Exclusive interview by James Slater – If you ever needed proof that the warrior spirit NEVER leaves some pro fighters, you need only look at, or listen to, Bronx legend and former three-weight world champion Iran Barkley. Now aged 58 and inactive for almost 20 years, “The Blade” still wants to fight – and not just against anybody. No, Barkley – who thrilled millions with his epic fights with the likes of Thomas Hearns (twice), Roberto Duran, Nigel Benn, Michael Nunn and Robbie Simms – wants to get in there with WBC heavyweight king Deontay Wilder.
Yes, really. Barkley – who actually fought as a heavyweight, beating in his most meaningful win at the unlimited weight former WBA champ Gerrie Coeteze in 1997 – insists this is no April Fool’s Day gag, that he would lay out Wilder if given the opportunity. No way would this fight ever be allowed to happen but, in an odd way, it is perhaps hard to fail to be moved by the heart and sheer instinct to fight that Barkley, 43-19-1(27) still has today, as he closes in on his 60th birthday.
This writer began by asking Iran about his thoughts on former foe Michael Nunn, who he lost a close decision to in an IBF middleweight title fight in 1989; Nunn recently being released from prison after serving getting on for almost 20 years due to a drug offence.
Q: You and Nunn had a great fight in 1989, in August, so almost 30 years ago. How good was Nunn?
Iran Barkley: “Oh, he was a good fighter, you know, nothing special to me. I knew going in [to the fight] that he was a good mover, that he would run a lot. I knew I’d have to catch him (laughs). It was a case of me wearing him down and getting to him when I could stop him from his damn running and get him to fight me!”
Q: Was he the most skilled fighter you ever faced?
I.B: “No, no way. That was Duran. Make no mistake about it, Roberto Duran was the most cleverest fighter I ever fought. You know, Nunn was okay, but nothing compared to Duran. Yeah, I lost to Nunn, but did I really? I kept chasing him all night long. He could have been a great, but he ruined his own career by going to jail.”
Q: Did you read about how Michael has been released from jail now?
I.B: “Yeah, I read about it. I’m glad for him. He has nothing to do now but rest (laughs). I guess he rested in jail. Maybe he’ll come back, but he better not look for me!”
Q: Are you friendly with any of your former opponents?
I.B: “Yeah, me and Duran get together, and me and Tommy [Hearns], we’re close. We get together when we sign [autographs] for the fans. But me now, I gotta look at myself, what I’m doing, what I wanna do. I ain’t training any young guys, I wanna get in there myself – and I want Wilder. I want Deontay Wilder.”
Q: You’re serious?
I.B: “I’m never anything but serious. You know that. Wilder, I look at him as a guy who has never yet really learned how to box properly. I know I’d beat him. He would go down, for sure. He’s not learned to fight yet, no way. He’s still just a good heavyweight but his skills are not there. And I’ve got what the others [old retired fighters] don’t have, in that I never got out of shape. The critics, they can think and say what they want. I want this fight and I tell Wilder now – come on, man; I will flatten you!”
Q: In terms of skills, who was better, Nunn, or Sumbu Kalambay (who won a 15-round decision over Barkley in 1987 in what was Iran’s first world title chance)?
I.B: “I’d say they were both on the same level. Both of ’em ran against me, but Kalambay tried more to fight me. Against ’em both, I had to cut off the ring real good. Kalambay was better [than Nunn], he was real good at keeping me off-balance. Neither guy ever came close to hurting me. It’s true what I said at the time, that Nunn hit like a flower.”
Q: Who is the best middleweight in the world today?
I.B: “I’d say two guys can lay that claim – GGG and Canelo. They both have that right and they both have to fight again. When they do, Canelo wins, no doubt.”
Q: And you are working on your book, your autobiography?
I.B: “The book’s done, I’m just waiting on my publishing guys to get that book out. It should be out real soon.”