Benn v Barkley - The Most Exciting One Round Fight of The 90’s

20.12.05 - By James Slater: Britain’s Nigel Benn had just been crowned world champion for the first time. He had picked up the recently created WBO middleweight title in April 1990 with an impressive eighth round stoppage of the iron chinned Doug Dewitt. And, while the title Nigel now held wasn’t well respected (due to the WBO’s very appearance further upsetting the boxing purists!), the man he chose to make his first defence against was very much so. “The Dark Destroyer” would be putting his belt on the line against “The Blade.”

Iran Barkley was already a former champion and a very experienced fighter who had been in with living legends such as Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran.

As tough and as mean as any fighter imaginable when inside the ropes, Barkley had earned his nickname due to his possession of an astonishing amount of resiliency. He had joined a street gang in his youth, a gang who’s initiation ceremony involved any potential new member having to walk through two lines of established members, one on either side and armed with baseball bats and chains, who then used them with devastating efficiency on their would be homey. A battered and bleeding Iran Barkley made it through. and from then on would be referred to only as “The Blade.” The word tough was an understatement in his case!

Benn had certainly picked a serious challenger for his first title defence. However, going into the bout Barkley had a serious problem. He had needed surgery on his left eye after his fight with Michael Nunn (a losing effort for the IBF middleweight title) a full year ago. So not only would he be ring rusty against Benn, he would also be having his first fight since having had treatment for a detached retina. A tune-up against someone who punched with less authority than the lethal “Dark Destroyer” would not have been a bad idea. In fact the British Boxing Board of Control refused to let the match take place in England and the champion had to defend in America. The fight took place at Bally’s casino in Las Vegas on August the 18th and there were instant fireworks.

The fight turned into a disaster for Iran almost immediately. Before the sound of the first bell had even faded he was knocked down in his own corner by a devastatingly quick attack from the champion. He bounced back up straight away, he had clearly been surprised by the swiftness of the onslaught; there was no feeling out process in this one . Then Benn clipped him with another punch before the referee, Carlos Padilla, could get in to administer the mandatory eight count. Once the action resumed Barkley was under fierce pressure again, Nigel was slinging haymakers in an effort to spectacularly finish the fight right then and there. But his punches were too wild and couldn’t find their mark. This gave Barkley a chance and, once again showing incredible grit, he came back with his own shots. The fight had turned into a slugfest and now it was Benn who had to take some hurt. He was badly stunned by two left hooks from his challenger and driven across the ring into the ropes. Somehow he survived though and came back at Barkley, decking him for a second time, this time in ring centre with a crunching left of his own. Then, while Iran was still down, Benn hit him with an illegal right hand.

“Benn could find himself getting disqualified here!”, exclaimed an alarmed Jim Watt, the former world lightweight champion who, along with Reg Gutteridge, was doing commentary for ITV in the UK. And indeed he could have been, maybe should have been, because this was now his second infringement in the fight. At the very least Iran should have been given time to recover but Padilla gave him nothing, not even appearing to warn Benn with any severity. So after the second count of the bout the action resumed once more and Barkley was quickly down for the third occasion and, although he was again up very quickly, this time the fight was stopped on the ludicrous three knockdown rule. Then the arguments started. Barkley’s fans in the crowd were unhappy, Iran was definitely hurt but he wasn’t out, should he have been stopped? They clearly didn’t think so, such was their visible and audible anger.

After the fight Barkley’s manager, John Reetz, protested and said he would file a complaint to the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Barkley himself demanded a rematch but it seemed clear this wasn’t going to happen.

One of the wildest opening rounds ever, and with it, the entire fight itself, was over! Mostly one sided it was but there had been brutal action in those three minutes. The fight was a vicious brawl that seemed too savage for a boxing ring. Nigel Benn had arrived on the world stage! Although Bob Arum’s prediction of him becoming “The English Marvin Hagler” didn’t quite come true he had nonetheless proved he was very definitely a top class operator in the hurt business. His next fight would bring him disappointment (against Chris Eubank) but Benn’s reputation would be forever enhanced in 1995 with a superhuman effort against Gerald McClellan in a fight that would sadly be best remembered for another reason. As for Barkley, he was far from finished after the loss and in time he would reign again.

But, for the time being, the English “Dark Destroyer” had blunted the Bronx “Blade”, in the process proving that it is possible for a British boxer to be just as tough, and just as mean as the best that America has to offer. There haven’t been many of his countrymen since who could claim to have done the same.

Article posted on 21.12.2005

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