Sugar Ray Leonard Vs. Iran Barkley (in 1988 or 1989) – Who Would Have Won?

By James Slater - 10/27/2022 - Comments

The way Iran Barkley tells it, Sugar Ray Leonard wanted no part of him. No thanks, no chance, no way. This was across the time period between Barkley’s stunning upset of fellow “Four Kings” member Thomas Hearns and Barkley’s epic battle with yet another “King” in Roberto Duran.

Barkley, who is always generous with his time as far as giving interviews is concerned, has long insisted that he was more than worthy of being the “Fifth King,” yet he was barred from entering the exclusive club due to being “avoided” by Leonard (indeed, there is a fine documentary on Barkley entitled “The Fifth King” – check it out).

So what might have happened had Barkley been given the fight with Leonard, and not the February 1989 fight with Duran? Barkley is adamant that he would have beaten the fading yet still special Sugar Ray – “I would have flattened him,” Barkley told the writer a while back – but of course he would say that, wouldn’t he? Barkley never met a fighter he didn’t believe he could beat.

When we think of Leonard, Hearns, Duran, and Hagler – this “The Four Kings” in its entirety – we instinctively picture in our minds each man at his best. And the peak Sugar Ray Leonard was a boxing master, one of the greatest of all-time. Barkley? He was a gutsy slugger, crude in comparison. So some fans may snigger when they hear how Barkley says Leonard avoided him, and these fans may snigger louder when they hear Barkley state that he would “flattened” Sugar Ray.

But this is the veteran Sugar Ray Leonard we are talking about, as it was the veteran Thomas Hearns that Barkley KO’d in June of 1988, as it was the veteran Duran that Barkley came oh so close to beating in that superb fight eight months after he won the WBC middleweight title. Nobody gave Barkley a chance against Hearns (the upset was ranked by Ring Magazine as The Upset of the Decade), and nobody thought Barkley was capable of showing the level of skill he displayed in the split decision loss, it could-so-easily-have-gone-his-way, fight with Duran.

So how might a Leonard-Barkley fight have gone, at either 160 or at 168, in 1988 or 1989? It’s actually quite a tough fight to predict. On the one hand, Leonard was still Leonard; fast, clever and cunning. And Barkley was cut-prone, not all that hard to hit, and slow on his feet (certainly slower than even the 33 year old Leonard). But on the other hand, Leonard had been getting knocked down a little too often as of late, this by Kevin Howard, by Donny Lalonde, and in his June ’89 rematch, by Hearns, who decked Ray twice.

Might Barkley have caused another real sensation by tagging Leonard and dropping him, maybe for keeps? We will of course never know, but this might be a Dream Fight not too many people think of, with fans finding themselves thinking of other, more obvious mythical match-ups instead.

Whatever you think would have happened if Leonard and Barkley had fought, it’s a whole lot of fun hearing Barkley tell us what would have gone done. Namely Sugar Ray.

“Well, first of all, after I beat Tommy, Bob Arum was gonna make me a member of The Final Four. He said he’d do that if I beat Hearns. But he didn’t. He lied,” Barkley said. “Ray wouldn’t fight me. Ray was highly scared after what I did to Tommy. He said, ‘No, I’m not looking for that kind of fight.’ He told me to my face that I hit too hard. I said to him, ‘Wow, Ray, I’m not going to hit you that hard! Just give me a shot, man.’ But oh, yeah, I would have flattened him.”

Again, we will never know what the result would have been had Sugar battled with “The Blade,” but it would for sure have been a darn exciting fight!

Who do YOU think would have won had Leonard and Barkley fought in either 1988 or 1989?