28-year-old Iran Barkley fought Roberto Duran during a blizzard in Atlantic City in 1989. After falling short against Marvin Hagler in 1983 and Thomas Hearns in 1984 – for the world middleweight and junior middleweight titles, respectively – Duran was attempting to revive his career at age 37 by winning the WBC middleweight title from Barkley. Duran vs. Barkley turned out to be a classic ring war and was later named "Fight of the Year 1989″ by Ring Magazine.
Scoop Malinowski: What memories stand out about the Duran fight?
Iran Barkley: "The memories that stand out about the Duran fight with me is Duran fought a perfect, clean fight and we were able to get past some things that we got passed in the years like when he fought Davey Moore, my friend (in 1983). But Duran didn’t have nothing to do with Davey. I mean, Davey died in a freak accident and you know Duran’s just a natural normal guy."
Scoop: Going into the Duran fight you probably had a certain expectation of his talent level and his skills. What were the things that most surprised you about the way Duran fought?
Barkley: "Well, I knew that he was a very crafty man. And I knew that I had to be up to par with this man because if I don’t…and a lot of people thought I would not perform as good as I did when I fought him because they knew that he was a world class legend, so. But I handled him well. He surprised me very much about him and I probably more surprised him that I was able to handle him the way that I did."
Scoop: What was your strategy against Duran?
Barkley: "My strategy against Duran was to go out and make him fight me. But I changed it when I got up in the ring. I said, I think I’m just gonna try and box. Because I just didn’t feel like I wanted to go through a slugfest. I said, I want to show the people that I know how to box and I’m capable of boxing. But I said, If it turns into a slug match then it just got to be a slug match [smiles]."
Scoop: What caused you to decide to change your strategy at the last minute?
Barkley: "I changed my strategy because of the simple fact because I knew that I could box. And I knew that I had boxing ability. But everybody thought of me as a puncher. And they always seen me as a puncher. But I showed my boxing ability and my skills with punching power when I turned him around in the ninth round and stuff, hit him with a big punch and he turned around. Everybody was like, Whoooaa! You know why he didn’t fall from that? It was just – the reason I could understand why he didn’t fall was because, Duran, being the warrior like me, he knew that if he went down like that, that was going to be his last hurrah."
(Note: This ‘last hurrah’ theory immediately conjured memories of Roy Jones refusing to go down after being badly hurt by Antonio Tarver in their third fight, and 37-year-old Lennox Lewis willing himself to victory against Vitali Klitschko.)
Scoop: What was so difficult to offset with Duran?
Barkley: "You know, his style. You had to be willing and ready to really, like, take his stuff. Really be a thinker with him. Because Duran is very crafty. He’s a very creative fighter and crafty."
Scoop: When Duran comes to New York and you see him, how do you two get along?
Barkley: "Oh, me and Duran is like, it’s like we the best of friends [smiles]. Because there’s nothing but respect and love."
Scoop: Do you know that Sugar Ray Robinson said, after seeing you and Duran, he said about Duran’s performance: "That’s the best boxer I’ve ever seen." Roberto Duran’s son told me that. Did you ever hear that?
Barkley: "No, I never heard that. Wow. I mean, he boxed that fight and he fought a clean fight, courageously. You could say that we both was the best fighters and boxers that night. It was a close fight but I know why I didn’t get the decision [smiles]. So I’m not gonna even go there with that [laughs]."
Iran Barkley, would go on to win the IBF Super Middleweight title in 1992 by KO over Darrin Van Horn. In the same year, Barkley defeated Hearns again for the WBA Light Heavyweight title. Barkley’s last notable win was in 1997 – a 10th round TKO over former WBA Heavyweight champ Gerrie Coetzee of South Africa.