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1. Younger and naturally bigger, WBC world middleweight champion Iran Barkley – fresh from an electric three-round demolition of Tommy Hearns to win the strap – was a 2.5-1 favourite to successfully defend his title against the 37-year-old Roberto Duran in 1989. The Panamanian had taken 19 months out after his savage two-round stoppage loss to Hearns in ’84 and had since been beaten by Robbie Sims over 10 rounds.
2. The pair met at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, and in our preview we tipped Barkley to retain his crown on points in a hard-fought scrap. 7,090 people attended the fight but had to brave a freak coastal blizzard in order to do so.
3. As expected, the fight began at a lively pace with Barkley firing his venomous jab out relentlessly, only for Roberto to make the majority of them hit fresh air. Towards the end of the opening three minutes Duran clubbed Barkley with a right to knock him back onto his heels, but did not have enough time to capitalise.
4. Despite his advantages in height (six inches) and reach (seven inches), Barkley was unable to pin down Duran during the second, third and fourth rounds. He worked away at Duran’s body when he could though when he brought his work upstairs the challenger either ducked under it or spun off.
5. The pace quickened in the fifth and while some stern exchanges in the sixth gained Duran some of Barkley’s respect, the champion was still the busier fighter in there. Some more right hands from Duran in the seventh slightly troubled Barkley, who responded with a winging left hook.
6. Barkley landed another thunderous left hook in the eighth and while it had Duran slightly wobbled, he weathered the storm and held his own. He had passed the test – he had stood up to Barkley’s best punch, and was firing back.
7. Barkley showed signs of tiredness in the ninth and while Duran’s slightly sloppy work did not capitalise on the opportunity, he took the round. Duran grinned at the champion in the 10th as he made Barkley miss five punches in a row before punishing him with a left hook. Things were looking bleak for ‘The Blade’.
8. They went from bad to worse in the penultimate round when, with 30 seconds left in the stanza, Duran connected with a five-punch series, ending with two monstrous right hands, which flattened Barkley near his own corner. He rose at six and looked unsteady, but Duran simply strolled away instead of seeking the stoppage.
9. Duran didn’t land much in the final round and, despite his best efforts, Barkley couldn’t do enough to claw back victory. Duran was awarded a split decision victory on scores of 118-112, 116-112 and 113-116. However, the scores had to be shouted out by MC Michael Buffer as the sound system had malfunctioned. Most of the crowd only realised the result once Duran started celebrating, and a notable wire report the next morning even had the wrong scores.
10. With the victory Duran became only the third fighter in history at that time to win world titles in four different weight divisions, having won honours at lightweight through to super-welterweight beforehand. It also meant he had beaten at least one champion in every weight class from featherweight to middleweight. He never defended the middleweight title, instead electing to challenge WBC super-middleweight champion and old rival Sugar Ray Leonard next. Duran dropped a 12-round decision.