Roberto Duran is famously known for being a part of the “four kings of boxing,” which consisted of Duran, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, and Sugar Ray Leonard. However, Duran also has an upbringing and national pride that’s almost unlike any other in sports, let alone boxing. Making his story and accomplishments all the more admirable and fascinating, and that’s exactly what I Am Duran conveys in this unique sports documentary.
The documentary tells the tale of Roberto Duran’s rise from poverty-stricken five-year-old, who worked various jobs to support his family, to world champion in multiple weight classes. And while the story sounds like every other boxing documentary that’s ever existed, it’s quite the opposite. Director Mat Hodgson tells the former boxing champion’s journey of rags to riches by tying in the political climate of the fighter’s country, Panama. So when the film opens with a message from Duran, not long after, we explore the history of Panama and the Panama Canal.
This combination of Panama’s up and down political climate merging with Duran’s tale is, without a doubt, this documentary’s biggest strength. It’s far more unique than simply focusing on the former middleweight’s upbringing and major title fights. The love Duran receives from Panama is rare, and it’s not even an overstatement to say that his success lifted the Panamanian people in times of crisis. So it’s not a stretch to merge the nation’s story with his.
What this storytelling device did more than anything, was add a greater sense of drama and intrigue when the documentary revisits his famous bouts. When they discuss his ferocity during his fight with Ken Buchanan in 1972, it shows flashes of the chaos he had to witness when growing up in Panama, giving us an explanation for his ultra-aggressive fighting style. His return to championship status in 1983 came when corrupt leader Manuel Noriega was the nation’s leader, and his victory not only silenced his critics but also helped him return to god-like status in the eyes of his people. And he powerfully stated that after shocking the world in ’83 by winning the WBA Middleweight title, “Noriega had the power. I had the people.” A heroic statement if there ever was one from a sports icon.
Also, the combination of man and country allows audiences to feel more sympathy for the former champion’s struggles. While all major sports stars have a microscope on them and their actions, the level of pressure Duran had to deal with was almost inhumane, and being anything less than a heroic warrior was unacceptable. He was not allowed to be human. When he succumbed to a mental collapse in his infamous “No Mas” fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980 and quit out of frustration, his people automatically turned on him. That type of pressure, most people cannot fathom.
There’s plenty of humour in this documentary as well, whether it comes from Mike Tyson explaining his fandom of Roberto Duran or how Duran was able to allow Ricky Hatton to skip a passport check at the Panama airport due to his celebrity status. It provides us with a much-needed break from some intense topics. Plus, the wide variety of A-list boxing personalities and celebrities like Sylvester Stallone gives this documentary a variety of perspectives, while making it feel like a grand project.
Although seeing individuals like Robert De Niro and Stallone offer their thoughts on the legendary boxer is exciting, there are moments where it feels like they’ve only made the final cut because of their star power. While Stallone details his experience of sharing the ring with Duran during Rocky 2, De Niro offers nothing except a few simple opinions. In addition to this, we hear very little from the man himself about his upbringing and experiences in Panama in the opening of I am Duran.
Mat Hodgson’s approach is different, and for the most part, incredibly effective. But the opening lacks detail, and the fact Duran was a part of this documentary, not uncovering more information about his upbringing, feels like a missed opportunity. We jump to his boxing career fairly quickly, and with Panama being a significant part of the narrative, learning more about his early struggles would have added more to this story.
Despite lacking detail in some areas, I Am Duran will satisfy boxing fans with its insight, and telling his life story through the highs and lows of his country gives us a refreshing twist to the sports documentary genre.
Dir: Mat Hodgson
Prd: Andrew Baker, Daniel Glynn, Mat Hodgson, Patrick Nathanson, Louis Paltnoi
DOP: Daniel Glynn, Mat Hodgson
Music: Rob Lord
Runtime: 84 minutes
I Am Duran is now available on Digital, DVD and Blu-ray.