Roberto Duran was born June 16, 1951, in the Panama City neighborhood of "El Chorrillo" in a house called "Casa de Piedra" (stone house) a few meters from the old Canal Zone on the Pacific Side. He is the third of nine children of Clara Ester Samaniego.
His father, Margarito Duran, a Mexican sailor working as a cook for the U.S. Army in Quarry Heights, Canal Zone, was transferred to the United States before Roberto was born. He lives now in San Diego and met his son for the first time when Roberto, as the lightweight champion of the world, went to Los Angeles for two nontitle fights in 1973 with Juan Medina and Javier Ayala.
As a child, Roberto shined shoes to help his mother and for that reason went only as far as first grade in school. He learned to read and write as an adult, thanks to his wife, Felicidad del Carmen Iglesias, 25, who went to high school in this city.
When he was 8 years old, he learned to fight in the streets. Sammy Medina, a former flyweight, bantamweight and featherweight champion of Panama in the 1940s, gave him his first training.
"One day 17 years ago, a little kid with a shoe shine box walked into the Neco de la Guardia Gymnasium," said Medina, who now works as a guard at the Housing Ministry.
"He put on the gloves and started to box with a boy smaller than he was. I was impressed by the way he moved his head to dodge the blows, and I called him over. He said he wanted to be a boxer. I began to teach him and I had him with me for a couple years boxing amateur about three times.
"He was 12 years old. He lost his first fight, but the spectators protested the decision because he had even knocked down his opponent," Medina said.
Medina said he didn't have time to work with Roberto, so he found a trainer he trusted. That's how Duran began to work with Nestor Quinones. "This kid is hot. Train him," Medina told Quinones.
Medina says that the only time he had to go to Roberto for help, Roberto helped him with some money. "They tell me he has a big heart and helps lots of people, but I only go to see his mother, who is a good friend of mine.
"Roberto liked to fight in the street. When he was walking along and saw another kid, he"d push him around, looking for a fight. The press in the United States called him a street fighter after he beat Ken Buchanan. But Duran today is different now he knows how to box."
A Panamanian sportswriter, Alfonso Castillo, gave Roberto his nickname "Mano de piedra -- hand of stone."
Duran adores his mother, who says that ever since he was a child he went out to work to help her. She worked as a domestic servant in the homes of North Americans, who often took a great liking to Roberto.
She tells the story of when he found her crying one day and asked her what was the matter. She told him that her job had ended and she had no money to buy food.
"Don't worry, mama, I'll be right back," he told her. He came back from a restaurant with food he had bought with money he earned shining shoes. "Are you full?" he asked after giving her a bottle of Soda. She said she was.
Duran is a hero not only among adults but also among children. He is surrounded by them wherever he goes, especially when he returns to the neighborhood where he was born.
There he tries to help childhood friends with economic problems. He is as generous outside the ring as he is a fury inside it.
He has been guided financially by businessman Carlos Eleta, a Panamanian millionaire of Spanish descent who owns the station that will televise the fight live in Panama. Eleta is president of numerous Panamanian industries.
The first time Eleta saw Duran, he was climbing down a tree on Eleta's estate with a coconut he was stealing. "I invited him in and gave him breakfast," Eleta said.
'I didn't see him again until he had begun his professional boxing carer and I bought his contract for $300 from the jockey Alfredo Vasquez, who told me that that was how much he had invested in Roberto," Eleta said.
I remember seeing Duran win his first professional bout in March 1967, beating Carlos Mendoza, who now lives in Mexico, in a decision in four rounds in the Colon Stadium here.
At the end of the fight, I told Duran he impressed me with his ability. He asked me, "Why don't you get Eleta to be my manager?"
I promised Duran I would talk to Eleta. But it slipped my mind. Another journalist finally told Eleta about Duran. Eleta was managing several fighters, including Antonio Amaya, who fought three times for the lightweight title, and Miguel Riasco, a featherweight.
Eleta has also been the owner of professional baseball teams, soccer teams, basketball teams and other ventures in a 40-year sporting career. He says he has never signed a contract with Duran and that all they have is a verbal agreement. He said that when Duran retires from boxing, he will retire with him.
When Duran was about to fight Buchanan for the lightweight title he told Eleta, "I'm afraid, old friend." Eleta, almost speechless to hear such a thing, asked him, "Afraid of what after all this time?"
Roberto answered him, "Of killing him, old friend, of killing him."
Duran owns six automobiles and a $75,000 house to which he has added $50,000 in improvements in an exclusive neighborhood. He also owns a 12-story, $180,000 apartment building named "Roberto Duran Building," a short distance from the Panama Hilton.
He and his wife have three children, Roberto, 6, Giovanna del Carmen, 5, and Irichelle del Carmen, 4. He has another daughter Dalia, 9, who is a frequent visitor in the home.