By Mitch Abramson
In the final round of his sparring on Monday, Darren Barker slipped on the ring mat and fell flat on the canvas. He got up flexing his right ankle and then resumed sparring, seemingly fine. His handlers outside the ring let out a deep sigh of relief. Barker, making his first appearance stateside in 23 fights, faces Sergio Martinez on Saturday in Atlantic City for Martinez’s WBC Diamond middleweight title. It's by far the biggest fight of Barker’s career.
Though his stay in the spotlight may be brief, he’s made a good impression in his time here. The slip on the canvas was the only awkward move he made during a media session on Monday at the Mendez Boxing Gym in Manhattan. If bold statements and a friendly personality are indicators, then Barker should do more than hold his own against Martinez.
The British fighter has talked a good game in the run-up to his bout, finding a friendly ally in the boxing media and charming whoever has stuck a tape recorder in his space. In a free-flowing session with the media on Monday, he touched on a smattering of topics, from the deeply personal, like his brother's death in a car accident, to his belief that Martinez’s power is overrated, to why he will seize the opportunity on Saturday.
Like another British import, Carl Froch of Nottingham, Barker (23-0) is an engaging personality. Even if Martinez exposes Barker to be a regional club fighter who can’t hang with the sport’s elite, at least he made the most of the opportunity in his time promoting the fight. Now, we’ll see on Saturday if he can really fight. Following six fluid rounds of sparring, and with his right ankle apparently fine, Barker explained where he gets his confidence from and why he won't be overwhelmed with the spotlight on Saturday on HBO.
“Boxing being that- it’s probably the only thing that I’m really good at doing,” Barker said with a smile. “Why should I worry or be nervous or not be confident about what I can do? When I step through those ropes on Saturday, that’s when I’m in my element. That’s what I do. That’s what I’ve dedicated my life as a boy, becoming man, and that’s one time when I can relax and I’m in the zone and I do what I do.”
Mitch Abramson covers the boxing for the New York Daily News and BoxingScene.com.