Alan Dawson – London
When Darren Barker was announced as Sergio Martinez‘s second opponent of 2011, international boxing forums were awash with a simple question of; Who? Unlike the other middleweight champions and contenders, Barker was desperate to box Martinez, he was unafraid, now he has got his man, many give him little hope of de-throning the middleweight king. On The Beak‘s Alan Dawson assesses his fellow Londoner’s chances against Maravilla.
(Embedded video above credit – Youtube, HBOSports)
From the showmanship and box-and-move method of Chris Eubanks, the one-punch knockout power possessed by Nigel Benn, double-hard bastard Alan Minter, Sugar Ray Robinson-slayer Randy Turpin, undefeated super middle Joe Calzaghe and to the elusive and swift mover Herol Graham… all these great Brits have added to the annals of the middleweight divisions.
Not since the 1990′s has British boxing possessed the domestic talent and rivalries between 10 stone 7 and 12 stone 8 (154 – 168lbs) that captured the imagination of the wider sporting public. The super middleweight clash between James DeGale and George Groves earlier this year was broadcast internationally on the internet… the bickering, largely because of DeGale’s playground banter, seemed to have added to the guarantee of one of two commercially-attractive prospects losing their zeroes.
Before DeGale and Groves’ history even made it to the backpages of the printed British press, though, there was a more polite rivalry building up between two domestic champions on the cusp of announcing themselves on the world stage. The match-up between them has yet to be made, but both saw themselves aligned with major championship challenges in 2011. Matthew Macklin took Felix Sturm the distance in July and dropped a split decision even though the (unofficial) On The Beak scorecard had the British-born Irishman edging the technical champ.
And now, the promotion for an October 1 scrap between undefeated Londoner Darren Barker (24-0-0, 13ko) and consensus number one at 12 stone (160lbs) – Sergio Martinez – of Buenos Aires but fights out of the World Crown Sports set-up in Oxnard, California – is well underway yet Barker, according to US bookmakers, is a 25-1 underdog.
Maravilla is rightfully considered the favourite… he is a shoot-from-the-hip, gunslinging, opponent-dropping badass. But is the reason for Barker’s apparent two chances state-side: slim, and none, down to being a largely unknown and relatively untested boxer? On The Beak looks at the affable fighter’s advantages and disadvantages heading into his debut HBO appearance.
A technically-skilled boxer with a left hook signature punch, Barker is able to make full use of the space of the ring and reannounced himself to the European stage with a points triumph over crafty Italian Domenico Spada. Barker’s 2010 had been underwhelming but hip problems were deemed to be the cause for his uninspiring performances and, indeed, following surgery his movement against Spada no longer seemed inhibited by his previous injury.
Like Martinez, Barker throws fists from waist-level which can sometimes confuse opponents as their punches in bunches come from all kinds of angles. Barker, though, alters his defence. When he is under pressure, for example, he raises his guard and either blocks off incoming shots with his forearms or parries punches away with the gloves.
An accurate puncher, Barker can call upon a stiff straight right that has felled continental-level opposition before and, against a southpaw (like Martinez), is arguably the greatest punch to have within your arsenal, however, Barker has been caught by the countering shot to this punch and so will need to be wary in ten weeks time, otherwise Sergio will bestow a similar fate unto Barker to the one he gave Paul Williams when he beat the American to the punch in the second round of their rematch last year.
Martinez (47-2-2, 26ko) has proven knockout power from mid-range and close range. He canvassed Williams with the overhand left in 2010 and, earlier this year, dropped Sergiy Dzinziruk after taking a step back for his third knockdown. The preceding two knockdowns were caused by inside flurries with the final punch for the first knockdown was a hook. The hook shot – an inside punch – also knocked Dzinziruk down in the eighth round and, in order for Barker to combat this when on the defensive, he will need to keep a high glove in order to provide a cushion between his chin/temple and Martinez’s incoming fist.
Barker has never been knocked out but he has been staggered, and touched the deck with his glove due to a right hand just seconds before he retaliated with a blow that left Paul Samuels knocked cold and requiring oxygen during a first round knockout five years ago. The focus pre-fight may well be on Martinez’s power that strengthens from fight to fight (he knocked down Dzinziruk five times; a fighter whom had never tasted the deck in all his pro fights and over 300 amateur bouts) and Barker’s ability/inability to either take that punch or evade it.
An opponent’s body does not get lonely when Barker is in the ring as his work to the midsection attracts commendation. Against Martinez in the early rounds, this could be key, in order to deplete him of energy and sap him of his praised speed. Sergio is also a known fader during the middle rounds. Dzinziruk aside, Martinez comes on strongest at the start and end of the fight, by attacking the body at the start, Barker may be able to capitalise further on any potential lull in Martinez’s action mid-contest.
Yes, Barker is the underdog and an upset – even in the 2011 year of shock results – is unlikely, but the mismatch many are predicting may come to be a short-sighted prophecy. Should Dazzling Dal do the unthinkable… de-crown Maravilla and leave Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall with Martinez’s middleweight strap, then he will have earned the right to be mentioned alongside the aforementioned sextuplet as a Great British middleweight.