Below middleweight top dog Sergio Martinez, the champions and challengers have little separating them besides the meaningless title belts they fork over 3 percent of their earnings for the “privilege” to wear. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Dmitry Pirog hold the WBC and WBO titles, respectively – two titles previously held by Martinez that were taken in back alley deals to make room for the young stars of more powerful promoters (Unfortunately for Golden Boy Promotions, Pirog spoiled the plan when he knocked out Daniel Jacobs in 5 rounds last July). Daniel Geale, the IBF titlist, is based out of Australia and has shown little-to-no interest in leaving home. Long-time WBA titlist Felix Sturm was on the wrong end of a bad decision loss to Oscar De La Hoya in 2004, and has balked at the idea of fighting outside of Germany since.
While the middleweight title belts are scattered around the world, Argentina-born Sergio Martinez is left to beg and plead for a big money fight in the United States. Saddled with the tag of high risk-low reward opponent, Martinez was left to settle for unbeaten jr. middleweight titlist Serhiy Dzinziruk in March, and for the unbeaten “Dazzling” Darren Barker (23-0, 14 KOs) on Saturday.
Darren Barker sits outside the fringes of middleweight relevance. He has gained a sizeable following in the UK, a country whose dedicated enthusiasm for boxing is like a hyperactive 9-year old on 3 Rock Star energy drinks to the American boxing fan’s alcoholic waking up to turn off his alarm clock, only to light a cigarette and take a few puffs before falling back to sleep with a smoldering fire hazard in his hand. While he may be a minor-to-mid-level star in the UK, Barker is an unknown commodity in the United States. Little is known of the slightly rangy, slightly fast, and slightly powerful Londoner who looks to unseat the best middleweight in the world on Saturday night.
Like countless stars fighting for the Union Jack before him, Barker has been given a chance to showcase his talents in the American soil and boxing’s premier network. Carl Froch was a promising star in the UK in 2008. After capturing the Commonwealth and BBBofC British super middleweight titles, Froch outboxed a green Jean Pascal to win the vacant WBC super middleweight title. In his first defense he traveled to Connecticut in April of 2009 to defend against former undisputed middleweight champion Jermain Taylor. After kissing the canvas in the first round, Froch battled into the twelfth round. Trailing on two of three scorecards, Froch rallied to score a knockout victory with only 14 seconds remaining.
Froch’s thriller with Taylor garnered attention on a large scale, and shortly thereafter he was announced as one of six participants in Showtime’s super middleweight tournament (that, due to several injuries, venue disputes, and other reasons, has yet to determine a winner). Although Froch’s fight with Taylor was not his first fight on U.S. soil, it was his first fight with a large enough audience to catapult him to bigger and better opportunities, and he has proven his worth by making it to the tournament’s final round against American Andre Ward.
Up to this point in his career, Barker’s resume is underwhelming, to say the least. He has wins over local talent such as Jason McKay, Darren McDermott, and Domenico Spada, the perennial punching bag for European middleweight champions. But like every competitor in the sport, all that is needed is the opportunity.
Barker’s big opportunity is before him. Saturday night he’ll walk into the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City to take on the middleweight champion of the world. A couple thousand people will be in attendance, and several hundred thousand more will (likely) be watching on HBO.
Will Darren Barker overcome the odds stacked against him, or will he be overwhelmed by the stage, the lights, the moment, and the speed, power, and athleticism of Sergio Martinez? Will he go the route of Carl Froch, or become a deer in the headlights of a tractor trailer as was the case with fellow Brit, Ryan Rhodes earlier this year?
Barker is listed as a 15 to 1 underdog in some places, and as a 13 to 1 underdog in others. In short, Darren Barker’s chances on Saturday night are slim and none, and slim may be out of town.
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