By Jake Donovan
Felix Sturm didn't need help from the judges to make history in Germany. The 34-year old relied on his fists to claim his fourth reign as a middleweight titlist, scoring a shocking second round stoppage of Darren Barker, Saturday evening in Stuttgart, Germany.
Sturm scored two knockdowns in round two and was on his way to a clean knockout when Barker's corner literally threw in the towel. The official time was 2:09 of round two.
Both fighters came out to a furious pace in the opening round. Sturm has gained a reputation as a benefactor of home cooking in his adopted homeland of Germany. The former champ has left nothing to chance, taking the fight to the visiting Brit. Both fighters had their say, but Sturm looked far more confident by round's end.
The next two minutes would validate that feeling.
Barker sought any means to gain momentum in round two, but it only exposed his limitations. The Brit was riding a wave of momentum heading into Saturday's contest, but his split decision win over Daniel Geale may have provided false hope. Rather than the best moments of that fight playing out in his first defense, Barker was instead reintroduced to the portions of that night which meant miserably wrong.
Sturm took note of the manner in which Barker was dropped by Geale midway through their bout in August. The sequence wasn't duplicated, but Sturm managed to channel that level of aggression to catch Barker clean. A series of right hand shots put the visiting titlist on the canvas for the first of two times in the round, creating anxious moments for the Brit and his supporting cast on hand in Stuttgart.
The night would only get worse for the soon-to-be ex-champion. Barker was slow to get up and unable to truly steady himself, feeling the effects of what was later reported as an aggravated hip injury suffered in the first round. Whatever he said to the referee was enough to allow the bout to continue, but Sturm had knockout and history on his mind.
Several more right hand shots sent Barker to the canvas for a second time, this time landing awkwardly on his already injured hip. The fallen visitor once again bravely peeled himself off of the canvas, but was a sitting duck as he attempted to clear his head while unable to move. Sturm went in for the finish, only to be aided by Barker's trainer Tony Sims, who offered a white towel in surrender to rescue his fighter from absorbing additional punishment.
Sturm looked reborn less than two months shy of his 35th birthday. The win advances his record to 39-3-2 (18KO), with the title lifting effort making him the first ever fighter based out of Germany to claim four championship reigns.
Regardless of what else occurs in his career, Saturday night's feat will be one for the time capsule.
"I'd say this is the second-best performance of my career," insisted Sturm. "The fight with Oscar de la Hoya will always be my best fight."
Sturm, of course, refers to his lone trip to the United States, suffering a controversial points loss to de la Hoya in their June '04 bout. The night ended his first stay as a middleweight titlist, setting the stage for de la Hoya's major pay-per-view headliner with Bernard Hopkins later that year.
Nine years later, Sturm is still alive and kicking as one of the best middleweights in the world, while de la Hoya has been gone from the game long enough to have gained entrance into the Hall of Fame earlier this week.
How much fight Sturm has left is not yet certain. There seems to be a stronger opinion, however, of whether or not the oft-injured Barker should march on beyond Saturday.
"We have a cast-iron rematch, so if we want it, we can take it," noted promoter Eddie Hearn, referring to the rematch clause that came with Saturday's contest. "But Darren is wise enough to know when enough is enough."
The punishment absorbed was enough to end Barker's title reign after less than four months. The 31-year old falls to 26-2 (16KO) with the loss. Both defeats came in title fights, falling prey to lineal middleweight king Sergio Martinez in Oct. '11.
Despite a brave showing against Martinez, the bout took its toll on Barker, who spent the next 14 months nursing an assortment of injuries. The severity of the hip injury suffered on Saturday will dictate when he can return, if at all. Given his not too distant past, there exists genuine concern if the loss to Sturm might serve as his last call.
"The next fight would be a rematch with Sturm, which we would like to do by next July," Hearn revealed after the fight. "If his hip still isn't fully healed by then, I'm not sure he will be involved in that rematch. If he's not in condition for that rematch, I would say the decision has been made for him (to retire)."
Sturm expressed concern for his opponent's health, who acknowledged a sequel as the top priority for both fighters in terms of a next fight.
"Hopefully he's fine, and we can do a rematch," said Sturm, who took note of Barker traveling to his backyard for the title opportunity and revealed his willingness to return the favor.
"Of course, I'd fight him in (England)," Sturm insisted. "It's a gentleman's sport. He came here, I can go there. I have a contract for a rematch. He gave me a shot in Germany like a gentleman. Of course I can come to England if I have to."
For now, all Sturm has to do is sit back and soak in the implications that come with Saturday's feat. As 30 becomes the new 20 and 40 becomes the new 30, Sturm is confident there is plenty of time left to add to his growing list of credentials.
"I'm 34, I'm not 44. Hopkins is 48. Joe Calzaghe was 36 when he finished. I feel great. At this moment, I feel comfortable. I trained like I never have. I believe I have four or five years... maybe another 14-15 fights left."
Few believed he had enough left to even get through Saturday night's title fight. Chances are, there won't be as many arguments in that direction the next time he steps foot in the ring.
Jake Donovan is the Managing Editor of Boxingscene.com, as well as a member of Transnational Boxing Ratings Board, Yahoo Boxing Ratings Panel and the Boxing Writers Association of America. Twitter: @JakeNDaBox
Tags: Felix Sturm , Darren Barker