Before Duran and After

Cuban exile and WRHC-AM sports talk-show host Minito Navarro has always had a passion for punchers

Five months later, Duran fell from national hero to untouchable. In a November rematch with Leonard in New Orleans, Duran quit in the eighth round, uttering the now famous plea, "No mas," and telling reporters he was suffering from stomach pains. Navarro was at ringside that night and remembers Duran and his entourage after the fight, on the twelfth floor of the Hyatt Regency Hotel, "as they always were -- crazy. He was with his friends, all these colonels from Panama, drinking, dancing. They had no shame. I just stood in the corner, very depressed and dazed."

A few months later, an out-of-shape, overweight Duran fought a nobody in Detroit and lost. He returned to Panama to the opprobrium of his formerly adoring public. He told everyone he was retired. They all said he was finished anyway. A few months later, Duran was walking up the red-tiled steps to Navarro's modest three-bedroom house in Flagami. "He was crying," Navarro recounts. "His manager, Carlos Eleta, had abandoned him. He was ashamed. He said his career was over, that he was liquidado. Don King had yelled in his face: 'You're finished!'"

Navarro was sympathetic but firm. "Tu no estas liquidado. Te vuelvo a ser campe centsn," he said. "I'll make you champion again. You have to go back to the gym, go back to the right diet and discipline. You have to stop partying all night."

Duran found a new manager in his old friend Luis Spada. Navarro sometimes accompanied the fighter (on a bicycle) on his morning ten-mile run, after which he'd make him a tonic of two raw eggs in a glass of sweet red Vi*a 25, a wine from Spain. Duran, Navarro recalls, didn't give up nightlife altogether. His favorite clubs were Papa Grande on Coral Way and Douglas Road, a place on SW 27th Avenue off South Dixie Highway called Honey for the Bears (both are now closed), and the club at the Days Inn (now Howard Johnson) on Le Jeune, where Duran rented a whole floor for his entourage. "There was a Latin band every Saturday night," recalls Richard Dobal, one of Duran's assistant trainers in 1982 and 1983. "Duran would go on the stage and sing and he'd play the drums. We went out all the time," continues Dobal, who now works as a BMW salesman in Miami. "Minito would go along, kind of like to make sure nothing got out of control."

Navarro won a few dance contests during these evening forays. And Duran won his third world title in 1983, knocking out junior middleweight Davey Moore in Madison Square Garden. (He would earn his fourth world title almost ten years later, in a 1991 decision against Iran Barkley.) "The rehabilitation of Roberto Duran," wrote Julio Ferreiro Mora in the August 1983 edition of Ring en espa*ol, "has been on the scale of a miracle, something that seemed impossible ever since that terrible night in November 1980. . . . Minito Navarro, a Cuban who has consecrated his life to boxing, made this glory possible."

The article quoted Navarro: "It was the happiest day of my life. It was even better than the day I was elected mayor of my town back there in Cuba, San Jose de las Lajas."

Minito Navarro's father Yrmino was a provincial official in the government of Gerardo Machado. Beginning with the 1926 World Series between the New York Yankees and the St. Louis Cardinals, when Minito was eleven, he frequently accompanied his father to baseball games in the U.S. Some major league teams had training camps in Cuba in those years, and Cuban boxers -- Babyface Quintana, Black Bill, Pedro Pablo Cardenas, Bizco Herrera, Elpidio Pizarro, and the legendary Kid Chocolate -- were gaining notoriety outside the island. In 1930, Navarro says, he was in New York for Chocolate's first loss (to the Englishman Jack "Kid" Berg) after 165 consecutive victories -- a loss Navarro and the New York sporting press considered a robbery. Nearly 50 years later, Navarro would self-publish a biography of Chocolate, a.k.a. Eligio Sardinas Montalvo, who he regards as the best pugilist in boxing history.

Navarro himself fought fifteen amateur bouts, after which he concentrated on playing baseball and basketball. At 21 he became a pilot in the Cuban army. His father, he says, used his influence to get him an early release. At the age of 23, he began managing a group of amateur national boxing champions, including three who later would achieve some professional prominence: Julio Pedroso, Pedro Poey, and Santiago Sosa. "Minito guided them and helped in their training," recalls El Nuevo Herald's Fausto Miranda, who worked as a sports journalist in Havana at the time. "We met in '36 or '38," says Miranda. "That was before Minito went into politics."

Navarro first met Fulgencio Batista when the general was running for president in 1940. "I was in a group of people who went around to different provinces to campaign," he says. "One day when we were at a meeting, I said, 'Mr. President, I want to belong to your party.'" Batista was elected (following one four-year term, he commenced a half-dozen-year exile), and two years later Navarro won a seat on the San Jose city council. He and Beda Facenda were married in 1944 and had a daughter, Annabelle, in 1946. Although he continued to work with boxers, politics was taking up more of his time.

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