There’s a scene in the film “Hands of Stone” — the story of Roberto Duran — where Ray Arcel, Duran’s trainer played by Robert De Niro, is talking to mob boxing fixer Frankie Carbo, played by John Turturro, about a Duran fight against a young junior middleweight champion named Davey Moore.
Arcel had been targeted by the mob earlier in his career for trying to arrange television bouts that conflicted with the business of the International Boxing Club, a boxing organization controlled by organized crime. He was attacked outside a Boston hotel, struck on the head with a lead pipe in 1953, and dropped out of boxing until he began training Duran in 1972, when Duran won the lightweight title by stopping Ken Buchanan at Madison Square Garden.
The scene is near the end of the film — after Duran’s remarkable win over Sugar Ray Leonard in Montreal in May 1980, and after Duran’s disgraceful surrender in their rematch in November 1980 in New Orleans. Duran’s career continued to spiral, and was seemingly over following a loss to journeyman Kirkland Laing in 1982.
But Bob Arum resurrected Duran’s career, and helped set up another title shot for the 32-year-old Panamanian fighter, this one against the 24-year-old Moore before more than 20,000 people on June 16, 1983 at Madison Square Garden.
According to the film, Arcel, though he had walked away from training Duran following the Leonard loss, helped sell Duran as an opponent for Moore. Carbo had to be convinced to allow the fight to happen, and Arcel sold him on the premise that people would like to see the disgraced Duran beaten soundly by Moore. Carbo liked the idea that Moore would give Duran a beating,
That’s not exactly the way former mobster Michael Franzese remembers it.
Franzese, once a high-ranking member of the Colombo crime family, is the son of ruthless mob underboss Sonny Franzese. But he walked away from the mob in the early 1990s, and, at 1992 Senate hearings on corruption in boxing, testified about the influence of the mob in boxing — and in particular, the Duran-Moore fight.
Franzese testified about how organized crime used inside information to manipulate boxers to benefit the interests of organized crime, and cited the Duran fight with Moore as an example.
He testified that he owned an 8 percent interest in Moore, and though the fight had been set for June 16, 1983, Moore wanted to postpone because he had undergone oral surgery before the bout was to take place, and was not in any condition to be defending his title.
Franzese testified that he and other people who owned Moore knew that their fighter, in that physical condition, could not beat Duran and that betting against their own boxer would be almost a sure thing. The fight went on as scheduled. Duran won, and so did organized crime, with Moore as a 5-2 favorite and mobsters betting heavily against their own boxer.
Moore was clearly not in shape to face a ferocious fighter like Duran and was served up like a sacrificial lamb by his mob handlers. Moore wasn’t helped when Duran landed a thumb in Moore’s right eye, which closed as the fight went on. Duran gave him a bloody beating until the fight was stopped in the eighth round.
The June 27 cover of Sports Illustrated featured Duran landing a shot on Moore’s distorted face, with the headline, “Redemption for Roberto.”
It should have said, “Hands of Stone” vs. “Mouth of Mush.”
Moore was never the same after that beating. He fought 10 fights after that, losing four of them. He was coming off a knockout of Gary Coates on April 30, 1988, when about six weeks later he was killed at his New Jersey home when his four-wheel drive vehicle rolled down the driveway and Moore, who tried to stop it, was dragged along and pinned underneath.
Duran would face middleweight champion Marvin Hagler in November 1983 and gave Hagler a tough 15-round fight. Hagler won the decision, but Duran leaned over the ropes to prophetically tell Leonard, who was doing the broadcast analysis for the bout, that he could beat Hagler.
But Duran was devastated in June 1984 by a second-round demolition at the hands of Tommy Hearns, and didn’t fight again until January 1986. He won two fights in Panama, but then lost a split decision to Robbie Simms in Las Vegas in June of that year. He won his next five fights and then it there would be another redemption for Roberto — this time upsetting middleweight champion Iran Barkley on Feb. 24, 1989, in a split decision before a crowd of about 7,500 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
Barkley was a 2 to 1 favorite in the fight. Barkley, like Moore — Duran’s previous redemption fight — was also a mob-controlled fighter.
According to a 1993 Senate subcommittee report on boxing corruption, Lenny Minuto, a Lucchese crime family associate, advised Barkley. “The Minuto-Barkley relationship is illustrative of how organized crime figures are involved … as unlicensed paid ‘advisers’ to boxers,” the report stated. “For example, boxing promoter Bob Arum told staff that he had to pay Minuto $125,000, in addition to Barkley’s purse, to get Barkley to fight James Toney.”
Duran would parlay that win into a very forgettable third fight against Leonard in December 1989 — a lopsided Leonard unanimous victory. He would continue to fight until he was nearly 50, his last bout a loss to Hector Camacho in January 2001.
Jonathan Jakubowicz, the director of “Hands of Stone,” told the New York Post that when Arcel watched Duran beat Moore, “The feeling was that the whole thing had been worth it.”
Ironically, the mob — the mob that drove Arcel from boxing in the 1950s — agreed.