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Boxing Throwback Thursday: Duran’s greatest night?

We look back at the 1989 “Fight of the Year”, where a 37-year-old “Hands of Stone” Roberto Duran toppled “The Blade” Iran Barkley to win the middleweight championship.


Roberto Duran’s name will always be linked to “Sugar” Ray Leonard, “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns as a member of the ‘four kings’ that restored boxing to prominence. Widely regarded as the greatest lightweight of all time, perhaps the best accomplishment of Duran’s career came in 1989 in this fight against Barkley. For what it’s worth, I rank Duran above Leonard, Hagler and Hearns in the top ten of my pound-for-pound list of the greatest fighters of all time. 

Before the fight

Duran, who had begun his career as a lightweight aged 16, had climbed up to middleweight over his 22-year professional career. Standing just 5ft 7” he challenged the 6ft 1” Barkley in his prime – he had just knocked out Hearns to win the WBC middleweight title. A few short years ago Hearns had wiped out Duran in the second round causing him to retire for 18 months. Since then Duran had won seven of eight fights against lesser opponents taking his legendary record to 85-7. His manager had left him relatively penniless and with Duran declining throughout the 80’s he had been searching for one final pay day. His career looked to be teetering out and Barkley was the favourite to win the contest. 

The fight

Round one – Barkley came out aggressive early, using his jab. Duran was struggling to get on the inside but landed a good left hook to the body. They both exchanged body shots as Duran looked to have found his range. They both landed single shots toward the end of the round, but Duran landed a huge right hand to stagger Barkley just before the bell sounded which made the round tough to score. 10-10 Even.

Round two – Barkley looked to be aggressive again, but both fighters exchanged and looked to attack the body. Barley landed some good blows but Duran was unfazed. Their inside exchanges were frequent and close. Duran landed a good left and right as he came on strong toward the end. 10-9 Barkley.

Round three – Barkley came out well again, but Duran was looking more elusive before landing a big right hand and body flurry. The pace had slowed and both fighters were having success, exchanging good body shots and jabs. Duran was taking the power well and landed a great combination to end the round. 10-9 Duran.

Round four – Duran came out aggressive wailing away to the body before taking a good left hook from Barkley. Duran was soon forced to swallow a low blow along with some solid body shots. His response was a great flurry and a big right hand to hurt Barkley. Barkley replied with body shots and an uppercut but Duran was again unfazed. Duran took a huge right hand with no issue and they both landed big shots as the ended the round with a shoot-out. 10-10 even.

Round five – Both fighters were jabbing and looking to settle the pace of the bout. Barkley found big success with a right hand and uppercut, but Duran was unbothered and countered well to the body. Duran was receiving a lot of punishment, but kept coming forward. Barkley’s bodywork was impressive. 10-9 Barkley.

Round six – Barkley came out swinging, but Duran was landing his jab. Barkley seemed to be slowing as Duran was having success with combinations to the head and body. Barkley outworked him and landed a few good body shots during the round. 10-9 Barkley.

Round seven – Duran landed a flashy right hand twice to start the round following it up with a crowd stirring combination, Barkley responded but Duran had crowd support. Duran stunned Barkley with a hard right hand, before taking two left hooks that left him visibly hurt. He held on and landed another right hand over Barkley’s lazy jab. 10-9 Duran.

Round eight – Barkley landed a few good left hooks, wobbling Duran and forcing him backward. They exchanged on the inside with Barkley seeming to win with his hard body shots. The exchanges were fast and frequent, seemingly lasting the whole action packed round. 10-9 Barkley.

Round nine – Barkley was aggressive to start and seemed to want to keep this fight long now. Duran backed Barkley to the ropes and landed a good flurry. Barkley fought back, but Duran was having success in a close round. 10-9 Duran.

Round ten – Both fighters wailed away on the inside, Duran looked to have a second wind landing his jab and some single right hands. Now, Duran was winning the inside exchanges and making Barkley miss. Barkley landed a good right hand but Duran was stirred by the crowd as he avoided Barkley’s shots to land a right. 10-9 Duran.

Round eleven – Barkley came out strong but was finding it hard to land. Duran snapped in a big right, but Barkley’s combination response seemed to have nothing in them. Barkley was trying to get back into the fight as they traded hooks, Duran landed a huge right hand and followed with a combination. After taking a hard shot Duran nailed Barkley with a right to stun him before unloading a combination that sent him crashing to the canvas. Barkley got up but seemed fragile, he dug deep to fight back and survive as Duran stalked him. 10-8 Duran.

Round twelve – Both boxers tried to exchange early, but the pace was slower. Barkley seemed to have recovered as he started this round the better. Duran landed yet another right hand and a good crisp combination on the inside. Barkley tried to get to the body, but Duran looked much fresher as he landed short jabs. Barkley’s heart and work rate were impressive during this round. 10-9 Barkley.

The bout was scored as a split decision victory for Roberto Duran. The judges had it scored 116-112 and 118-112 for Duran and 116-113 for Barkley. The discrepancy on the scorecards was questionable, but I feel the result was right. The associated press and I both score the fight 115-114 in favour of Roberto Duran. At 37-years-of-age his heart and fitness with impressive, he took huge shots from a massive middleweight and still came forward as hungry as ever.

The fight was an absolute classic, a must watch for all boxing fans. 

After the fight

Barkley was gracious in defeat even though he thought that he had won the fight. Roberto Duran was still the only man to have beaten Sugar Ray Leonard and so they went on to fight their third bout in that same year, with Duran losing by unanimous decision at super middleweight leading to Duran retiring for two years. He would return in 1991 and fight on until 2001 at the age of 50.

Barkley would challenge for another version of the middleweight championship in his next two fights, losing to both Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn. He would go on to win the super middleweight and light heavyweight championships in 1992.

Did you enjoy this fight as much as I did? Let me know in the comment section below…

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Amar Hayer

Boxing and basketball writer. Currently studying at a top UK university.

  • jc326

    Duran only behind Ray Robinson- size for size in his prime virtually unbeatable. Floyd Mayweather also rated him the best ( other than himself of course ) above Whitaker, Leonard , Chavez, and Ali . He was 72-1 going into the second Leonard fight.

    • Amar Hayer

      Personally I have to put guys like Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Willie Pep and Ali above Duran.

Boxing Throwback Thursday: Duran’s greatest night?

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