British middleweight Darren Barker put 14 frustrating months of inactivity behind him at London Olympia on Saturday as he stopped Welshman Kerry Hope early in the fourth round to claim the IBF intercontinental belt.
Injury has often interrupted Barker’s promising career and the last year has been no different. He needed surgery to fix a long-standing hip problem and then suffered torn tendons in a hand, forcing to him withdraw from a contest against Italian Simone Rotolo in September.
But despite coming close to calling it a day, the Englishman, who had suffered an 11th-round KO to RING 160-pound champ Sergio Martinez in his previous outing, eventually decided to return, convinced he had another title shot in him.
On the evidence of this classy, power-packed display against former-European holder Hope (18-5, 1 knockout), Barker looks to have made the right call. Once the obvious and understandable ring rust faded midway through the second round, there was only going to be one outcome in west London.
Barker, 30, has always been known for his skills rather than big punches. Yet it would appear that almost taking an elite fighter such as Martinez the distance, allied to a new, rigorous training regime, has boosted both his mental and physical strength.
Certainly, Hope had no answer to Barker’s barrage of accurate, telling blows to the head and equally fearsome body shots. Having softened up his opponent in a lop-sided third round, Barker then dropped him in the next. Although Hope beat the count, the follow-up attack from Barker resulted in the Merthyr Tydfil man’s corner throwing in the towel. It was a good move on their part.
The official time was 1 minute and 5 seconds.
“I want to dedicate this win to my brother, who six years ago this Monday died in a car crash. We miss him loads. And, secondly, to Mum because she’s just a legend,” said an emotional Barker (24-1, 15 KOs). “Of course, I want a world title. I’ve a young daughter and I want to provide for her.
“It’s a no-brainer that it’s been really difficult to be out so long but it was a test of my character to come back. And there are a lot of people in worse situations. I’m back now and that’s all in the past. The fact is I’m doing something I love and still enjoy.”
Promoter Eddie Hearn later revealed how close Barker, from Barnet, came to retiring in the summer before confirming another title challenge is in the pipeline for him in 2013.
“Three months ago we nearly lost Darren to boxing. He was ready to walk away after one setback after another. He was in so much pain,” said Hearn. “I’m just so pleased we got him back in the ring. He’s a huge talent and I said to him if he didn’t do it, he’d live to regret it.
“He can win a world title. I know he can. The key now is to get him back into the ring again and again – he’s only fought three times in three years. We need to get him out there. There will be one more fight in March and then a title fight later in the year.”
Photos / Scott Heavey-Gettyimages