Before Duran and After

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

In 1954 Navarro was elected mayor of San Jose. By then Batista had regained the presidency. Navarro says he and the general were close friends. He and his family often visited Batista's country house near Marianao. When his second daughter Marta was born in February 1954, Batista, whose wife was also named Marta, asked to be the godfather. Today Marta and Annabelle are both married and living in Miami. Marta barely remembers Batista, but she did develop into an enthusiastic boxing fan, traveling to all of Duran's fights while her father was working with him.

San Jose de las Lajas, situated among several lakes, was an industrial city. Known as the "Detroit of Cuba," it was home to eighteen U.S. companies, including Goodyear and DuPont, according to Navarro, who used tax exemptions to lure the firms. Unfortunately for him, the exemptions didn't expire until just about the time Castro took power.

Navarro and five other batistianos were spirited out of Havana at sunrise on January 1, 1959, in a military aircraft. Batista had left before dawn, bound for the Dominican Republic. While Navarro settled in Miami, his wife and two daughters remained in San Jose, corralled in their luxurious home by Castro's soldiers. Beda Navarro was held for a week in the infamous Morro Castle.

The family was reunited in Miami shortly after the failed Bay of Pigs invasion of April 1961. Like most exiles, Navarro put in his time at menial jobs -- night clerk at the Hotel Senado, seller of Moro cigars -- until he found a job as a sports announcer at WQBA-AM (1140). In 1969 he took a similar position at a station called Radio Mundo, which three years later was sold and renamed WRHC.

These days, though he no longer travels to out-of-town sporting events, Navarro's duties at WRHC -- the Saturday-morning show, plus two short sports segments per day -- keep him busy. At home he shows off his stacks of scrapbooks, bulging with autographed photos of the greatest boxing and baseball stars of his lifetime: Roger Maris, Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Sugar Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Rocky Marciano, Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, Jose "Mantequilla" Napoles. Navarro is especially proud of the shots of Kid Chocolate A training in Central Park, shadowboxing, attending a weigh-in, posing nude, and as a viejo living with his son in a tattered flat in Havana (Chocolate died there in 1993).

And there are the mountains of photographs, clippings, and mementos chronicling eight years of Roberto Duran's career. He remains friends with Duran and his big family, Navarro says, and sometimes sees "Cholo" when he comes to Miami. "I'll always think of him like my son," he says, adding that although they have little besides boxing in common he has always been drawn to the instinctively martial Panamanian and understands why Duran, who had no formal education and no professional skills other than boxing, continues to fight. "He's a good person," Navarro says, "but bruto."

Navarro's involvement with Duran's career ended in 1988, when the fighter was preparing for a super-middleweight match with Thomas "Hit Man" Hearns. Navarro thought the fight was folly, and not just because Duran would be stepping up to yet another weight class. "'Hearns is younger than you, he's stronger, and he's a better fighter than you,'" Navarro remembers telling Duran, 37 years old at the time. "'He'll knock you out in the third round. I will not go back in your corner.'

"It turns out I was wrong," he recounts. "The fight ended in the second round.

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