Before F.X Toole (Jerry Boyd) had put his mighty pen to paper and had written the story that, some years later, Clint Eastwood would adapt to the silver screen, there was a real-life fighter who was dubbed “Million Dollar Baby.” And it wasn’t a she, it was a he.
I can remember seeing the January 1988 issue of The Ring in a local store (here in the UK, so that means it was around May or June of ’88; us UK fans only ever getting the “Bible” in shops some months after it was out of date) and there was the fascinating headline: “Darrin Van Horn – Million Dollar Baby?”
A beaming Van Horn is pictured clutching a bundle of $100 bills in his right fist. Looking for all the world like a smaller version of the fictitious Ivan Drago, Van Horn seemed to be a fighter with the world at his feet. To me, and doubtless many other fledgling boxing fans, if someone took pride of place on the front cover of THE boxing magazine, he had to be something very, very special. Upon other trips to the same store (the only one in my home town that stocked Ring Magazine), I’d seen Muhammad Ali on the front cover, or Mike Tyson, or Sugar Ray Leonard. Van Horn, then, had to be a big deal.
Only it turned out he wasn’t. Not really. Sure, Van Horn became a world champion, beating Robert Hines to become IBF 154 pound champ in February of 1989, this a couple of years after the man from Cincinnati had achieved front cover status on Ring Magazine. By this time, Van Horn was 39-0; this despite the fact he was just 20 years old and had been a pro for only four-and-a-half years. Van Horn would soon be a largely burnt-out fighter.
Two losses to Gianfranco Rossi saw Van Horn in need of both a rest and a re-build. After taking five months between the second Rossi defeat and his next fight (this a long break for Van Horn) the now 22-year-old “Schoolboy” (this Van Horn’s official nickname) defeated Lindell Holmes in May of 1991, the win seeing him become the IBF super-middleweight champ, and a two-weight champ. Unfortunately, just one retention followed – before Van Horn was torn apart in the fight, he is probably best known for today.
Meeting a past his best but still, hugely dangerous Iran Barkley in January of 1992, Van Horn turned out to have a whole lot less left in the tank than the heavily scarred (around the eyes) “Blade.” Barkley was 31, and Van Horn was still only 23. Barkley took the defending champ out in two painful rounds. And then, six low-key fights later, Van Horn was retired – at age 25. Still a baby in fighting terms. But did Van Horn have the million dollars? Take a guess if you like.
Retiring at 53-3(30), having been stopped only by the rampaging Barkley, Van Horn must today take a look at that old issue of Ring Magazine and wonder what went wrong. He was no hype job, but Darrin Van Horn was not to become a superstar. He didn’t achieve the fame and celebrity status the fictitious “Million Dollar Baby” enjoyed.
Still, we all know the tragic (albeit made-up) fate that fighter met, don’t we.
Darrin Van Horn’s record: 54-3, 30 knockouts.