19. Roberto Durán Vs Iran Barkley
February 24, 1989
Atlantic, New Jersey
Venue: Trump Plaza
After the infamous “No Mas” fight in November of 1980, Durán, although only 29 at the time, seemed to have lost his desire and hunger to fight. After a few setbacks, Durán came roaring back. On his 32nd birthday in June of 1983, my father and I were in attendance that night when he destroyed Davey Moore to win the WBA Junior Middleweight title. Later that year, he lost a close decision to Undisputed World Middleweight Champion Marvin Hagler. In his next fight, a day before his 33rd birthday, Durán again seemed finish when Thomas Hearns knocked him out in the second. It was a frightening beating as Durán lay motionless for several minutes. After the Hearns fight, Durán won seven of his next eight fights to secure a WBC World Middleweight title fight against Iran Barkley. Barkley had won the title by shockingly knocking Hearns out in the third round back in June of 1988. The 28-year-old Barkley was a definitive favorite over the 38-year-old Durán. Many felt this would be the final nail in Durán’s coffin. Durán had other plans.
The fight started off surprisingly as a boxing match between the two fighters. Barkley was a fierce brawler with power in both hands. Barkley was 6’1” tall and towered over the 5’7” Durán. The native of my South Bronx stomping grounds attempted to use his reach and height in the first round. For the majority of round one, Barkley outboxed Durán by using a very good left jab. With less than 10 seconds in the round, Durán hurt Barkley with a surprising right cross. Rounds two and three saw Barkley continue to box from the outside and land his jab and several hooks to the Panamanian legend’s midsection. The fourth round finally saw the expected slugfest, as both men landed several hard power shots throughout the round. They fought inside for the next four rounds, with Barkley stunning Durán in rounds seven and eight with tremendous left hooks. Durán showed his legendary chin by quickly recovering and although Barkley was hammering him, Durán was able to land hard right hands of his own. After eight rounds, Barkley was ahead on all three judges’ scorecards. Durán needed to win the last four rounds of the fight to win a decision.
Remarkably, Durán came storming back and out slugged a very fatigued Barkley throughout rounds nine, ten and eleven. Barkley’s left eye was almost completely shut. The result being that he couldn’t see Durán’s overhand right. Late in the 11th round, Durán landed three crushing right crosses out of a five punch combination that knocked down the champion. Barkley got up but was now hurt, fatigued and fighting with essentially one eye going into the 12th and final round.
As expected, both men gave whatever they had left in final round. Durán landed several clean right crosses. Barkley had nothing left on his punches due to both fatigue and the amount of punishment he took, especially during the latter part of the fight. Durán had done what he needed to do in winning the last four rounds of the fight, earning him a split decision victory and the WBC title.
Barkley would get knocked out in the first round by WBO Middleweight Champion Nigel Benn a year later. At that point, Barkley boxing career appeared finished. In 1992, Barkley resurrected his career by first knocking out Darrin Van Horn to win the IBF Super Middleweight title and then once again defeating Thomas Hearns, this time winning Hearns’s WBA Light Heavyweight title. All of a sudden, Barkley was a three-time world champion. After vacating the 175-pound title, Barkley would lose his 168-pound title on February 13, 1993 to the great James Toney. Toney battered Barkley for nine rounds before Barkley quit in his corner. Barkley was never the same after the Toney shellacking, losing 11 of his last 24 fights before finally retiring in 1999 at the age of 38. Barkley fell on hard times after he retired. He eventually became homeless. However, with the help of many great fighters, both retired and active, Barkley received financial help and was able to secure an apartment and get his life back together.
After winning his fourth world title from Barkley, Durán fought Sugar Ray Leonard for a third and final time on December 7, 1989. In a horrible fight, Durán lost a 12-round decision in an attempt to win Leonard’s WBC Super Middleweight title. Durán received a huge payday for a non-effort on his part.
Durán would fight 26 more times, winning 18 times before finally retiring in 2001 at the age of 50. Durán has led a wonderful life since retiring. An arena in Panama City, Panama was named after him. In 2017, the critically acclaimed motion picture Hands of Stone about his life was released. In my opinion, not only was he the greatest Latin and Panamanian fighter to ever live, he’s also one of the five greatest fighters of all-time.