3. March 20, 1992 — Caesars Palace, Las Vegas — Iran Barkley W 12 Thomas Hearns II
Setting the Scene: In June of 1988 Hearns was on top of the world. Eight months earlier he stopped Juan Domingo Roldan to become the first man to win titles in four weight classes and he entered his first defense against Iran Barkley as a heavy favorite. Hearns dominated the first two rounds and sliced Barkley’s brittle brows to ribbons only for Barkley to launch a Hail Mary in round three to score THE RING’s Upset of the Year.
Since then Hearns had gone 5-0-1, the lone blemish a draw against Sugar Ray Leonard that everyone, including Leonard, said Hearns deserved to win. Hearns again was coming in on a high, for nine months earlier he toppled previously unbeaten Virgil Hill to claim the WBA light heavyweight title while Barkley endured a three-fight losing streak (to Roberto Duran, Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn) followed by three straight victories (against Juan Hernandez, Jesus Castaneda and Darrin Van Horn). The Van Horn victory earned Barkley his second title (the IBF super middleweight) as well as the cache to challenge Hearns for a third.
What Happened: Every second of every round was intensity personified. Most of the fight was contested at point blank range with Barkley pinning Hearns to the ropes and both men blasting away with their Saturday best. In the early rounds Hearns occasionally broke away long enough to drive in piston-like jabs and ferocious hooks to the body but Barkley never stopped driving forward and over time he forced Hearns to fight his fight.
A major turning point occurred in the fourth when Barkley, moments after tasting a pair of hooks, delivered a short counter hook that dropped Hearns like a shot. “The Hit Man” — bigger, stronger and hungrier for victory than was the case four years ago — pulled himself up and fired back in kind, opening a cut over Barkley’s left eye along the way. The rest of the fight was waged on Barkley’s terms and the results were breathtaking, at least from a spectator’s standpoint. The punishing action left Hearns with a broken nose, swollen lips and sore ribs while Barkley suffered a broken left hand, a hematoma over the left eye and a cut on the top of his head.
Whatever animosity Barkley and Hearns brought into the ring was exorcised by fight’s end as they hugged, smiled and congratulated each other. The judges were split, as Lou Tabat scored 114-113 for Hearns while Chuck Giampa (115-113) and Jerry Roth (114-113) gave Barkley the fight and the WBA belt.