Darren Barker is destined to reach the summit of world boxing. At least, that’s how the British middleweight saw it long before his eagerly-awaited return to the ring at the weekend.
Now, having reclaimed the European middleweight crown with a resounding, unanimous points victory over Italian bruiser Domenico Spada, the still undefeated 28-year-old from north London is even more confident he is about to take the division by storm.
Barker has never been short of self-belief. Yet, following 12 inactive months due to a hip injury that required major surgery and forced him to give up his European title, he knew overcoming an experienced opponent from Rome on Saturday evening was imperative in order to announce his re-emergence on the scene.
Little wonder then that despite an understandably ring-rusty display at Olympia, west London, where there were only intermittent glimpses of his undoubted class and flashy, quick-fire punching accuracy, Barker was delighted to be back in action — and back to winning ways — even if his own verdict was that there is still considerable room for improvement.
“I’m very happy that this belt is back where it belongs,” said Barker, a former British and Commonwealth champion. "I’m better than that but then I haven’t been in the ring for a year. There was a bit rustiness, which I didn’t think there would be, but it crept up on me in the fight. Let’s not take anything away from Spada … what a tough opponent he was!These rounds are very valuable. They are in the bank, and it’s onwards and upwards from here. One more fight like that and I’ll be ready to go. It was a good 12 rounds.
“My stamina will come, the fitness will come. Match fitness and gym fitness are two very different things. But this definitely makes me feel I can compete with the best because Spada was the first credible opponent of my career. And I beat him quite handily in there even though I was not at my best.”
The scorecards of the three judges, two from Spain and one from Finland, suggested the margin of victory over rugged Spada, a former European champion, was a lot closer than many of the ringside experts thought.
Not that Barker’s promoter, Eddie Hearn, son of Matchroom supremo Barry, was complaining. Far from it. Indeed, Hearn ordered his Barnet-born boxer not to be so harsh on himself after he stretched his unbeaten career record to 23.
“I am very pleased, more pleased than Darren,” Hearn said. “He’s a perfectionist, and the first thing he said to me afterwards was: ‘I didn’t think much of that’. But this was all about getting the job done against a world-class opponent, ranked No. 6 by the WBC.
“Darren should be over the moon. Getting the ‘W’ and getting things back on track was all that mattered.”
So what now for Barker, who last year was the victim of a brutal assault by a gang of youths when he bravely intervened in a high-street fracas in Watford?
A couple of European title defenses are in the pipeline, and even a possible all-British world title scrap against Matthew Macklin. For that to happen, though, Macklin, from Birmingham, must win the WBC belt against Germany’s Felix Sturm, Europe’s No. 1-ranked middleweight, on June 25.
Hearn added: “Darren is now ranked in the Top 10 with two governing bodies, and we’re already talking to some of the world champions in this division. He wants to fight Matthew Macklin, and we pray and hope that Macklin, in his big fight with Sturm, can pull of a shock so we can get a big fight on with him in Britain later in the year.
“If that doesn‘t come round, then we will get Darren back fighting as soon a possible. No more 12 months out of the ring, that‘s for sure.”
The race is on to make up for lost time.