By Mitch Abramson
As a corner man for Darren Barker on Saturday night, Joey Gamache, the former lightweight champion, got a good look at Sergio Martinez. Gamache was busy in Atlantic City, helping four different boxers achieve victories in three of their fights. One of the fighters he guided to a win was Andy Lee, who won an impressive decision against Brian Vera. As a result of the win, Lee has been mentioned as a possible opponent for Martinez and his WBC Diamond middleweight title. While Gamache was admiring of Martinez’s effort- he stopped Barker in the 11th round- he also saw some flaws. The normally bubbly Martinez labored against the defensive-minded Barker, working harder than he usually does.
“I thought [Martinez] showed his age a little bit,” Gamache said on Monday of the 36-year-old Martinez, about to head out to the Mendez Boxing Gym in Manhattan where he’s based. “I got a real good look at him, and I felt some discomfort there with Martinez. He persevered and did well but he had a tough time with Barker. He showed his age in there. Here’s a guy [in Martinez] that’s fought a lot of fights on the road, been in some good, tough fights. He’s a good champion but he’s not God. He can beat.”
Gamache was justifiably confident after assisting trainer Emanuel Steward in the corner of Lee for his rematch with Vera. Unlike the first fight, when Lee was lured into a brawl, Lee was patient and more measured this time around, taking his time. He sent Vera to the canvas in the second round and an argument could be made that Lee was more impressive in beating Vera than Martinez was in stopping Barker.
“It was a more mature Andy Lee this time around,” Gamache said of the unanimous decision victory for Lee, who avenged the only loss on his record. “He fought a smart fight, using his height and reach. He earned Vera’s respect early and there were times when he boxed and times when he stayed and fought without overstaying his welcome. He made a hard fight look easy.”
Now, Gamache believes that Lee possesses the style and skills to give Martinez trouble. Watching Martinez in close quarters from the corner just outside the ring, Gamache was fortunate to be in such a position.
The week of the fight, Gamache struck up a conversation with Barker’s cut man at the Mendez Gym, where Barker entertained the media with a training session. Barker’s corner could use an extra hand, he was told, so Gamache volunteered.
He was impressed with Barker’s trainer, the affable Tony Sims, and with Barker’s effort in his first fight across the pond in the U.S. When Barker was sent to the canvas in the 11th round, Gamache noted that Sims immediately asked for a towel, and was ready to throw it in, a sign that he was trying to protect his fighter, Gamache noted. It was Sims corner but Gamache spoke up when he had to. Gamache, a good defensive fighter in his time who wasn’t afraid to mix it up, thought that Barker was being a little too economical with his punches late in the fight and should be more aggressive. After all, Gamache reasoned, title fights on HBO don't come around very often.
“I told the kid in the eighth or ninth round that the biggest risk is not taking one,” Gamache said. “You have to risk winning against losing. That was always my outlook as a fighter. Don’t make him a God. He can be hurt and if Barker had been a little more active, taking a little more risk, he might have been able to really take the fight. It’s just risk versus reward. That being said, the kid put on a real good fight and showed his class.”
Gamache was also in the corner for Boyd Melson, a fighter he’s developed from his pro debut (six round decision victory to improve to 6-0) and Isaac Chilemba (second-round knockout to up his record to 18-1-1). Not a bad way to spend a Saturday night, going 3-1 while picking up some pointers on how to possibly win a world title for Lee.
Mitch Abramson covers boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.