Friday, June 26, 2020

It was his heart. It just wouldn't go!

Roberto Duran Vs Iran Barkley. 24th Feb 1989 at the Convention Centre, Atlantic City, New Jersey. 1989 fight of the year by Ring Magazine. A fight for the ages! 

In the post-fight interview, Barkley had just one thing to say; "It was his heart. It just wouldn't go". Brings to mind the famous saying; "It's not about the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog". 

On paper, this bout was a no-brainer. A 37-year old pitted against a 28-year old. Duran was 5' 7" tall against Barkley's 6' 1". Duran had a 66-inch reach against Barkley's 74 inches. A 6-inch difference in height and an 8-inch difference in reach. That's heavy odds as evidenced by the betting cards. Barkley was a 2.5 : 1 favorite to win this bout.  Not just the tale of the tape, but the background of this fight put Duran at heavier odds still. Barkley was the WBO middleweight champion who had KO'd Thomas "Hitman" Hearns in 3 rounds in his previous fight just 8 months ago. Duran himself had suffered an embarrassing KO at the hands of the Hitman 5 years ago. Here's the tale of the tape as it stood on fight-night - 

  Duran Barkley
Age 37 28
Height (ft/in) 5 feet 7 inches 6 feet 1 inch
Weight (lbs) 154.5 159
Reach (inch) 66 74

But the absolute doggedness and ring IQ that 'El Cholo' displayed in the ring was simply inspiring. A rare display of determination and heart in the face of overwhelming odds. The sport of boxing has many such stories and this one is at the top of my list for those inspirational "wow" moments. Considering the "no mas" debacle in 1980 when Duran got frustrated by Sugar Ray Leonard's "smart boxing" which went against Duran's grain of infighting and brawling; this fight was a huge turnaround where Duran employed all the tricks in the book to keep adapting over the course of 12 rounds. One of the key disadvantages Duran went in with was his inability to use his signature wrestling techniques due to his height. His head only came up to Barkley's mid-shoulder rendering self-protection impossible. To complicate matters, Barkley used these opportunities to land some hard body shots which shook Duran early. But Duran withstood this barrage and then dished out some! Duran then switched tactics to employ "smart boxing" maneuvers of his own. No wonder there's a larger-than-life persona built around the "hands of stone". At 37 the head movements and slips he employed to evade Barkley's jabs are a pure pleasure to watch. The willingness to engage with a fighter much larger than yourself takes heart. And boy did Duran take some hard hits! Round 8 truly brought out the best in Duran where he refused to give up despite being staggered by a mean left hook. 

Here the modern martial artist breaks the fight down to showcase some of the techniques employed by both Barkley and Duran. A must-watch for any fight enthusiast 

A fitting swansong for a great fighter. 

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