Sporting Narratives – Hands of Stone: The enthralling story of Roberto Duran

Sporting Narratives allows InsiderSport to analyse a time in which a sporting story was told through the unmistakable medium of cinema. 

This edition looks at the turbulent tale of one of boxing’s most intriguing characters, Roberto Duran and his relationship with legendary trainer Ray Arcel.

For a long time boxing fans have pined for Duran’s story to be portrayed through cinema, however in spite of it being an enjoyable spectacle, Jonathan Jakubowicz’s 2016 hit ‘Hands of Stone’ was a fair way off doing Duran’s story justice. 

The film is set upon a backdrop of tensions between the US and Panama, which shaped Duran’s fighting spirit and unpredictable charisma. 

At the centre of the film is the Panamanian’s rivalry with Sugar Ray Leonard, who is played by music star Usher in a casting decision that was relatively surprising, but also to a degree successful. In a hurried fashion, the film highlights how tense the rivalry between Duran and Leonard was, depicting a controversial moment from Duran’s story in which he insulted the wife of his American counterpart, before the two reconciled and gained a respect for each other in the latter years of their illustrious careers. 

Providing the perspective of Duran in the build up to his controversial rematch with Leonard, that saw him utter the words ‘no mas’ in the eighth round, having been outfoxed by the plucky American for the duration of their contest. 

So eventful and turbulent was Duran’s career and life, it’s nearly impossible to do it justice in a two hour motion picture.

Nonetheless, despite the film not delving anywhere near deep enough into the stories or characters of Duran or Arcel, it does do a relatively decent job of portraying the relationship between the two and how they thrived off each other. 

During an interview with, Edgar Ramirez, who plays Duran underlined the importance of relating to the renowned characters that he and Usher played: “In this case and I speak for both of us, we couldn’t have channeled the character without having become the fighter, so for this movie we need to train and go through the experience and through the hardship, the struggle and deprive that boxers go through, in order to attempt to step into their shoes.”

Speaking to NBC News, Usher revealed that he reached out to Sugar Ray Leonard prior to accepting the film. He also underlined that his movement and choreography experience allowed him to flourish in the role. 

On CBS, Robert De Niro also praised the film’s Director and expressed what an honour it was to play famous trainer, Arcel: “I’d met him (Arcel) once or twice during the filming of ‘The Raging Bull’ and he had impressed me in the way he carried himself. He wasn’t like a typical trainer, he had an elegance about him and was always dressed up like a banker or something. That interested me, so I looked into him as much as possible.

“He was a cerebral guy, from what I found out, but very emotional about Duran and about his fighters, he trained over 20 champions, he was disciplined in himself and Duran was his last great fighter.” 

Whilst it’s not as cinematically pleasing as some of the most famous boxing biopics before it, ‘Hands of Stone’ is quite a pleasant watch, if you can forgive its flaws.

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