Darren Barker returns to action against Kerry Hope in Betfair’s ‘Christmas Cracker’ on Saturday night live on Sky Sports – and the World title challenger says he’ll prove he’s ready for a second title shot in 2013.
It’s 14 months since Barker challenged Sergio Martinez for the WBC title in Atlantic City, causing the Argentine plenty of problems before the pound-for-pound great KO’d Barker in the 11th round.
Injury problems plagued the Londoner since, ruling him out of a WBO shot at Dmitry Pirog in the spring and a comeback bout with Simone Rotolo in September.
The 30 year old admits there was a time he thought about hanging up the gloves, but a successful camp for his meeting with fellow European champ Hope, Barker believes World title glory can be his next year.
“I think consciously I probably had made that decision that enough was enough,” said Barker. “I don’t think it was the physical aspect of things; I think it was pulling out of the fight and mentally being shattered. I managed to get myself out of that horrible hole I was in and not make a rash decision. I am calling on my experience a bit more now, using my ring-craft and feeling a better fighter for it. I am aware of my injuries and what they are and I am working around them.
“I have been boxing for 18 years now and I think I have a really good boxing brain. I have been around the block; I was a top amateur and operated at the top level as a pro, fighting the best in the world. I am training with a smile on my face, as hard as it is, and I am enjoying the sport again and looking to take on the world, get back up there. If it was any other World champion last October I would be a World champion right now but I took on the best in the world and came up a little bit short but I am looking to get back up there.
“I think it was more mentally than physically. It is never nice getting injured but I think the mental state can affect you more when you put your body through so much and not get an end product. I had sit down and take some time to make the right decision, which I feel I have done. I am feeling better than ever and I am ready to get back to where I left off and fight for World titles.”
Since Barker’s challenge the landscape of the World middleweight scene has certainly shifted, with Martinez repeating his 11th round stoppage win against Barker against Brit rival Matthew Macklin, Manchester’s Martin Murray earning a draw against Felix Sturm before the German lost the belt against Daniel Geale. Now the 30 year old is back on the scene, all eyes will be on whether he still has a place in the upper reaches of the World middleweight division and can land some big domestic fights, and the man himself is no different.
“I suppose I am asking myself that question as well, which is important,” said Barker. “I look forward to proving to myself and to the people that I have still got it. I am a young 30 and if I look at some of the rivals in the division, the likes of Macklin, he is the same age as me but he has had a real tough career. I haven’t and I have some miles left to go, some years left in me if I want to carry on that long. When I think like that I think of the future being really bright.
“I don’t want to look beyond Kerry, I would never be that naïve, and my experience tells me not to overlook him. He is a former European champion and as much as a favourite as I am he is still a confident individual and he believes he can do the job.
“I can’t really rate myself until I get in there and prove to everyone where I belong. But if I was to put Kerry aside I don’t think I am far from if not the tail end of the top 10 just outside it and I am looking to take on any of the World champions out there afterwards.
“I think it shows how deep the division is that we have all had a crack at fighting the best in the world. Matthew and I just came up short against Sergio and it looks like Martin might get a shot now. I genuinely wish him the best because if he was to pull off a massive shock then it sets up a huge fight with me potentially. I think hats off to the three of us, we have done really well, and I think there are some good fighters just outside of us three too.”
Barker’s clash with Hope is part of a fantastic line-up of British talent in London with John Ryder’s crunch middleweight test against fellow unbeaten fighter Eamonn O’Kane in an eliminator for the British title. Erick Ochieng defends his English light middleweight title against British title challenger Max Maxwell, while unbeaten cruiserweight Wadi Camacho faces Toks Owoh for the vacant Southern Area strap. Exciting bantamweight star Kal Yafai faces Spanish champion Jorge Perez and impressive young former Team GB stars Martin J. Ward and Callum Smith continue their pro education.
Tickets for Betfair’s ‘Christmas Cracker’ are on sale now priced £40 unreserved, £60 corner ringside, £80 ringside and £150 VIP. Tickets are available from Matchroom Sport on 01277 359900 and at www.matchroomboxing.com