clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Unsung 20th Century Fights: Nigel Benn vs Iran Barkley

Nigel Benn and Iran Barkley didn’t spend a lot of time in the ring, but they went to war in 1990.

Iran Barkley v Nigel Benn Getty

Nigel Benn was not about to let his WBO middleweight championship belt be taken from him when Iran Barkley stepped up to the plate in hopes to unseat the British boxer on Aug. 18, 1990, in Las Vegas.

Barkley was ranked as the No. 4 contender for the belt, which at the time was not considered one of the major recognized world titles in boxing. The commentators downplayed the prestige of the sanctioning body, while properly contextualizing what was most important: The prestige of the fighters in the ring.

Benn only had one loss on his record as he geared up for this showdown, to Michael Watson in a 1989 bout, and had captured his WBO crown one fight prior against Doug DeWitt, doing away with him inside of eight rounds.

Barkley came into the fight having lost his last two, but had knocked out Thomas Hearns in three rounds before that in 1988. The losses saw him suffering a split decision loss to Roberto Duran in 1989, and then a majority decision loss to Michael Nunn six months later in the same year.

In that era of middleweight boxing, the best fighters fought one another, and it really boiled down to the ways in which their styles counteracted one another. Barkley was looking to stop a skid, get back in the win column with a belt to his name.

The Fight

Benn exploded off of the ropes at the sound of the opening bell, as if Barkley had disrespected his mother pre-fight, catching him with a convincing right hook for his first punch of the night.

Barkley was stunned as Benn poured on, connecting with a left cross before delivering another left that had Barkley hanging on to the ropes for dear life, ruled a knockdown. Benn had to be restrained by the referee upon the knockdown, as he was swinging away on a fallen man, out for blood.

A few seconds was all Barkley needed to regain focus and get his head in the game. He proceeded to duck four of Benn’s punches, before unleashing a short left hook of his own. Profiting off of the sudden vicissitude of the fight, Barkley tagged Benn with three straight jabs, sending Benn to the ropes.

Barkley landed a short uppercut inside, and Benn retorted with two right crosses to the side of Barkley’s face. Appearing to have fought 11 arduous rounds, both fighters were duking it out in grand fashion. All of this happened in the first 80 seconds of the bout.

After a brief toe-to-toe stretch with punches thrown at less than 100 percent, Barkley was dropped a second time, with Benn once again teetering on the line of unsportsmanlike conduct. After rising a second time, Benn had had enough and viciously closed the show, with referee Carlos Padilla stepping in to stop the fight at 2:57 of round one.


Nigel Benn made easy money out of thrashing a great fighter in Iran Barkley, but it wasn’t quite the end of Barkley, whose reputation was still riding the wave of defeating Hearns, even though his loss to Benn was his third consecutive defeat. Barkley would go on to defeat Hearns again in 1992, but finished his career losing 13 of his final 30 fights into 1999.

Benn retained his WBO title, but would lose it three months later in a fight against Chris Eubank. No matter, for he ended his career on a tear, going 15-3-1, and winning the WBC title at super middleweight, making nine successful defenses of that crown.

If you’re pressed for time, or wanting to pile on fights on a lazy day, this is as good a one-rounder as you’ll find.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bad Left Hook Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your global boxing news from Bad Left Hook