Time Tunnel: Tommy Hearns Vs. Iran Barkley – June 6, 1988

17.08.04 - By Matthew Hurley: Thomas Hearns suddenly froze, his body stiff and he slowly fell backwards. Before he hit the canvas Iran Barkley smashed a right hand onto the “Hit Man’s” chin and intensified his descent. Hearns, the WBC middleweight champion hit the floor with complete dead weight. He looked as though all the life had been drained from his muscular body. Somehow he rolled over and stumbled to his feet. Referee Richard Steele, the same man who had rescued Tommy from the brutal assault of Marvin Hagler, let Hearns continue. Barkley, by that time a bloody mess, rushed after Hearns and knocked the stricken fighter out of the ring. It happened so quickly, against all odds, but it happened. The audience at Caesars Palace sat in stunned disbelief. At two minutes and thirty-nine seconds of the third round Thomas Hearns’ reign as middleweight champion was over, and so too, it seemed, was his career.

By the summer of 1988 Thomas Hearns had a record of 45 wins and 2 losses. With the retirement of the two men who had defeated him, Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler, Tommy set out to define himself as a fighter who would take on all comers.

His warrior mentality served him well in terms of fan appeal, but it was that very willingness to engage in a punch-out that had factored into those two losses. Nevertheless, by 1987 when he won his fourth title in a brutal match against Juan Roldan, Tommy had solidified his greatness as a fighter and would seemingly cruise through several big pay days as middleweight champion.

Iran “The Blade” Barkley, out of New York, was coming off a sensational cross town win over Michael Olajide. Barkley’s face-first, take no prisoners style endeared him to the beer and pretzel crowd. He was crude, but exciting and he was forgiven his deficiencies because of his toughness. Yet he was never considered world class. He might get a title shot, because he was in the mix, but he wasn’t a legitimate threat to the crown. He was simply too clumsy, too prone to cuts and simply didn’t have the talent to compete with the elite of the division. But he could punch, and he refused to quit. That’s what made him dangerous.

Hearns’ trainer Emanuel Steward remarked, “Iran may not be the most skilled fighter, but he’s dangerous. This is the kind of guy we have the most to fear. He’s always in there with a chance, and Thomas will have to keep a watch on him all the time. He’s a real danger man.”

Where Hearns achieved the ultimate heights of his profession Barkley wallowed through the hazy shade of boxing’s cruel underbelly. One of eight children who grew up on the streets of the South Bronx, Barkley roamed about town as a gang member until his sister Yvonne urged him to turn his rage into something constructive. She led him to a gym and Barkley laced up the gloves. Iran started boxing at the age of twenty-two in 1982 and won eight fights before losing to Marvin Hagler’s half-brother Robbie Sims. He was never a technician, just a tough as nails brawler who didn’t mind cuts and bruises. But the brawls and the cuts began to take their toll on him. By the time he faced off against the legendary Hearns, Iran Barkley was a fighter with too much wear and tear pulling his body apart. What many people seemed to forget though, was that Tommy Hearns had been through the mill as well. By 1988 Tommy was breaking down. His profession was catching up to him. Where Barkley slowly fell apart behind the scenes Tommy slowly fell apart on the grand stage, in front of everyone.

The fight proceeded just as it was supposed to. Hearns peppered Barkley consistently with stiff jabs and quick overhand rights. Barkley lumbered after the champion, winging hooks, oftentimes with his eyes closed. Suddenly, Tommy began slinging vicious left hooks to Iran’s rib cage. Tommy’s body attack began to cripple his challenger. Hearns simply looked unbeatable.

By round two Barkley was busting up. His eyes began to swell and a cut inside his mouth bloodied his gum shield. At one point Hearns dipped and fired a brutal right to the body that made Iran wince in pain. More slashing punches from Hearns broke open the swelling over both of Barkley’s eyes and the blood began to flow freely.

Between rounds the doctor made it apparent that the fight was close to being stopped because of the cuts. Barkley charged out of his corner at the bell for the third round and backed Hearns into a corner. He wailed away on the champion but Hearns weathered the storm and once again launched an almost overwhelming body attack. One left hook nearly folded Barkley in half. It was then that Hearns became a little too pleased with his handy work. He slung shots from his waist and walked forward with his head held high. It was a fatal mistake. With blood flowing into his eyes and his body bent forward from the pain of Hearns’ body attack Barkley winged a right hand bomb that won him the WBC middleweight title.

Just like that. It was over.

Tommy, always gracious whether he won or lost, hugged his conqueror at the post fight press conference. “You out hit the Hit Man,” he said, smiling wearily.

Barkley, who had a poster of Tommy on the wall of his apartment bedroom, reveled in his moment of glory. And then he broke down. His close friend, former WBA junior middleweight champion Davey Moore had recently been killed in a freak car accident.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about a very good friend, a brother,” he said. “I want to pay tribute to Davey Moore.” The new champion then broke down in tears.

Iran Barkley will never be remembered in the same light as Thomas Hearns. He simply wasn’t as good a fighter. But on that night he caught lightning in a bottle and became a champion. And no one can take that away from him.

Article posted on 17.08.2004

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