Iran Barkley vs. Darrin Van Horn

By Ted Sares on April 5, 2013
Iran Barkley vs. Darrin Van Horn
The crowd smelled blood. Darrin Van Horn was in the Blade’s house. (Robert Ecksel)

One was a two-division world champion. The other, though reportedly broke and striving to become self-supporting, was a three-division world titlist…

“If you think Barkley was mad before the fight, wait until he sees how many people are taking part of his purse.”—Bob Arum, after his fighter, Iran Barkley, beat Darrin Van Horn

“Gil, this place is just stunned.”—Al Bernstein to Gil Clancy after Iran Barkley KO’d Thomas Hearns

I remember noting a newspaper headline back in 1986 about a college kid named Darrin Van Horn winning his 32nd pro fight when he knocked out Norberto Bueno at the Felt Forum and was amazed at this youngster’s record. Wow, a college kid from Kentucky knocking out experienced pros! He would go on to win seven more fights and amass a 39-0 record (23 KOs) before losing a UD to tough Gianfranco Rosi (48-2 coming in). No shame there. But, previously, he had whipped Robert Hines (24-1-1 at the time) for the IBF light middleweight title, the first of two world belts he would garner.

Darrin then ran off five consecutive wins before losing a rematch with Rossi by UD in July 1990, again in Italy. Van Horn put up a better effort this time around. Rossi was a legitimate champion, very strong, always in shape, unorthodox, and had decent speed.

Then on May 18, 1991, in Verbania, Italy, Van Horn beat the very capable Lindell Holmes (44-5 coming in) by eleventh-round knockout to win the IBF super middleweight title, his second world title. After defending it successfully by knocking out John Jarvis (25-2 at the time), he positioned himself for his fateful meeting with none other than Iran “Blade” Barkley. A fight was set for January 10, 1992, with the Blade (27-7 coming in) at the Paramount Theatre in New York City. This was Barkley’s house, his home turf.

Van Horn’s camp may have done minimal due diligence or simply underestimated the Blade. At any rate, Iran should not have been taken lightly. He was definitely one to be wary of, given his record. Still, probably thinking the Blade simply would be another, albeit bigger, notch on his belt, not to mention an easy payday, Van Horn unwisely offered him a shot at his title.

This was an unexpected opportunity for a guy who would go on to finish as a five-time world champion and who made his bones with a third-round knockout win over Tommy Hearns in 1988. However, in 1989, he had lost a SD and MD to Roberto Duran (Fight of the Year) and Michael Nunn, respectively. And his disastrous encounter with Nigel Benn, where he suffered a brutal though highly controversial first-round KO, must of have emboldened the Van Horn camp to think the Bronx brawler was ripe for the picking.

As the Kentucky schoolboy entered the ring, you could see some confusion and maybe something else beginning to take hold on his face. The loud and raucous booing was not directed at his opponent this time; it was directly squarely at him. The crowd smelled blood. Van Horn was in the Blade’s house now and would be lucky to get out alive. This was the Paramount Theater in New York City, a long way from the friendly confines of the University of Kentucky campus. Suddenly, the good guy had become the bad guy. Suddenly, Darrin Van Horn was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and he began to look like a deer caught in the headlights.

Meanwhile, the fearsome and menacing-looking Barkley, wearing an old-school hooded robe, was pacing back and forth in his corner like a caged tiger, waiting for the bell to ring so he could launch what everybody expected to be an all-out bull rush. And that’s exactly what he did using a blitzkrieg attack.

The fight was almost anti-climactic, a no contest, as Barkley blackjacked the Schoolboy and schooled him in two short rounds of destruction, hammering him from pillar to post in the same shocking manner as bomber Andy Ganigan had done to Sean O’Grady in 1981 and heavy-handed Tony Sibson had done to an undefeated John Collins in 1983. Van Horn had come in with no game plan, no preparation, and ended up getting mugged in New York City. After staggering Van Horn in the first round, Barkley decked the “Schoolboy” three times in the second before the slaughter was stopped by referee Arthur Mercante Jr.

Incredibly, Iran Barkley, who had been knocked out in his fight with Nigel Benn and also was recovering from retina surgery, had captured another world title. His wins over Van Horn and then Tommy Hearns for a second time earned Barkley titles at super middle and light heavyweight, respectively, and gave him the Comeback Fighter of the Year award for 1992 in Ring Magazine. He would go on to finish with a record of 43-19-1 (28 KOs). The Blade had a nice run of nine wins in 1996 and 1997. In June 1997, Barkley stopped equally aging Gerrie Coetzee in the 10th round at the Hollywood Palladium to win something called the vacant World Boxing Board heavyweight title. It was painful to watch as it was now clear that Barkley would never again be a contender for a legitimate title. After being upset by the late Tony LaRosa in 1998, things fell apart for the Blade as he went on to lose his last six outings to reasonably stiff opposition.

As for the Schoolboy, he retired in 1994 after six wins over minimal competition. His record was a fine 53-3 and he left with a fine boxing legacy. During his career, he fought such opponents as Holmes, Rosi (twice), Hines, Luis Santana, Norberto Sabater (twice), Elio Diaz, and John Mundaga. He would bookend his career with a two-round stoppage win against Willie Bell in Texas in 1994.

Van Horn was set to challenge Benn for his WBC super middleweight title in England.  However, according to Boxing Monthly, at the time Van Horn failed a brain scan at the time leading to his retirement. Earlier, he had graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism.

While Darrin’s record was exemplary, Barkley’s was deceptive as his level of opposition was far superior. Names like Olajide, Hearns (twice), Duran, Nunn, Kinchen, Kalambay, Benn, Scypion, Robbie Sims, and Sabater were pre-Van Horn opponents, while names like Henry Maske, Rocky Gannon, James Toney, and Adolpho Washington would dot his resume later.

But this is not about records and opponents. What you had here was a simple case of a tough school kid from Kentucky who forgot to do his homework, meeting a much tougher, street-smart guy from the Bronx who sensed an opportunity and jumped on it.

One finished with a stellar record; the other may have a shot at induction into the Hall of Fame. One was a two-division world champion. The other, though reportedly broke and striving to become self-supporting, was a three-division world titlist. One graduated college and has a solid post-boxing career; the other is a legend who remains beloved by his fans and fellow boxers.

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Iran Barkley v Darrin Van Horn 1992

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  1. Ted 06:08pm, 04/09/2013

    Mugabi used to do that as well. They would ask him about the fight and he would say, “I knock him out.” He was right more than he was wrong, though he did say that before the Hagler fight.

    Barkley was like Sara Lee, no one didn’t like him.

  2. FrankinDallas 05:55pm, 04/09/2013

    Another great quote from The Blade. When asked about his plan for an upcoming fight, he said “I’m a go in the ring, I’m a knock him out”.

    Gotta love the guy!

  3. the thresher 05:52pm, 04/09/2013

    FD, I knew there was something about you that was different. You know, the funny thing is the Blade is just about the most gentle man you would ever want to meet outside of the ring. He is a kind and decent person. Other ex-fighters love him like a brother. I understand he is doing much better now and is supporting himself. That’s great news.

    Van Horn turned out be be an edgy guy for a schoolboy.

  4. FrankinDallas 05:18pm, 04/09/2013

    Ted…did I ever tell you I am an official Kentucky Colonel? True; and I have the document signed by the Gov of KY to prove it.

    I remember this fight…as Peter posted below, Van Horn continuously scratched his back with his right hand, leaving himself wide open for big shots that The Blade took advantage of. Now reminds me of Allan Green looking down at this shoes.

    Barkley is one of my all time fave fighters, we’re both Bronx boys!
    I loved it when after his last fight, when the interviewer asked him what he was going to do now, and the Blade said “I’m gonna rob your house”.

  5. dollarbond 06:47am, 04/09/2013

    I guess the schoolboy didn’t finish so well after all, eh?

  6. the thresher 06:47pm, 04/08/2013

    Here is a link that gives some info on Van Horn’s post-boxing exploits which, I believe, involved a career in law enforcement for a while and then he was injured in a firearms accident. Can’t find out anything beyond that. He seems to have vanished into thin air.

    I do know John Scully sparred with him before the Barkley fight.

  7. ted sares 03:44pm, 04/08/2013

    Thanks Pug. It was a blast. Wish you were there.

  8. pugknows 03:31pm, 04/08/2013

    I hear it went great yesterday. Congrats, Ted.

  9. the thresher 02:24pm, 04/08/2013

    I should point out that Bill is Dollarbond.

  10. the thresher 02:23pm, 04/08/2013

    Thanks Bill, it was a big thrill to be with those guys. Jofre and Mike Silver were there.

    In fact, Jofre was inducted—but not under his screen name.

    Nice to see you there as well. I really appreciated that.

  11. the thresher 02:20pm, 04/08/2013

    Barkley had not done very well going into the Van Horn fight and the KY kid thought he had an easy mark. Biff, Bam, Pow, And just like that, he was mauled by the enraged Blade.

    Anyone who saw the walk in knew what was coming. The crowd was like a Roman one waiting for the tigers to eat the Christians. You could sense the ambush before it happened. Poor Darrin wanted out but it was too late.

  12. Tex Hassler 02:13pm, 04/08/2013

    It is hard for me to understand why Van Horn took Barkley lightly but then fighters are not always predictable or prepared. Some things we will never know in the fight game and possibly we do not need to know. Barkley was a tough man and until he retired for good he was not to be taken lightly.

  13. the thresher 01:57pm, 04/08/2013

    Yeah, Mike, he said something menacing. Poor Darrin didn’t know whether to sh—or go blind.

    Got a classic Central Park mugging, albeit a legal one.

  14. ironmike 01:31pm, 04/08/2013

    I loved the Blade, I believe when the ref brought them to center ring Iran said to Darrin,“Let’s get ready to die” or something to that effect, Great memories from this, Thanks Ted

  15. dollarbond 11:07am, 04/08/2013

    Great banquet!!!11

  16. Walt 08:46am, 04/07/2013

    Congratulations Ted

  17. Don from Prov 08:08am, 04/07/2013

    Barkley was a handful—and then some.
    I’d pretty much forgotten about Van Horn & this brought back memories.
    Good stuff.

  18. the thresher 07:26am, 04/07/2013

    Peter, that was right up there with Allen Green looking down at his feet. Go figure.

  19. the thresher 07:23am, 04/07/2013

    Bob, I think Darrin is doing just fine, but I was shocked to see that he is not in the Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame. Two-time world champion should be more than enough for entry. He did suffer a brain injuries along the way, so who knows?

    Of course, The Blade struggles but is getting a lot of help from the NYC Boxing organizations.

  20. The Thresher 07:17am, 04/07/2013

    Thanks, Gents. I have been traveling and have limited access to a computer. I appreciate your comments.

  21. Jason 07:02pm, 04/06/2013

    6:16 “He’s holding the right hand very low.” Pop.

    Reminds me of me. The guy holding is hand too low, that is.

  22. bikermike 10:36am, 04/06/2013

    I wish all fighters well….once their ring career is over.
    Van Horn is retired…and I don’t know how he is doing….
    Barkley is retired…although I heard he wants to fight..and isn’t doing so well.

    Both these guys gave the fans and Sport of Boxing some great fights….Bless them all

  23. Bob 05:44am, 04/06/2013

    The Schoolboy had an interesting story. His father/manager reportedly served time in San Quentin. It was never clear what the offense was. Any idea what the Schoolboy is doing today? I hope he’s successful and happy. The Blade was fearsome that night.

  24. peter 05:04am, 04/06/2013

    Interesting article. In some fights, not this one, Van Horn had a nervous habit of continually reaching behind his neck to scratch an itch, or whatever. It was the strangest thing.

  25. RonLipton 08:02pm, 04/05/2013

    Once I saw the mid ring instructions, “Good evening Blade and School Boy,”  It brought the entire fight memory back.  Very interesting.

    Iran best wishes always.


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