emotional and a bit overwhelmed being a heavy fan favorite here in Rhode Island. He explained, “I arrived in Rhode Island three days before the fight. I came with a family friend of mine, JD. He is one of my sponsors. He travels with me to all my fights. He is my road dog. I met him through Vinny Paz who trained me for my second and third fight. I was very excited to come here. My wife has her entire family here. My family and friends came in from New York. Some people flew in from the UK for the fight. It feels like home here in Rhode Island. It was such a good experience. I felt comfortable here. On top of all that, I signed with Jimmy Burchfield and CES Boxing. It was a great feeling all around. I was not expecting anyone to know me. I was surprised and overwhelmed by all the love and support. Everyone seemed to know who I was. They were excited to see me fight.”
One of the highlights of the evening was Vinny Paz being in attendance for this fight. Most Rhode Islanders know the story how Paz watched Rocky in the Park Cinema when he was 11 years old. It is well documented how much that movie impacted his decision to become a prize fighter. In addition, Paz had two brutal fights against Roberto Duran years ago. To have him return to the Park Theatre and watch Robert Duran Jr be victorious in the same building was quite a moment. After the fight Duran Jr was joined in the ring by his family. Then he insisted Paz join them as well. He waved to Paz to come into the ring. I heard Paz say, ‘this is your moment, enjoy it’, but Duran Jr insisted Paz come in the ring for a special celebration those in attendance will not soon forget. After Duran Jr defeated the very tough and capable Luis Eduardo Florez of Columbia, it was quite a scene in the lobby of the theatre. Duran Jr was surrounded by his fans seeking photos and autographs. He stayed and made sure everyone left happy. That is the mark of a true champion.
Duran Jr had this to say about his new promoter, Jimmy Burchfield. “He is an amazing guy. He has a big heart. He is honest. He is professional. He is so loyal to his fighters. Anyone who is loyal to him gets the same in return. He is so respectful. That’s why me and my wife hit it off with him.”
The irony of Paz training Duran Jr is not lost on this talented fighter. He explained, “Vinny trained me in Florida. At the time I was not working with anyone in a gym. I was in a transitional stage of my career. I didn’t have a set trainer. Vinny came to see me every few weeks. As a fighter Vinny is a straight up maniac. I love him for that. When he works with me, he wants me to be very explosive with everything I do. From shadow boxing to jumping rope to hitting the bag. He held mitts for me one time. He said he wouldn’t be doing that again because I hit like my father. Vinny Paz is more than a brother to me. He is a role model.” For those who might not know, Roberto Duran is known as the man with the hands of stone. Apparently, it runs in the family.
Duran Jr has a message for all his fans. He said, “The way people have embraced me has been amazing. It is such a great feeling. It motivates me more than anyone could ever know. This is what makes me what to be a fighter. The crowd was feeding me during that fight. Thank you to everyone and I love you all.”
In addition, Duran Jr praised his current team. He said, “Dr Pedro Diaz and David Pena are my trainers. They have trained over 20 world champions. They are the best coaches in the world. I owe them so much. I’m where I am today because of them. I love Mundo Boxing gym.”
Robert Duran Jr has lived through adversity and has come out on top. He is a class act. The future looks bright on all fronts. Being with CES Boxing will put him in a position to challenge for a world title. Duran Jr made his ultimate goal crystal clear. He said, “During the beginning of my career I was under the shadow of my father. One day I realized he already did his thing. He sealed his envelope. Now it’s my turn. I’m here to do my own thing. My main goal is to become world champion and that will happen.”
Brendan Higgins, writer and author, RIPTA bus driver, former professional wrestler (Knuckles Nelson), and North Kingstown resident.
We welcome Brendan as a contributing writer to RINewsToday.
To read a story about Brendan, from our sports department, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/knuckles-nelson-waking-up-from-the-wrestling-ring-to-the-yoga-mat-john-cardullo/
To read all stories by Brendan, here, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/brendan-higgins
Higgins is the author of “Waking Up: From the Wrestling Ring to the Yoga Mat
Great article Brendan. I watched the Roberto Duran movie. I had to laugh .He named all his son’s Roberto.Great movie.