Bernardo Checa: Roberto Duran was my boxing hero

'Hands of Stone' Roberto Duran appears at the Europa Hotel in Belfast tonight
'Hands of Stone' Roberto Duran appears at the Europa Hotel in Belfast tonight

BERNARDO Checa was nine years old when his dad took him to see Roberto Duran fight for the first time.

It was March 16, 1974 and ‘Fists of Stone’ knocked out Esteban De Jesus at the Gimnasio Nuevo in Panama City to retain his WBA World lightweight title.

That was years before Duran, who will meet Irish fight fans in a one-off appearance at Belfast’s Europa Hotel tonight, fought his legendary duels with Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard but he was already a bona fide superstar in his native land.

“He was my hero when I was growing up,” says Checa who went on to become a pro boxer himself and is now a highly respected cornerman and coach.

“He was the reason I went to boxing. The night my dad took me to go and see him the atmosphere was unbelievable. Duran was always popular in Panama, the arena was always packed – the whole country would stop when he was fighting.

“Some people are born with charisma and he has it, people like him because of the way he is – he’s very down to earth and then he was a great fighter so it was a great combination.”

That night in ’74 wasn’t Checa’s first glimpse of his idol.

“Panama is a small country and everybody knew where he was living,” he explained.

“I went to his house one day as a kid and I was talking to him. I went and knocked the door and he came out and talked to me; that is Duran.

“I remember being in New York with him and a guy came over and said ‘Hey Roberto, I like the t-shirt you have on, it’s very nice’.

“He said: ‘You like it?’ And he took it off and gave it to him just like that.”

In 1986, with Checa 26 fights into a career that earned him a WBC Fecarbox super-bantamweight title, he shared a bill with Duran who was making a comeback after losing his world title to ‘Hitman’ Hearns at Caesar’s Palace, Las Vegas.

“It was a dream come true for me,” he said.

“I was very excited to be on the same bill with Duran, it was an honour.”

Years passed and Checa moved from fighting into a coaching career that saw him based in Barney Eastwood’s famous Belfast gym that produced future world champions like Barry McGuigan and Dave ‘Boy’ McAuley.

“After I worked with Barney I went back to Panama,” he explained.

“I was at a boxing show and his wife was at the show and she said to me ‘come to the house, I want to speak to you about training Duran’. I couldn’t believe it but the next day I went and he asked me to coach him.

“I said: ‘Of course’ and we started working for a fight with Hector ‘Macho’ Camacho. We went to Atlantic City and I think we were robbed in that fight.

“Then we went to Panama and he won by a KO and after that we went back to the US to fight an Irish guy (Carrickfergus native Mike Culbert) and we finished against Jorge Castro in Argentina. He was 46-years-old by then.

“He had the experience but his heart wasn’t in it. I would go to the gym and he didn’t turn up so that was our last fight. I said ‘Roberto, if you’re not going to train, that’s it’.”

They say the last thing a fighter loses is his punch and Checa says that was true to Duran who finished with 70 knockout wins in a 103-16 career that ran from 1968 to 2001.

“For the Camacho fight the guys who were supposed to come and spar him didn’t turn up so I ended up putting on the gloves myself and I did a couple of rounds with him,” he said.

“I was his sparring partner for that fight. He could hit hard, he took it easy with me but I could feel the power. If you had run into him at his best he was an animal, he was something else.”

For tickets for ‘An evening with Roberto Duran’ contact 07707307039.

WLADIMIR Klitschko has warned Anthony Joshua not to repeat the mistake of allowing his focus from Saturday's fight to be affected as it was by Tyson Fury.

Joshua defends his IBF title and hopes to win the WBA belt once held by Fury in what could be the definitive fight of his career against Klitschko at Wembley Stadium.

A crowd of 90,000, a post-war record for a fight in the UK, is to attend what is by some distance the biggest and most difficult match-up of his career, and Joshua perhaps betrayed some pressure when reacting as he did to his British rival.

Responding to Fury labelling him a ‘Poor man’s Frank Bruno’, Joshua said:

“Shut up and give me a date when you'll be back (in the ring).”

The contrast from his respectful exchanges with Klitschko was significant, and the Ukrainian said: “Joshua is preparing for the 29th April so he is better to keep his focus on the 29th and not react to anything else.

“It looks like ‘AJ’ knows what he's doing and as I said, he is very ambitious; let him react to whatever dogs are barking around.

“I am more focused on myself and my ego; I don't care about Joshua and Fury or whatever dog fight he got into.”

The experienced Klitschko is considered the underdog for Saturday's fight and, aged 41 and after 17 months of inactivity, he could struggle to recover should he suffer a second consecutive defeat.

He last lost in November 2015 when unexpectedly being out-boxed by Fury, but despite his age and showing signs of decline insists he hopes to fight on for at least two more years.

He has so far made 18 successful world-heavyweight title defences, seven shy of the record set by the great Joe Louis, and he said: “Hopefully I have a couple of years left in me. I was always saying health and motivation is very important.

“If one of those things is missing then it doesn't make sense to continue. In regards to pressure, it's just enjoyable. Anthony Joshua is a great fighter, I'm taking the best out there to be the best.

“The build-up to the fight is different to anything else I have had. I love the fact that the fighters show respect to each other and the fans love it. The excitement of the fans is great.

“(Mine and Joshua's mutual respect) is something that is great for the sport of boxing, especially in the crazy world that we are living in, especially in the violent world of boxing: having a peaceful build-up.

“When you see people are getting glass bottles on their heads, throwing tables, cursing, being on the stage saying stupid things, yes it (damages the sport).

“It doesn't do anything good for the people that did it and it doesn't do any good for the sport. Absolutely.”

HUGHIE Fury has pulled out of his world heavyweight title fight against Joseph Parker after suffering an injury.

The 22-year-old, who is former world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury's cousin, was scheduled to face WBO champion Parker in Auckland, New Zealand, on May 6, in his first world title fight.

Parker's promotional company, Duco Events, said in a statement that work was already under way to secure a replacement.

"Duco Events was today notified by the World Boxing Organisation that mandatory No 1 challenger Hughie Fury has an injury, and will be unable to challenge champion Joseph Parker for the Heavyweight Title on May 6 in Auckland," the statement read.

MARTIN Murray beat Gabriel Rosado on a controversial majority points decision to claim the WBA Inter-continental Middleweight Championship title in Liverpool.

Murray was awarded the victory on a split decision, with one judge scoring it 119-109 in the St Helens fighter's favour.

That incensed New Yorker Rosado, who berated the judges after the fight and had to be pulled away from Murray as the two men squared up.

Murray was perhaps the better boxer throughout, but had to withstand a late barrage as Rosado tried to get the knockout in the final couple of rounds.

TOMMY Langford was beaten by Avtandil Khurtsidze with a fifth-round stoppage as the Brooklyn-based Georgian claimed the Interim WBO Middleweight belt to set up an intriguing bout against

Khurtsidze came out swinging, putting Langford under relentless pressure from the off. He caught Langford a couple of times with his vicious left hand and barely took a step back during the opening rounds.

British champion Langford was drawn in to a slugfest at times, unable to keep the 5’4” ‘mini Mike Tyson’ at bay. It was a huge left hand from Khurtsidze that finished the fight, Langford dropped his hands and was unable to avoid the shot.

Saunders was unimpressed with Khurtsidze's win, stating: “No disrespect to him but I will show you what he is when I fight him. All he is to me is a puffed up Danny De Vito coming forward throwing punches.

“He will never beat me ever and I will make him look stupid. Tommy should have got on his feet and made him miss and made him pay.”