30 Years Ago: When James Toney Sliced And Diced Iran Barkley

By James Slater - 02/13/2023 - Comments

30 years ago, James “Lights Out” Toney really was one of the baddest, meanest, most superbly skilled fighters out there. Proof of this – additional proof – is the hatchet job Toney did on “The Blade,” Iran Barkley.

It was three decades ago today when an unbeaten Toney, having decided to move on from the rigours of making 160 pounds, where he had ruled the world since his stunning 1991 upset of Michael Nunn, tore into Barkley in Las Vegas.

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Toney, perfect (two draws aside) at 34-0-2, was at the peak of his considerable powers at age 24. Barkley, one of the toughest guys out there, and also a genuine rival as far as being the meanest, baddest dog in the junk yard, was sporting a battle-scared 30-7 ledger, while the three-weight champ was 32 years of age.

Barkley was coming off a repeat win over living legend Tommy Hearns, this a hard-fought 12 round decision win for “The Blade,” one that saw him take the WBA light heavyweight belt (Iran, having previously ruled at middleweight, also holding the IBF belt at 168 pounds at the time).

Barkley decided to drop back down to super middleweight to take on Toney in a fight that gave the Bronx warrior his biggest career payday. But the fight saw Toney hand out the biggest beating of Barkley’s career. It was, in a word, brutal.

Toney, always a guy who got heated before a fight, had allowed Barkley to get under his skin. “It hurt so much, waiting to get my hands on him,” Toney said to this writer years after the fight. But the inner rage served to aid Toney. And work against Barkley in severe fashion. On this night, Toney was a fully turned on, 100 percent focused and conditioned boxing master. It was no contest. Only Barkley’s fierce heart kept him in there for the nine bloody, at times sickening rounds the “fight” lasted.

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Finally, his nose pouring blood, his eyes hammered shut, Barkley was pulled out by trainer and former champ Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. To the bitter end, Barkley was pleading with his trainer to let him take yet more punishment. Barkley was never the same again, although he fought on, primarily in need of cash, for some six years; with Barkley even trying his hand up at heavyweight. Toney? He was the pound-for-pound best in the world, or Top-3 at least, and he was to engage in many more big fights, plenty of which he won.

But for Toney, the biggest problem was discipline. At his best, Toney was all but untouchable. At his worst, James was fat, lazy and beatable by a guy like Drake Thadzi. But for now, in 1993, Toney was riding high – and into a super fight with his P-4-P rival, Roy Jones Jr. We all know what happened there, but that’s a different story/article.

The Barkley win means so much to Toney, all these years later.

“I wanna list my ass-whupping of Iran Barkley as one of my best nights,” Toney told the writer some time back. “I was super-motivated for that fight. He talked so much shit going into that fight. That was his downfall. He started the talking but I finished it with the fight. The fool really thought he’d beat me! He’d gotten lucky when he beat my man, Tommy Hearns, and I had to make sure I got him back for Tommy, my idol. You know what they say: ‘payback’s a son of a bitch!’

“I beat him up something terrible. I wasn’t playing around at all. Not after he brought a big-ass machete to the pre-fight press [conference]. I knew he was mine. I watched my usual tapes before the fight, of greats like Jersey Joe [Walcott], Ezzard Charles, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Archie Moore. And Barkley didn’t stand a damn chance. I wanted his blood and I made damn sure I got it.”

That Toney did. He was, to coin a phrase, bloody marvellous on this night. Was it really 30 freaking years ago!

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