back in black
Join Date: Mar 2010
Total Points: 699,914,176,808,029.38
"He signed an autograph and laid back down," said his longtime friend Mike Bernard. "That's the kind of guy he is."
Boxing is all the Morris HS dropout knows. He first slipped on a pair of gloves at age 14 at St. Mary's Gym on St. Anne's Avenue and fell in love with the melodic thud of the speed bag.
During the 1980s and '90s, the fighter frittered away millions. He bought a Lexus 300 and the latest-model Infiniti. But it wasn't all about himself. He gave to family and friends and threw block parties with pony rides for kids in the South Bronx.
Back in hotel room 301, with its sagging ceiling, peeling wallpaper and a view of the rumbling elevated train, Barkley takes stock of what's left: five pennies sit on the nightstand near the unmade bed. Two old suitcases rest on the floor next to a pair of black dress shoes and a pair of sneakers.
His other belongings remain inside an apartment he can no longer call home.
He's sold two of his championship belts, and his precious middleweight belt is lost, possibly stolen.
RIGHT now, the only souvenir of his box ing is a swollen bulge of flesh above his left eye.
Barkley's last fight -- a sixth-round TKO loss to Keith McKnight at the Lady Luck Casino in Lula, Miss. -- was 11 years ago. But like so many other fighters, he'd like to get back in the ring.
He works out at famed Gleason's Gym in Brooklyn or at the Aaron Davis Gym in The Bronx. The Post was with him at the latter last week.
After changing into a shirt that reads "pugilist," he borrows yellow wraps for his hands.
Barkley begins a lonely dance around the ring, ducking and punching an invisible opponent.
After going for six rounds, he looks sullen.
"The workout was good. I'm just thinking about everything else, all this depressing stuff," he says, now bundled up outside.
"I'm thinking about how to bail myself out of this mess."
He revisits his career's unraveling with resentment, saying people like promoter Bob Arum low-balled him.
"I didn't see $5 million all at once, like [Sugar] Ray Leonard -- all these guys who got to see $20 and $30 million and $10 million in one lump."
Barkley believes he also missed out on a massive purse because Leonard, considered one of the greatest boxers of all time, ducked him.
And losing by a judges' split decision to Duran, the Panamanian great, was the result of "the politics of this game," he simmers.
"I couldn't win that fight because Ray wasn't going to fight me," he says. "They needed my belt."
After the loss, his next fight's purse was $6,000, he says. Duran's was $10 million.
He's filled his time out of the ring at the gym or at schools inspiring young boxers, his friends said.
He picks up cash at autograph shows. For now, he subsists on a circle of pals who offer him meals or pay for a few nights in a motel.
"We're just praying that someone comes out of the woodwork to help him," said friend Mike Trapani, also a former fighter.
Barkley climbs the carpeted staircase at the Howard Johnson Express Inn and walks to the end of the hall. He enters the tiny room to take a shower before a friend picks him up for dinner.
His somber mood is tinged with hope.
"Yeah, I'm homeless," the champ said, "but I mean it ain't gonna keep me down.