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Darren Barker: Been Through The Storm

barker422By @BoxingMuse: If you don’t know much about English middleweight Darren Barker, it is significant to consider the number of trials and tribulations he has had to overcome throughout his professional career both inside and outside of the ropes. Before Barker challenges for the IBF middleweight championship against Daniel Geale on August 17 in New York take a walk in his shoes.

Starting at Finchley & District Amateur Boxing club, Barker then moved on to the legendary Repton Boys Club in which he achieved a gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester to top off a commendable amateur career with the resume of 55-13.

Barker turned his hands to the professional game in 2004, racking up thirteen straight victorious before tragedy occurred. On the 10th December 2006, Gary’s younger brother, a 19-year-old 2008 Beijing Olympic prospect was killed when his car crashed into barriers on the M1 and rolled over. Gary was traveling to visit his girlfriend in Leicester on the way back from attending a charity boxing event side by side with Darren. Gary was taken to hospital by ambulance but was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.

In an interview with ITV 4, Barker expressed he lost the drive to box and that his focus was on him and his family overcoming the grief of this cruel tragedy. After taking some time out of the sport Barker stated he felt a void in his life and laced the gloves up once again.

Two fights later Barker claimed the vacant Commonwealth middleweight title. Beginning with defeating former English middleweight champ Steve Bendall, Barker defended the title four times before adding the British titles to his name. As a 21-0 prospect Barker outpointed Affif Belghecham to secure the vacant European middleweight title.

The Barnett born boxer was progressing up the ranks and momentum was on his side until he had to pull out of the ‘Battle of Britain’ a super-domestic fight with rival to this day Matthew Macklin, due to a re-occurring hip injury. Darren missed out on the chance to boost his profile and appear on the ‘Magnificent Seven’ card by Frank Warren promotions which saw James DeGale, Nathan Cleverly, Kell Brook, Dereck Chisora and Matthew Macklin (facing a short notice replacement opponent) shine in front of a captivated crowd.

Over a year passes before Barker steps back into the ring, hoping his injury is behind him. Barker outpoints Italian Domenico Spada to regain the same European Middleweight title he was forced to vacate after his previous fight. Just two months later, an unimaginable situation occurs in which Barker was brutally attacked by a gang of twelve men in Watford because Barker bravely stepped in to defend a stranger in a street altercation. Barker was struck with a broken bottle and kicked in the head until he was unconscious before the group of cowardly thugs left the scene. Several men faced court for the attack but not a single person did a minute of time in prison.

Barker, the Good Samaritan battered and bruised, needing ten stitches for a head wound and £1,000 worth of dental treatment only received £500 compensation from the attackers, ordered by St Albans Crown Court. Judge John Plumstead stated that Barker would be given a bravery award and £250 further compensation. In a situation which could have ended Barker’s career or even his life it did not discourage the fighter’s spirit as he then took on the biggest bout of his boxing career.

One fight in, after a year out of the ring Barker takes an incredibly large leap of faith in challenging one of the top pound-for-pound pugilists in the game, Sergio Martinez. With the argentines’ WBC Diamond Middleweight title at stake on October 1st 2011 Barker walked into the Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City as a massive underdog. Starting cautiously Barker then began to out box the favourite for the opening rounds, Barker then started to trade with ‘Marvilla’ giving as good as he took, Barker broke the middleweight champion’s nose and forced a cut on his forehead before the brilliance of Martinez overtook the will of Barker. Sergio began to land some extraordinary combinations and wore Barker down to stop the brave challenger in the 11th round. If there were any doubters before, this matchup made everyone aware; Darren Barker is world class.

As a result of his valiant effort against Martinez, Barker was offered the chance to face Russian WBO middleweight champion Dmitry Pirog but was forced to pull out to the re-occurrence of the hip injury that had plagued him previously. As Darren’s career was on the line surgery was a necessity.Barker admits that he was considering hanging up the gloves due being plagued with injuries keeping him out of the ring for over a year after the Martinez loss.

But 14 months after losing his unbeaten record and now 30 years old Barker arrived back on the scene with a bang, knocking out former EBU champion Kerry Hope. Barker displayed a new element to his game; he seemed to possess power and spite when throwing punches to go with his technical boxing skills.

To strike while the iron was hot Matchroom Boxing’s Eddie Hearn set up a bout with Italian, Simone Rotolo in a matchup that should have happened prior to further injury; damaged tendons in Barker’s arm.

Fighting twice in three months and headlining ‘London’s Finest’ Barker put on an impressive display, knocking down the Italian in the first round, ‘Dazzling’ Darren applied pressure on the away fighter until the veteran retired or gave in citing an injured hand in the fourth round.

Barker’s career could have then been set ablaze if domestic showdowns materialised. Instead Macklin, Murray and Lee all had business to deal with on the world scene which left Barker to pursuit the dream; a world title.

Eddie Hearn the promoter of Matchroom Boxing who started his promoting career with Darren as his first client has set up the dream contest for Barker to face Australian Daniel Geale for the IBF belt. In a division full of sublime talent, the three other major championships are held by Martinez, Golovkin and Quillin. Barker and Geale competed in the same commonwealth games in 2002, winning gold medals in separate divisions over ten years ago now. On August the 17th their paths will cross.

Around the announcement of the Geale fight, stable-mate and close friend Lee Purdy stepped in as a replacement for Kell Brook against welterweight IBF champ Devon Alexander in the same arena Barker fell short to Martinez in. Due to visa reasons Tony Sims, both Barker and Purdy’s coach wasn’t permitted to enter the country to work his corner so Darren worked as the coach. It was written on the wall even before the bell had rung. Alexander was too good for the game Purdy. Barker found himself in a compromising situation. Either, allow Purdy to take unnecessary punishment to protect the pride of his friend or go against his friend’s wishes and throw the towel in as Purdy was taking too many punches in a bout he was unquestionably loosing. Barker stopped the fight and some people later criticised the tough decision Barker made, As if Barker had not faced enough adversity already.

A week after the Purdy fight, Saturday the 25th May, Darren’s former amateur coach passed away following a heart attack at the age of 63. Jim Oliver, (father of former European super bantamweight champion Spencer Oliver) who was the first coach Darren started under at Finchley Boxing club.

With just over two weeks until left Darren is fully engaged in his training camp and let’s hope life does not throw any other challenges his way prior to fight night. Before Barker makes a second challenge for a coveted world title, it is inspirational to consider what it is like to walk in his shoes, down the long path he has travelled, through his sorrow, doubts, fears, pains and successes. I highly doubt anyone else in boxing today deserves to make a dream come true more than Darren Barker. In a sport where the highs and lows are phenomenal, this fight against Geale means more than a victory and a world title, it is a lifelong achievement.

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