It all began in the South Bronx during the 1970’s. There were accounts of gang problems and drugs. The lure of the streets was stripping children of their innocence. The Borough of the Bronx was politically, economically, and socially impoverished. It could be dangerous for any youngster growing up in such a neighborhood…let alone Iran!
Iran Barkley was the youngest of eight children. Unfortunately, due to his surrounding conditions, Iran joined the notorious Black Spades gang. However, his older sister, Yvonne served as Iran’s protector. She tried to prevent Iran from succumbing to the temptations of the streets. In due time, Yvonne, a lightweight contender in the sport of women’s boxing, would bring Iran to the gym with her. Inevitably, Iran joined the Knights Community Center and began to learn the science of boxing. Under the guidance of Connie Bryant and Bobby Miles, he started to hone his boxing skills. In addition, he met a talented young fighter named Davey Moore. Whereas Barkley had just started his amateur career, Moore had already won numerous accolades and was gunning for a shot on the 1980 US Olympic Team. Iran and Davey became fast friends.
In 1981, Iran won the Empire State Games and was a finalist in the New York Golden Gloves. In addition, Barkley became a father for the first time with his common law wife, Pam. In 1982, Iran joined the US Amateur Boxing Team and traveled throughout Europe. He captured a bronze medal at the Copenhagen Boxing Cup and the World Games in Munich. However, with the Olympics still two years away, he decided to turn pro. Iran visited Bob Arum of Top Rank. Ultimately, Barkley signed an agreement that stipulated the following: “Iran Barkley will be paid one thousand dollars for every 4 round fight. In addition, he will earn fifteen hundred dollars for every eight round fight.” This was just the beginning for Iran!
With Connie Bryant and Bobby Miles at his side, Iran made his professional debut and enjoyed a knockout victory. He was a young fighter with a bright future. Nevertheless, he was about to encounter the first of a series of setbacks. Over the next three years, Iran would compile a record of 10-3. His lack of defense provided fans with thrilling and memorable moments, but some promoters felt that his boxing style was a threat to his career. He was subsequently dropped from Top Rank’s roster and signed with The Felt Forum, a division of Madison Square Garden.
Determined, Iran went on a 13-fight win streak over the next two years. He also won a minor title along the way and became a ranked contender. Barkley was mentioned as a possible challenger to Marvin Hagler for his crown. During all of this, Iran decided to leave Connie Bryant for John Reetz and Vinnie Ferguson. He also left Bobby Miles and hooked up with trainer, Hector Roca. Ultimately, Luck provided Iran with his biggest opportunity. After Iran substituted for an injured contender and won the fight, Iran Barkley had managed to position himself for a title shot.
Upon Ray Leonard’s upset of Marvin Hagler, all three major titles were vacant. It was decided that Barkley would go to Italy to challenge Sumbu Kalambay for one of the titles. In his bid for his first world title, nothing went right. Barkley’s training camp was disorganized and the ring surface was slick. Iran was not able to throw any power punches. Unfortunately, Iran lost a decision and returned home to the US.
More setbacks, some promoters claimed that Barkley was not a viable contender. At the same time, Hector Roca left as well. Hector felt that he couldn’t handle Barkley’s penchant for the nightlife. Disillusioned, Barkley called Stan Hoffman, a New York-based promoter and manager. Hoffman signed Barkley to his Houston Boxing Association and Barkley began to train with Al Boldan. Ferguson left the picture after arguing with John Reetz over contractual obligations.
After winning his next two fights, Hoffman, a friend of Bob Arum, was able to land Iran a shot with Tommy Hearns, a reigning middleweight champ. With a $350,000 payday, Iran entered this fight as a 4-1 underdog. In addition, one week before the fight, Davey Moore, Iran’s best friend, was killed in an automobile accident. Barkley also has to deal with the fact that his mother wasn’t able attend the fight. She was at a bedside vigil for his father and older brother. They both were diagnosed with terminal cancer. Undaunted, Barkley pressed on! When, in the third round, Iran knocked Hearns out of the ring and won by knockout. The once gang member from the South Bronx was now middleweight champ of the world!
After an immediate rematch with Hearns fell through, Top Rank slated Barkley to fight Duran. Going into the fight, the media and fans were clearly enchanted with Duran. As a result of the pro-Duran atmosphere, Barkley knew that he needed a knockout to win. At the end of the fight, Barkley lost a controversial spilt decision. Notwithstanding, Ring Magazine hailed this fight as, “The Fight of the Year.” After winning the title, Duran quickly vacated the title and moved up to challenge Ray Leonard for millions of dollars. Once again, Barkley was left in defeat.
However, he didn’t have time to complain. Six months after his loss to Duran, Barkley was slated to fight Michael Nunn. Nevertheless more problems ensued, John Reetz fired trainer Al Boldan and cornerman Victor Muchado was demoted. Unfortunately, Barkley had unfamiliar people working his corner and it did cost him. He lost a close majority decision. After the bout, rumors began to spread of Iran and Reetz splitting. Reetz denied this, but did admit that Barkley was almost broke. Barkley was drowning in his own excessive spending.
Furthermore, the results of taking so many clean punches for eight years had endeared Barkley to his fans. Nonetheless, the pounding caused a tremendous amount of scar tissue around his eyes. Additionally, a detached retina resulted from all of the punishment. Iran underwent surgery to repair his eyes and was forced to take a year off. During that time, he ballooned to nearly 220 lbs. Reetz pleaded with Barkley to take care of himself.
After withdrawing for medical reasons, Barkley, in due time, got a 4th title fight for $200,000 with Nigel Benn. Before the fight, Iran’s father passed away from cancer. With his Dad’s death on his mind, he was forced to enter the ring. A big mistake! Barkley was floored three times in the first round. The ref stopped the fight amidst controversy. Apparently, while Iran was still on the ground, Benn managed to still punch him. Although the fouls were acknowledged, the decision remained. Eventually, Barkley and Reetz parted company. Iran returned to Las Vegas.
While trying to get his life back in order, Barkley met former light heavyweight champion, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad. When all was said and done, Mustafa began to train Iran. With comeback on his mind, Barkley got into shape and won his next two fights. However, while visiting Top Rank, Barkley was asked to make the 168-lb. weight class. It appeared that TVKO, a new pay-per-view attraction, was looking to match someone against their reigning 168-lb. champ at the newly-opened Paramount Theatre. Barkley made the weight and the match was slated to go.
Yet, under the law in New York, Barkley needed to pass an eye exam. Due to his surgery, his repaired eye had 20/400 vision. To make matters worse, Iran was broke! Barkley was accusing Reetz of mismanaging his funds. Reetz, of course, claimed that Barkley, voluntarily, withdrew his own money and took loans held against his assets. Coincidentally, Tommy Hearns started on a comeback with a brand new title. He was looking for a rematch with Barkley, but Iran had to win his next fight. Henceforth, Barkley passed the physical exam. The fight was on!
After two rounds, Iran dismantled the 168-lb. TVKO champion and won the title. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief as Barkley became a two-time World Champion. Top Rank went on to set up Barkley’s rematch with Tommy Hearns. With a renewed confidence, Iran was determined to prove that his first fight with Hearns wasn’t a fluke. Barkley won a spilt decision by one point. It was the shining moment of Iran’s career. Iran Barkley became the 14th man in Boxing history to win titles in 3 different weight classes.
Afterward, Barkley vacated one of his titles, so he can defend his other title against James Toney. However, at the age of 31 with almost 40 pro fights, Barkley began to show his scars. His weight became an issue. Eventually, Barkley did meet the required weight and the fight was on. Nonetheless, it proved to be too much to overcome. Mustafa stopped the fight in the 9th round and Iran lost his title.
Subsequently, Iran fought two other bouts for Top Rank at 190 lbs. He now appeared even slower in the ring. It was difficult for him to carry so much weight. Consistently over 200 pounds, Top Rank decided to drop Iran from their roster yet again. Unwilling to lose the weight, Barkley moved to Tulsa. He joined up with Tony Holdan, a midwestern promoter and Tom Vigets as his trainer. Barkley won his next two fights and lined up his last title shot against Henry Maske in Germany. He dropped 30 lbs. and was ready for this bout. At the start of the fight, Iran gave Maske some trouble, but soon, he succumbed to the German’s long reach and youth. Once again, betrayed by his tendency to cut easily, Iran was stopped in the 9th round.
Over the course of his next few fights, Iran managed himself. He accepted whatever the promoters offered him. Usually, these fights weren’t televised and they took place in small venues. It was so bad that Barkley accepted $250 to fight Rocky Gannon for 8 rounds. Away from his family, he tried to make one last payday. He managed to land an ESPN date against Gerrie Cotzee, a former heavyweight champion, who briefly held the title back in 1982. In a battle of two over the hill fighters, Iran won.
Yet, a string of wins over terrible competition did not amount to anything! Iran sank even further and fought in Helsinki (Copenhagen), Ocala (Fla.), and lost his last six fights in a row. At one point, he took on a former WWF wrestler and lost a spilt decision. Bitter and fed up, the former world champ decided to retire. After seventeen years in the ring, he felt that it’s finally time to move on…
Out of the ring, Iran had to find something to do with his life. With his divorce from his second wife now finalized, he landed a job on a used car lot. After a short period of time, Barkley quit! During all of this, Iran lost his building and carwash investments. Throughout the course of his life, Iran Barkley achieved greatness inside the ring. His no holds barred style and relentless attack won him three titles and a possible bid for the Boxing Hall of Fame. Notwithstanding, that same lack of control out of the ring caused his inevitable downfall. During his lifetime, he has been married twice and fathered four children. He roughly accumulated over $5,000,000. All of which is gone now! The once triumphant champion is still residing in the South Bronx projects.
Presently, Iran is spearheading a fundraising campaign for his new foundation, The Georgia Barkley Scholarship Fund (in memory of his mother). This fund will provide economically, disadvantaged youngsters academic scholarships to leading institutions. The aspiring students must demonstrate the ability to perform and make evident the fortitude to excel!