European middleweight champion Darren Barker may have sealed a shot at one of the world’s best fighters through the medium of Twitter, but the Londoner has vowed to let his fists do the talking in Atlantic City on 1 October.
Barker (23-0, 14 KOs) will be a huge underdog when he takes on WBC middleweight champion Sergio ‘Maravilla’ Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs) at the gambling mecca’s famous Boardwalk Hall.
But ’Dazzling’ Darren is confident he has the tools and style to upset the odds and dethrone the 36-year-old Argentine, widely regarded as one of the top three pound-for-pound boxers in the world.
Martinez praised Barker for pursuing the fight on the social networking site, and took a swipe at several bigger name opponents he believes are avoiding him, including Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr.
His promoter Lou DiBella echoed his fighter’s thoughts at a press conference in New York on Wednesday, and said he expected the relatively unknown Londoner to show that he belongs in such exalted company on 1 October.
“He’s [Barker] as legit a threat as anybody right now. He can box, he’s very skilled. He’s got a lot of heart, he throws punches and he is not afraid to fight. He hasn’t had the quality of opposition that Sergio has, and that could be a big factor.”
Experience at world level is certainly something that Martinez has in his favour, having faced the likes of Kelly Pavlik, Antonio Margartio, Paul Williams (twice) and Kermit Cintron in a distinguished career spanning over 50 fights.
Martinez cemented his position as one of the sport’s biggest stars after a series of high profile wins in United States against top class opponents.
The Argentine first captured the imagination of the notoriously fickle American public when he found himself on the wrong side of a dubious majority decision against Paul Williams in December 2009 in what was one of the fights of the year.
Many felt Martinez was robbed by the judges in Atlantic City that night, but the Argentine dusted himself down and four months later wrestled Kelly Pavlik’s middleweight titles from his grasp via a thrilling unanimous decision. Seven months later, he knocked Williams out cold in the second round of their highly-anticipated rematch to cement his reputation as the best middleweight on the planet.
The previously unbeaten junior-middleweight champion Sergiy Dzinziruk was Martinez’s next victim, with the plucky Ukrainian sent to the canvas no less than five times before finally being put out of his misery in the eighth round.
Barker, on the other hand, has campaigned exclusively at European and domestic level, with his most notable opponent to date being the experienced Italian Domenico Spada (33-4, 17 KOs), whom he defeated by unanimous decision in April. Martinez represents a massive step up in class, and many boxing scribes have dismissed the Englishman’s chances of springing a surprise.
But Barker has the confidence of an unbeaten fighter and has argued, not unreasonably, that everyone has to make the step up to world level at some point. And he’s not getting any younger, particularly after nearly a year out of the sport with a hip injury.
However, at the press conference in New York, his promoter Eddie Hearn raised a few eyebrows among the press pack when he revealed that Barker was in the running for a world title bout with Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr (43-0-1, 30 KOs) before he agreed to take on Martinez. On paper at least, the Barnet-born fighter would stand a much better chance of emerging victorious against Chavez Jnr, a limited but game campaigner with a glossy record built on wins against a series of journeymen opponents.
The son of the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez, the WBC middleweight champion is already a huge box office attraction in the United States but has yet to face a truly world class opponent and appears to want no part of Martinez.
But Hearn claimed Barker was keen to challenge himself against the best in the world and would “easily beat Chavez”.
He said: “Everyone knows it will be a challenge, because pound for pound Martinez is probably number two or three in the world.
“He [Barker] won’t be badly beaten and even if he loses he can challenge for world titles after. It’s a great pay day for him with the fight on HBO.”
Hearn’s faith in the former Commonwealth Games Gold medallist stems from his dominant performance against Spada at London’s Olympia.
“He showed against Spada what a class act he is,” he said. “He easily beat Spada over the 12 rounds and he has much more to give. Julio Cesar Chavez would have been a good fight for us, but I believe Barker would easily beat Chavez. This is a great challenge.”
Barker, meanwhile, takes inspiration from several life changing episodes outside the ring.
His brother Gary, a former boxer, died in a car accident in 2006, and Barker vowed to claim the world title in his memory.
“I’m doing this for him as well as myself. Through my success, my brother lives on,” he said.
Barker also possesses decent power, as 14 stoppages from 23 fights attests, along with slick movement and handspeed. He believes he has the skills to trouble his southpaw opponent and pull off a huge upset.
“I just truly believe I’ve got the right style to beat Sergio. If I didn’t, I would take the fight. I’m not coming all this way to embarrass myself,” he said.
‘I truly believe I’m going to pull an upset. I can match a lot of his attributes. Handspeed, I’m as quick as Sergio. I can punch just as hard.”
Martinez, however, has other ideas, and predicted he would knock out the confident Londoner in the seventh round.
The smart money is certainly on a Martinez victory, but after all he has been through, Barker will surely not let this opportunity pass without making his mark on the world stage.
Knockoutpunch predicition: Martinez by TKO