Rewind back to August 17, the day one of Britain’s most affable fighters scaled the largest of personal battles to fulfil a lifetime dream.
Though eventually a short-lived reign, ‘Dazzling’ Darren Barker won the IBF Middleweight Championship. Recovering from a spiteful sixth round knockdown, Barker triumphed by split decision against Australian Daniel Geale in Atlantic City, America.
A route to a boxing world title is tough and arduous; it speaks volumes of Barker’s character that he was even able to get back in the ring, never mind sit on top of the world.
The 31-year-old endured an 18 month hiatus outside the ring, suffering a serious hip injury in training for his second world challenge after the loss to Sergio Martinez.
Matchroom promoter Eddie Hearn campaigned tirelessly to get Barker back in the ring and was rewarded with two comeback victories: a fourth round stoppage of Kerry Hope and a retirement of Italian Simone Rotolo for the IBF Inter-Continental title, a win which set up the showdown with Geale.
Hearn’s tireless support of Barker returned dividends when he delivered the IBF title. The sheer elation on Barker’s face was obvious for everyone to see when MC Michael Buffer announced the Englishman as the victor.
In the immediate aftermath and following weeks of becoming a world champion, Barker’s humility and humbleness were a breath of fresh air. For all boxing has the Tyson Fury and Adrien Broner types, the Barnet man showed nothing but class in the weeks following his victory.
He also suffered personal tragedy. Brother Gary, a boxer himself and touted as a 2012 Olympian, tragically died in a car accident back in 2006. Instead of holding Darren back, it drove him onto better things and he emotionally dedicated the Geale victory in memory of his brother.
Stuttgart was the next and final destination in his career to take on long-time middleweight ruler Felix Sturm for a life-changing sum of money, one you could not begrudge Barker for accepting.
Barker’s popularity as a true people’s champion was confirmed as over 1,000 Brits flocked to Germany to back him. If you had any doubt about his popularity in boxing circles, ex-boxer Joe Calzaghe and Matchroom stablemate Rocky Fielding both paid out of their own pockets to support his first defence.
Anyone in the Porsche Arena can vouch for the unbelievable atmosphere created by Barker’s followers.
The Londoner’s ringwalk certainly contained apt lyrics – “I’m quite sure, that you never knew, all the pain that I’ve been through.” No matter the outcome of the bout, he had already won his battles. Against injury, personal tragedy and all the odds, his dreams of being a world champion had become true.
Despite vowing to create a dynasty ranking alongside Britain’s finest ever middleweights, there was always a feeling Germany would be the peak of Barker’s career crescendo.
Unfortunately, that same troublesome hip flared up at the most unwelcome of times in the first round. Two second round knockdowns all but spelled defeat for ‘Dazzling’ Darren, but not for the first time he showed willingness to fight through adversity, only being halted once trainer Tony Sims spared him any more pain.
The belt had been relinquished, his pride remained firmly intact.
He showed his class in the aftermatch of the Sturm defeat. Instead of inadvertently blaming the loss on numerous factors or claiming he would have won without the reoccurrence of injury, he simply said the best man won on the night, an act of professionalism and humility at what must have been an emotional and deflating time.
Barker has shown himself to be a world class operator, both in and out of the ring.
With another hip operation required, continued rehabilitation seemed an arduous task not worth the pain. How refreshing it is to see a boxer retire content with his achievements and a smile on his face.
Dreams have been fulfilled, arenas entertained and fans inspired. Congratulations Darren Barker, British boxing wishes you nothing but the best in retirement.
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