Newly crowned IBF middleweight titleholder Darren Barker, of England, will travel for the second straight time, when he faces former three-time middleweight beltholder Felix Sturm at the Porsche Arena in Stuttgart, Germany on Dec. 7.
“Dazzling” Darren, THE RING’s No. 2-rated middleweight, captured the crown in August with a stirring and emotional twelve round split decision win over former unified champion, Daniel Geale. Following the announcement, at the Revel Resort in Atlantic City, there were more tears on the ring canvas than blood as the new champion collapsed amidst poignant scenes.
“It’s all sunk in now,” said Barker. “My main motivation was to dedicate that fight to my brother (who passed away in 2006) but it was also fantastic to achieve my life long goal and become middleweight champion of the world.
“I’ve taken some time to re-evaluate things but now I have a new motivation. I have a family to support and I want to get some money in the bank. I also have my legacy to consider and I want to be remembered forever as a British middleweight great.”
Heartache and severe injuries have hampered Barker (26-1, 16 knockouts) throughout his nine year professional journey but in his last three fights he has been simply irresistible. Two impressive stoppages against respected opposition, in Kerry Hope and Simone Ritolo, preceded the historical win over Geale and he has remained injury free.
“There’s always room for improvement,” Barker told RingTV.com. “With me it was mental strength that was the paramount issue because I was always pissed off with recurring injuries. I’ve put all that to bed now and as we’ve seen I can improve and I will continue to do so with each fight.
“Winning the world title against a champion like Geale has done me the world of good in terms of my confidence and I will use that experience in my fight with Sturm. Also my trainer (Tony Sims) is a proper boxing coach and we’re always developing, so better performances lie ahead.
Barker’s first title defense is no easy task. Felix Sturm, THE RING’s No. 4-rated middleweight, was involved in world championship fights when the London-born Barker was still slugging it out as an amateur and this showdown in Stuttgart will mark the German’s twentieth title bout in over a decade.
“I first became aware of Sturm when he fought Oscar De La Hoya in 2004,” said Barker. “I thought he was very unlucky not to come away with the win that night, but he’s had so many hard battles over the years against the likes of Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray. That said I would never under estimate such a great champion.
Barker himself is a consummate professional and the British star’s work ethic is fierce. As fans witnessed in the bout with Geale he carries an incredible engine and Sturm, despite having substantial weaponry of his own, will have the champion in his face all night long.
“Sturm is a very good boxer,” said Barker. “He’s tough, works well off the jab and has a very good right hand. On the flipside, he doesn’t work as hard as I do and he likes to slow the pace. I think I will outwork him and there’s just no way he can beat me.
“Sure he has the edge in experience but I fought the best middleweight in the world (Sergio Martinez) and I’m also accustomed to travelling. I’m comfortable fighting in Germany and I’m also the fresher fighter with a new lease of life and I’m bursting with confidence.”
Many were surprised that Barker elected to have this fight in Germany, given that he’s the titleholder, but the Londoner admitted that financial considerations trumped any concerns about fighting way from home.
“I’ve got no worries,” said Barker dismissively. “We have independent judges appointed by the IBF and I have all the confidence in the world in their ability to score a fight fairly. I’m not concerned because I’m confident of winning so clearly that the judges will be a complete non-issue.
“We do have a rematch clause, just to cover our backs, but the deal to go over there was so good that we couldn’t ignore it. I believe I can beat Sturm in London, Germany or Timbuktu so taking the offer was a no-brainer because the money is phenomenal and we got everything we wanted.
Promoter, Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Promotions, echoed those remarks.
“We have been in discussions with Felix Sturm’s team since the Daniel Geale fight,” said Hearn. “Felix is the fight we want both financially and from a legacy perspective and once we were able to introduce our necessary demands, which included a potential second fight in the UK and neutral officials, then this was an opportunity that Darren could not turn down.
“Even though defeat would lead to an immediate rematch in London, we are all confident that Darren will defend his title in style on Dec. 7 in Germany.”
Photos / Scott Heavey-Getty Images, Friedemann Vogel-Bongarts
Tom Gray is a member of the British Boxing Writers’ Association and has contributed to various publications. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing