Iran Barkley, who today celebrates his 58th birthday, gave his all in the ring every time out and the fans loved him for it – in fact, they still do. Talk to most any boxing fan, and they will tell you that Barkley was one of the most consistently exciting blood and guts warriors of the 1980s and ’90s.
This particular boxing legend was born on 6th May 1960 and hailed from the Bronx, New York. A fittingly tough childhood followed and after some time spent in street gangs, Iran got his “Blade” nickname from running with one of these gangs. A gang so tough, part of it’s initiation ceremony supposedly involved any potential new member having to walk through two lines of established members, one on either side, armed with baseball bats and chains, which they then used with devastating efficiency on their would-be “homey.”
Legend has it a battered and bleeding Iran Barkley made it through. With this kind of toughness in his possession how could any professional boxer armed only with padded gloves get the better of him? In 1982 Barkley decided to go and find out, embarking on a pro career at the end of the year.
He turned pro as a middleweight and made an impressive debut, KO’ing a fighter named Larry Jordan in two devastating rounds. Barkley was on his way.
After three early setbacks, most notably a KO loss to Marvellous Marvin Hagler’s half brother Robbie Simms in a wild affair, Iran found himself with a world title shot, fighting for the vacant WBA middleweight championship against the Italian Sumbu Kalambay in Livorno, Italy, on October 23rd 1987. Kalambay, a criminally underrated fighter who was an incredibly skilful boxer, knew too much for him and boxed his way to a unanimous decision win over the fifteen round limit. Barkley was far from done, however, he had proven he had what it took to bounce back from a defeat. He fought again a mere three months later, more determined than ever, and then in 1988 he scored an excellent victory over fellow contender Michael “The Silk” Olajide in New York, winning by KO in five rounds. This earned him another crack at a world title, this time against the legendary Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns, and this time in Las Vegas. Hearns, who had just made boxing history by becoming the first man ever to win world titles in four different weight classes, was making the first defence of his newly acquired middleweight belt. “The Hitman” was an overwhelming favourite to hold onto it.
Barkley took a terrific pasting in the first two rounds, once again showing his toughness and ability to take punishment. This toughness doesn’t necessarily win fights though, and if Iran had lost this fight it may well have been his last chance to reign. Going into the third round, a bleeding and desperate Barkley gave it his all and really threw some haymakers, one of these, a devastating right, landed flush on Hearns’ jaw and the upset victory of the year and the WBC title belonged to “The Blade”. He had done it, at last he was a world champion.
Unfortunately, Iran was to lose his belt in his very first defence. Small consolation it may heave been to him at the time, but at least the fight in which he lost his title was an absolute classic. Roberto Duran, despite being thirty-seven, scraped home with a desperately hard fought split decision victory in 1989’s fight of the year. Iran’s title had gone. He was far from finished, however.
After losses to two more excellent middleweights in Michael Nunn (in a fight that prompted the need for Iran to undergo retinal surgery) and Nigel Benn, “The Blade” had a layoff and returned as a super-middleweight. He soon captured his second title, and then, at light heavyweight, he won his third. He did this by repeating his win over all-time great, Thomas Hearns.
In doing so, Iran proved his first ascension to the status of world champion was no fluke. In fact, Barkley’s career was as real as it gets.
What a hard road to the top. What a great fighter Barkley was for staying there for as long as he did. I ask you: why is Barkley constantly ignored when it comes to bein enshrined in The Hall of Fame?