When a fighter is confronted with the harsh reality that his career has naturally come to an end it can be a harrowing experience. For THE RING No. 9-rated middleweight, “Dazzling” Darren Barker, that decision was almost forced upon him due to a badly torn bicep and repetitive hip injuries which required surgery.
The setbacks chewed up at least two years of Barker’s prime and retirement was considered more than once but the brave Englishman had a mission to complete and would not knuckle under.
“My dream of being champion kept me going,” said the popular Londoner. “It was beyond awful but I have a family to support and I want to win the world title for my brother. I will be so proud when I manage to do that.”
Darren’s brother, Gary, tragically passed away following a car accident in 2006 and the former world title challenger has vowed to win the ultimate prize in his honor.
A classy stylist, Barker gave RING champ Sergio Martinez a run for his money in October 2011 but the slick Argentinian southpaw was a class above and his experience at the elite level proved decisive when he posted an 11th-round stoppage.
This Saturday, Barker (25-1, 16 knockouts) gets a second shot at the crown when he takes on Australian IBF titleholder, Daniel Geale, at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City. This time the affable Brit is convinced he will emerge victorious and is bursting with enthusiasm and confidence.
“This is probably the best training camp I’ve ever had,” said Barker. “We’ve upped the quality of sparring and hopefully Anthony Ogogo is coming down for some work. Training has gone well, we’re injury free and I’m ready to rumble now.”
Barker is a student of the game and has followed his future opponent since his days in the amateurs. At 31, he is a year younger than “Real Deal” Geale, THE RING’s No. 2-rated middleweight, and is very aware of the style which the Australian hard man will bring to the dance.
“Nothing has changed,” stated the challenger. “Geale has an awkward style, he moves in and out of range, he’s very busy and he throws a lot of punches. He was like that in the amateurs and it’s the same in the pros – he works hard for 12 rounds. Luckily my fitness is at a level where I will be able to match him over the distance if need be.”
Barker continued: “I have all the respect in the world for Geale. He’s a world champion and they don’t give titles out for nothing. The important thing is to believe in what I can do and although I respect him, there won’t be too much respect. I will be executing the game plan we have constructed in the gym and if I get that off then there is just no way he’ll beat me.”
Barker believes Geale’s hyper aggression will lead to more counterpunching opportunities during the course of the contest.
“It was the total opposite with Sergio Martinez in that I had to time the openings but with Geale, he’s right in front of you,” said Barker. “I just think my pedigree and my boxing skills, coupled with my new found strength and punching power will lead to a great night for me.”
Geale (29-1, 15 knockouts) won his title from Felix Sturm in a hard fought battle in September 2011. Although many thought the Australian earned that victory, Barker has his own theory on why the title might have changed hands that night.
“It was a fight of two halves,” Barker said. “I thought Sturm won the first half and then Geale took over but it was a close one. Time was of the essence at that point because boxing needed a shake-up. Some of the decisions over there (in Germany) were getting ridiculous and Geale got his chance when the spotlight was on the officials.
“Last time out he managed to avenge his only loss to Anthony Mundine who is tricky and capable of making you look bad. Geale didn’t look great but against me he will be back to his best. I just believe that when his best meets my best I will come out the winner.
“My attributes are better than all of his attributes.”
When Barker squares off against Geale on Aug. 17 he will be taking part in his second world title bout in four contests and the charismatic challenger was keen to acknowledge Eddie Hearn’s promotional outfit who have stood by him through some very tough times.
“The best thing I ever did was sign with Matchroom,” said Barker with a touch of emotion. “Not only in terms of the fights they’ve provided but I have friends for life with that stable and it’s been an absolute pleasure working with them. On a professional level they’ve given me everything I’ve ever wanted.”
It was impossible to discuss 160 pounds with Darren Barker without mentioning surging gunslinger, Gennady Golovkin. Barker and another former world title challenger, Martin Murray, recently provided punditry on Sky Sports when the WBA champion annihilated Mathew Macklin in three rounds.
Both Barker and Murray adlibbed some comedy towards the end of the broadcast by suggesting that a baseball bat would be the best game plan for “GGG.”
“Not at all but I reckon he should move up to 168 pounds,” laughed Barker. “No, look seriously, the baseball bat stuff is just fun and games. At the end of the day Golovkin is punching unbelievably hard and he had a fantastic amateur career. He has brought that to the professional ranks and the results speak for themselves but I’m not afraid of him.
“I’ve proven that I’ll fight anyone. When I fought Martinez he had the same type of stature that Golovkin has now. Sergio had just destroyed Serhiy Dzinziruk and prior to that he’d scored the knockout of the year in a rematch against Paul Williams. Nobody wanted to fight him but I stepped up to the plate.”
Was the Martinez defeat, which hurt Barker deeply, the best thing that could have happened, given the opportunity that now lies before him?
“Without a doubt and I’m thankful for it,” said Barker. “Looking back that experience was invaluable and it was the fight which made me realize that I am world class. I pushed a middleweight great all the way and gave him a very hard fight that night. I can take that and use it to my advantage.
“I’m coming into this fight full of belief whereas against Martinez there were doubts at the back of my mind. When I tell you I can beat Geale I mean it 100 percent and on Aug. 17 I will look across the ring at him knowing I am within twelve rounds of becoming world champion.
“This will be a Barker win. It’s in my destiny and I’ve worked too hard not to succeed. I’ve spilled blood, sweat and tears in the gym and I just believe this is my time.”
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images, Matt King-Getty Images
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and contributes to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing