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Iran Barkley speaks: “The Blade” on Hearns, Leonard, Duran, Benn and more

As he is often fond of saying whenever he grants an interview, former three-weight champion Iran Barkley never had things easy during his career. The blood and guts warrior who gave his all in memorable battles with the likes of Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran, Nigel Benn and others, can come across as bitter at times – bitter over how he feels he was not paid the type of big money he should have been and bitter over how he feels he was “robbed” in some of his fights.

But Barkley always gives a good interview – with a career full of great fights, how could he not – and today, recently married, the 55-year-old comes across as more upbeat and cheerful. ESB has had the pleasure of speaking with “The Blade” on a number of occasions and each time he has been kind enough to grant some of his time, Barkley has proven a very interesting subject.

Speaking an a number of subjects when I recently caught up with the former middleweight/super-middleweight/light-heavyweight ruler, Barkley – who walked away with a 43-19-1(27) record in 1999 – had the following things to say:


On his first world title shot, against Sumbu Kalambay in 1987:

“I was ready for that fight. It wasn’t too early for me. But the thing was, I knew I had to knock him out to get a win over there in Italy. He was a slick fighter bit he couldn’t punch hard; he hit like a flower! I took it to him but I couldn’t quite catch him and take him out. They gave him the decision.”

On his monster upset win over Thomas Hearns in 1988:

“I knew I’d get to Hearns. I was way stronger than him. He was a great boxer and a great puncher, but he couldn’t take a punch. He was the hardest hitter I ever faced though. I fought the man twice and each time he tried his damn best to kill me! He hit harder as a middleweight, but I came back and smashed him. We went to war in 1988, and again four years later. They said the first win was a fluke, a lucky punch. But I beat him a second time and they couldn’t say anything then.”

On his epic but losing fight with another great in Roberto Duran:

“I know I won that one. You know I won it! It was just political, that’s all it [the decision against me] was. Ray Leonard had already said he wouldn’t fight me. He knew he couldn’t beat me, and they gave Duran the win [over me] and they had their third fight for all that money. I should’ve had that big payday! I know that’s the fight I had to win. If I had won, the really big money would have come for me. But anyway, Duran is a great fighter. We are like brothers in that regard. I have lots of respect for Duran.”

On his quick, foul-filled loss to Nigel Benn in 1990:

“The Benn fight was bad. I had just lost my father, he had passed from cancer. I have bad memories of that whole weekend. But Benn didn’t beat me, he fouled me; hit me while I was down. You know, if I hadn’t have moved [away] when I was down and he tried to hit me again, maybe I would have ended up like Gerald McClellan – God bless the G-Man! I always wanted a rematch with Duran and I always wanted one with Nigel Benn, to prove that I was right and that he couldn’t beat me fair and square. I’m still angry about that fight today.”

On his comeback title win over Darrin Van Horn:

“I was fast and I was quick in that fight. My whole attitude was, just get rid of him! I knew I’d beat him, but I guess I didn’t think I’d beat him so quick! But it was my night that night.”

On his TKO loss to James Toney:

“That was the biggest payday I ever got. I was hurting him with body shots and I could have gone on when my man, Eddie [Mustapha Muhammad] stopped it.”

On his move up to heavyweight and a win over Gerrie Coetzee:

“It was a good move for me. I always wanted to be a heavyweight anyway. I beat some good names up there.”

On his favourite fights:

“Mine, I say the Duran fight. I know he beat me, I know I beat him. They took it from me but I still have good memories of that fight. I treasure the memories from that fight. My all time favourite fights are Ray Leonard against Duran, the first one, the Hagler-Hearns fight and the first [Mike] Tyson-Evander Holyfield fight. The Leonard-Duran fight, their styles just clashed so well. Back then, Leonard had the great skills but he hadn’t really been tested hard yet; Duran was his first real, real test. And Duran was so crafty, and hard to figure out. Duran had great concentration in that fight, and he was so slick Leonard found out how tough it really was in that fight.”