After nearly a year of struggling, Roberto Duran, the former lightweight and welterweight champion, appears close to his dream of a third world boxing title.

Duran apparently won another title shot by scoring a technical knockout of Pipino Cuevas at 36 seconds of the fourth round in a scheduled 12-round elimination bout between former champions Saturday night. He won a promise he'd fight WBA junior middleweight champion Davey Moore, possibly in May.

Earlier Saturday, the undefeated Moore knocked out Gary Guiden in the fourth round at Atlantic City to retain his 154-pound title.

"Bob Arum has promised me the fight," said Duran. Arum, president of Top Rank, copromoter of the Cuevas fight, confirmed the promise.

But the May fight may be in limbo until the status of No. 1 challenger Tony Ayala is determined.

Moore signed to fight Ayala in May but Ayala was arrested on New Year's Day and will be tried in late March on charges of assault, burglary and aggravated sexual assault. The Ayala-Moore contract will stand until Ayala's guilt or innocence is determined.

After losing to Sugar Ray Leonard on an eighth-round technical knockout,, Duran had looked overweight and sloppy in losing two of three fights. Even in the victory, a 10-round decision over Jimmy Batten in November, Duran looked badly out of shape.

But Saturday night he looked trim, fit and intense--the factors that made him one of the world's great boxers for a decade. Fighting before an overflow crowd of almost 17,000 at the Sports Arena, Duran was in control all the way, keeping Cuevas off balance with left jabs in the first two rounds and then began landing combinations and right hands to Cuevas' head.

Im the fourth round, Duran knocked Cuevas down twice. After the second, Cuevas struggled to his feet, but his corner threw in the towel.

The victory raised Duran's record to 75-4 and was his 56th knockout.

"I trained like I have never trained before," Duran said. "I could have gone 15 or 30 rounds. I dedicated this fight to the people of Miami. They didn't lose faith in me while others did."

Duran has trained in Miami. He weighed 152 for the scheduled 12-rounder and Cuevas 149.

Cuevas (29-8), who had not fought in more than year since losing a 10-round decision to Roger Stafford, looked sluggish and rusty.