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Modern Classics: Duran-Barkley


By: Sean Crose

For all intents and purposes, he should have been old news. He was thirty seven years old and had been in the fight business for over twenty years. What’s more, he hadn’t won a major bout since 1980, and had a whopping seven losses on his resume. Besides, it was almost the 1990s, which meant it was time for new names and new stars. No, Roberto Duran had absolutely no business fighting for the WBC middleweight championship of the world that wintry night in February of 1989. Except that he did. The Panamanian legend was distinctly old school, but he had won five straight, and now had 84 wins to his resume.

What’s more, the defending champion that Duran would be facing, Iran Barkley, had just knocked out Tommy Hearns. It simply made good business sense for the man who had demolished a legend like Hearns to go up against another big name from the past. In a sense, the game and talented Barkley could earn a reputation as being a true giant killer. If he were to do to Duran what he did to Hearns, Barkley would be known as the man who sent the old timers out to pasture. Duran, however, had taken to training in earnest around sixteen weeks before the fight. When he stepped into the ring at the Atlantic City Convention Center that February 24th, he was a man ready to do battle.

And a battle is what the 25-4 Barkley gave him. Still, as the Bronx based fighter indicated later, he had hoped Duran would lose heart at some point during the fight…but Duran didn’t. Even when Barkley was getting the better of him, he kept fighting. Then, as the fight progressed, Barkley began to burn out. And the old pro Duran knew better than anyone what to do in such a situation. “Barkley was paying for everything he threw,” Duran later told Sport’s Illustrated. “He had to take a punch to throw one, so I put more power into my punches.”

In the eleventh, the incredible happened – Barkley crashed to the canvas courtesy of a vicious combination from Duran. The defending champion was able to get up and barely survive the round. But Duran was on fire. The aging star plugged away in the twelfth, and by the final bell it seemed like the man known as Manos de Piedra just might have pulled it off. Due to microphone problems, it took a while for the question on everyone’s mind to be answered. After Michael Buffer finally got to read the scores, however, the sold out crowd went wild – for Duran, improbably, was a champion again. The fighter had been on top of boxing’s mountain before. Now, in his third decade of professional fighting, he had reached the stratosphere.   

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