31 years ago Thomas Hearns was looking to rebuild his World Championship image after his epic battle and loss to Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Unfortunately, one punch from journeyman contender Iran Barkley derailed him, again.
Hearns and Barkley squared off at the Las Vegas Hilton on June 6th, 1988, with “The Hitman” making the first defense of his WBC middleweight title that he had won in October of 1987 by knocking out Juan Roldan.
And, there was every reason to believe that Hearns was going to dominate the New Jersey native Barkley in this one, and the first two and a half rounds lived up to that.
Hearns used his left jab, a strong right and lefts to the body to work on Barkley for the first 8 minutes of action. In fact, he had cut Barkley over both eyes and seemingly, was in complete control.
But, yet another example showed up that one punch can change it all.
Unlike Hagler wearing Hearns down with a series of vicious punches and eventually, landing successive big right hands in a row to knock him out in 1987, this was one big, bomb punch.
And referee Richard Steele probably would have been better advised to go ahead and stop the fight, because Barkley came in on a definitely defenseless Hearns and popped him two or three more times sprawling him through the ropes. Steele then stopped it, once and for all, making Barkley an incredibly unlikely champ.
Hearns regained his form and actually rematched Sugar Ray Leonard impressively, including knocking Leonard down, but still had to settle for a controversial draw in June of 1989.
Hearns won three more fights before fighting Barkley, again, in March of 1992 in Las Vegas. This time the fight went the distance and Barkley was, again, controversially awarded a 12 round split decision against “the Hitman.”
Hearns went on to win a total of 61 times in his career and was eventually inducted into the international Boxing Hall of Fame. However, he never got revenge on Barkley.
As for the man that beat Hearns twice, Barkley lost the next fight in 1988 to Roberto Duran in Atlantic City and then, two more after to Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn. In fact, even after the win over Hearns again in ’92, Barkley would go on to lose five more times in the next three years.
Sadly in desperate need of money, Barkley continue to fight well into his late 30s and lost the last six fights of his career finishing 43 – 19.
Still, on that one night in June in 1988, he plastered Tommy Hearns with a big punch and a stunning knockout that’s still a great reminder of how you can never take anything for granted in boxing.