It was 33 years ago this month when Iran “The Blade” Barkley won the middleweight title by way of a stunning KO of Thomas Hearns. Barkley, who went on to win world titles at 168 and 175 and even fought as a heavyweight, kindly took the time to speak with ESB today:
Q: It’s always a real honor to be able to speak with you, champ! As you know, it’s coming up 33 years since you scored the stunning KO over Thomas Hearns.
Iran Barkley: “Oh Yeah, that was a great win for me, a great knockout for me. I didn’t even know it was that long.”
Q: So long ago (June 6, 1988), can you remember who you sparred with to get ready for Hearns?
I.B: “I sparred with my man, Dennis Milton, and maybe four other guys.”
Q: Where did you train for that fight in The Bronx?
I.B: “No, I sparred at The Catskills, then I moved down to Atlantic City.”
Q: Wow, The Catskills – Mike Tyson and Cus D’Amato, of course. You never sparred Tyson, did you? I know you would fight anyone!
I.B: “(laughs) Yeah, I would. But no, me and Mike are good friends; we never got in the ring together.”
Q: In the Hearns fight, you were cut over both eyes and badly. Have you ever wondered what might have been had they stopped that fight on cuts?
I.B: “I did, yeah, cos I had two cuts. But I told the ref, ‘ You ain’t gonna stop this fight. Yeah, I’m bleeding, but I’ve got a good cut-man. You gotta give me one more round, and if you do, you’ll see me knock Hearns Out!’ He said okay, he would give me one more round (after looking at Barkley’s cuts at the end of round two), and I knocked him out like I said I would.”
Q: You were a huge puncher, as well as having plenty of other stuff – like a great chin, awesome stamina, mental toughness. Where were you at your strongest, 160, 168, 175?
I.B: “I was strong in all of them. You know, even at heavyweight. At any weight I fought at, I never lost my strength. I was blessed with strength.”
Q: After you KO’d Hearns, did you think that he would have to retire?
I.B: “Yeah, but I also thought that Bob Arum would make me the next member of “The Four Kings.” You know, the final four. But he didn’t. He lied.”
Q: I know you fought Duran next, in a great fight. If you’d had your pick, would you have picked Sugar Ray Leonard for your first defense?
I.B: “Leonard would never fight me. He was highly scared after I fought Thomas Hearns, and he saw what I did. He said, ‘No, I’m not looking for that kind of fight.’ He told me that to my face. I told him, ‘Wow, Ray, I’m not gonna hit you that hard.’ But, yeah, I would have flattened him, but he didn’t want the fight.”
Q: Instead, you got a return with Hearns, at light-heavy. How tough was that fight? He was busted up, and did you break a hand in that fight?
I.B: “No, I was fine after that fight. In that rematch, I just wanted to box him. I wanted to show the people that the win wasn’t no fluke or a lucky punch. I just wanted to beat him up, you know, just beat him up bad.”
Q: You went up to heavyweight, which is not common at all for middleweight champions. Roy Jones did it. But you fought two former heavyweight champions, in Gerrie Coetzee and Trevor Berbick……..
I.B: “Me and Roy are different. It was easy for me because I used to walk around at 220, 230, and I’d have to get down to middleweight or super-middleweight. I always had enough time to get the weight off. But it really started to get hard for me. The Coetzee fight, it’s crazy, but a lot of my fans, they don’t even know that I went to heavyweight. But I do. I looked at it like, if you wanna make the history, you gotta go through the weights. I never fought [at] cruiserweight, but I fought two world heavyweight champions.”
Q: Yeah, you also fought Trevor Berbick, losing a close decision.
I.B: “Yeah, Berbick fought a lot of ’em. I know he had a sad death, where his nephew killed him. I saw that on the news. I remember, I said, ‘Damn, Trevor Berbick. That’s a damn shame.’”
Q: There’s talk now of Canelo maybe going up to heavyweight? Can he do it?
I.B: “Well, first off, that would have been a guy I would have loved to have fought. I say, man, that would’ve been a great fight. I’d have loved to have fought that great champion. I know I would have got that fight. The WBC would have matched us up real good. Can he make heavyweight? Maybe. He’d be a small heavyweight, of course. I figure he’d be around 195 as a heavyweight. He looks bigger than he is, but he’s small.”
Q: What do you think about these big-money exhibitions that are going on now?
I.B: “How come they never call me? I know how to pull ’em [punches]. They could definitely do one with me. All they’ve got to do is call me.”
Q: You’re too dangerous!
I.B: “(laughs) Yeah, they never wanna pick me. They let these guys fight whoever they wanna fight, and as soon as I say I wanna fight, I don’t get to fight who I wanna fight. The guy fighting Mayweather, I never heard of him. They picking guys out of the fruit basket. Floyd has changed the game. That’s what he’s doing. He’s making easy money. But if they pay me for any exhibition, I’ll do it. It’s a shame Floyd is too little for me.”