Who Was The Greater Fighter - Iran Barkley Or Nigel Benn?

by James Slater: Though Nigel Benn and Iran Barkley met in 1990, with Benn winning via an ultra-exciting 1st round TKO, this result alone does not come close to answering the question posed in the title of this article. There were many factors surrounding Benn's win, not least the appalling officiating done that night by referee Carlos Padilla, who let Benn get away with hitting Barkley when he was down. Also, it could certainly be argued that Barkley was on his way down as a prize fighter by the time he and Benn met, whereas Nigel was entering his prime..

While on the very subject of who was the greater fighter of the two, let's not forget also that Barkley managed to defeat the legendary Thomas Hearns. Twice! Could Nigel Benn ever have done that? Yet on another hand still, Benn beat the mighty Gerald McClellan. Could Barkley have done so? Questions like this go to show how evenly matched Benn and Barkley really are. So, just who was the best, The Bronx's "Blade" or "The Dark Destroyer" from London?

Let's start by looking at each mans' best wins. Barkley managed to twice defeat the great Hearns, of course, and he also beat extremely capable fighters like Wilford Scypion, James Kinchen, Michael Olajide and Darrin Van Horn. That's quite an impressive list. Benn also had some very fine career highlights though. The win over the man with "G-Force" punching, in McClellan, is definitely Benn's finest triumph. Yet Nigel also beat the following good men; Doug DeWitt, Barkley, of course, Henry Wharton and, in a fight that was scored a draw but most felt he'd been denied a fair win, Benn boxed Chris Eubank. Both guys had their share of excellent wins, but in this first section the nod goes to Barkley.

What about longevity? Both men had long careers. Barkley turned pro way back in 1982, and boxed his last bout in 1999. During this time, Barkley was still fighting for world titles as late as 1994. Benn first fought for pay in 1987 and entered the ring for the final time in 1996. Benn was boxing in world title fights right until the end, too. Once again, though, this is a category in which "The Blade" comes out on top. Boxing as a pro for a quite incredible 17 years - most of it against top class fighter - is some achievement.

Heart, courage and chin now. Apart from the latter, both warriors had these attributes in abundance. Lighting up the boxing scene during their peak years as middleweights and super-middleweights (and even at light-heavyweight in Barley's case) the Londoner and the New Yorker fought in many brutal and tough encounters. Indeed, apart form Benn's early career fight with Michael Watson, in which Nigel fell disappointingly from a jab only after a superb scrap, and apart from both Benn and Barkley's capitulations near the end of their careers, neither guy ever quit. Barkley's guts and heart were shown to be massive in his wars with Hearns, Olajide and Roberto Duran. While Benn's courage was hugely on display in the epic fights with McClellan, Eubank, DeWitt and Barkley himself. The two gladiators cannot be separated in this category.

Punching power. Both guys could hit like a mule. With raw power blessed upon both fighters, the fans were witness to a good many KO's when Benn and Barkley were in action. No-one ever hit Eubank harder, as Chris himself says when talking about Benn, whereas no-one else ever stopped Hearns twice, as Barkley did. In short, both fighters had awesome and natural punching power. Again, an even category.

What about the guys Benn and Barkley lost to? Was either guy beaten by anything other than a good fighter? At the end of his career, when only partially sighted in his left eye, "The Blade" was seen off by anything from a novice fighter to a fellow past-it veteran. When looking at the two mens' prime years, however, both only lost to good or very good opposition. Barkley lost in honest give-and-take efforts against Sumbu Kalambay, Roberto Duran, Michael Nunn, Benn and James Toney - while also losing three early career bouts, to Osley Silas (l PTS 6) Robbie Sims (L KO 6) and Eddie Hall (L PTS 8). Whereas the prime Benn was only defeated by Michael Watson and Chris Eubank, with back-to-back losses coming in his final three fights - Vs. Thulani Malinga, and Steve Collins (twice).

Cleary then, in their peak years, both Benn and Barkley only fell to top men. The loss Barkley suffered at the hands of Robbie Sims is interesting in this debate, in that Benn stopped Marvellous Marvin Hagler's half-brother when they met in 1991, some seven years after Barkley was KO'd by Sims. This was more a case of Sims being past his best by the time he met "The Dark Destroyer," however. Finally, overall Barkley was defeated 19 times with one draw, but at least ten of these losses can be discounted here, as they came at a time when Iran should have been long retired. "The Blade" was KO'd or stopped 7 times. It is arguable, though, that none of these stoppage defeats actually came during Barkley's prime (the KO loss to Sims came in what was only Barkley's ninth pro fight). Benn lost five times with one draw and was stopped or KO'd four times - with only three of these results coming in Nigel's peak years.

Final category. World titles won. Barkley is a clear winner here. Iran picked up the WBC middleweight title, the IBF super-middleweight title and the WBA light-heavyweight title. Nigel collected both the WBO middleweight and super-middleweight crowns. Barkley conquered three different weight divisions, Benn just two.

So there you have it, in terms of ability, power, heart, quality of opposition and overall careers, Nigel Benn and Iran Barkley are about as evenly matched as you could imagine. Both men had their own superb victories - victories enough to see the pair of them put into The Hall Of Fame someday, in this writer's opinion - and both men gave their all almost every single time out. In other words they were both genuinely brave, genuinely tough and genuinely great fighters.

Who was the greater? Iran "The Blade" Barkley. Just.

Article posted on 02.03.2008

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