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Frank Warren on Barker's Win, Cleverly's Loss, More

By Frank Warren

Darren Barker’s IBF middleweight title victory over Daniel Geale in Atlantic City last weekend brought a triumphant conclusion to a life story which, if made into a movie would certainly appear far-fetched.

Eldest son of a former ABA champion, ‘Dazzling Darren’ romped to a gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, aged just 20, but after amassing 14 consecutive wins in the paid ranks, tragedy struck in December 2006, when his younger brother Gary – himself a gifted fighter – tragically killed in a car accident after watching Darren’s latest win.

After an extended break from the ring to grieve the loss of his brother, the boy from Barnet resumed his career and captured Commonwealth, British and European titles under Promoter Mick Hennessy, who had invested heavily, during difficult times, in Barker since turning him pro in 2004.

But the classical stylist’s quest for a world title to honour his brother’s memory was hindered initially by a spate of crippling injuries then, in 2010, when he was savagely assaulted and left for dead after passively intervening to stop a street fight.

Injuries continued to plague the fighter and anticipated clashes with Matthew Macklin seem to come and go on a regular basis and Barker’s career looked to be petering out through recurring injury.

Finally making it into a world championship ring in October 2011, Barker performed with considerable skill and valour but was compromised by a perforated eardrum and knocked out in round 11 by Argentina’s WBC king Sergio Martinez in Atlantic City. Last weekend, in the same city and at the ripe old age of 31, he received what was surely his final chance on the world stage.

Very few Brits win world titles overseas, especially outside Europe, and the task was magnified by a very tough champion in Australia’s Geale. Barker was cut and, in round six, forced to haul him off the canvas at nine, after being punctured by a crippling left hook to the solar plexus.

However, in a gruelling, thoroughly gripping battle which shifted from one way to the other, the technician displayed strength, stamina and heart which some doubted he possessed. Barker threw more, landed more and withstood a savage shellacking in the final session to prevail on the tightest split decision. He dedicated the win to his deceased brother and few would begrudge him a fine and emotional victory. It is a ‘feel good’ tale befitting of a Hollywood blockbuster. However, the lack of coverage it has received in the national media is little short of scandalous. Barker, who now has a tough mandatory defence against German Felix Sturm looming must be hoping for rare home advantage in the first defence of his IBF title but with Germany’s Sturm having his own financial muscle and Geales’ US Promoter Gary Shaw exercising his options on Barker, the new champion may be well advised to keep his passport in hand after he returns from his well-deserved holiday.

Still, Barker’s victory provided just the tonic British boxing required following Nathan Cheverly’s stoppage loss in defence of his WBO light-heavyweight title in Cardiff, earlier that evening. Maths graduate ‘Clev’ is one of the smartest fighters to have stepped between the ropes but the tactics were wrong on the night against the hammer-fisted Russian, Sergey Kovalev.

Nathan was acutely aware of Russian ‘Krusher’s’ daunting knockout credentials. However, to his absolute credit, he demanded the fight, gambling that a conclusive victory would bag him a TV contract with US cable giant HBO and this would vault him into the megabucks fights that he coveted against the likes of Bernard Hopkins..

Just three of the Russian’s previous 22 fights had gone beyond round four and, while ‘’Clev’ had completed the 12 round championship trip on five occasions; the ‘Krusher’ was still to venture beyond round eight.

Clearly the Welshman needed to utilise his superior speed, skills and mobility to stay out of harm’s way and take a leaf out of former stablemate Joe Calzaghes book of smart boxing, during the critical early stages. He needed to suck the sting from Kovalev’s scuds then, assert his authority, driving the Russian onto the back foot - where he was clearly less effective - once the fight entered unfamiliar territory for the visitor.

Going in, Cleverly had fought in the bigger arenas and the more meaningful contests. I expected that experience to prove decisive. Hands up, it wasn’t. While Kovalev haemorrhaged confidence and aggressive intent, Nathan was tentative, operating at a range that suited the Russian.

Clev, who’d never previously been off his feet, was clubbed to the canvas three times before he  was halted in the fourth, although one cheap-shot, landed whilst he had touched down, clearly took his legs away.  He wasn’t caught cold or the victim of a lucky swing, it was a loss to a genuine heavy handed fighter, who some feel could make serious waves in the 175lb division, but I feel will be avoided,. First he has to make a mandatory defence against German Juergen Braehmer, who defends his European title tonight.

Kovalev could now evolve into a huge global star, whilst Nathan needs to lick his wounds and forget any thoughts of retirement. He is a fantastic, young man with as many admirable attributes beyond the ropes as between them. He is not without options but he is still young, extremely talented and has many fresh challenges out there and I have no doubt that regaining a belt is a real possibility in the future as not many in the division would beat him.

I’ve previously helped resurrect the careers of Nigel Benn, Frank Bruno and Amir Khan after they incurred harrowing stoppage defeats. Cleverly is just 26 and I hope I can bring him back too, if he has the desire to continue. Some so-called experts queried why there wasn’t a re-match clause in this fight, why on earth would any sane person want an immediate rematch?

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One Welsh light-heavyweight who did have cause for celebration in Cardiff last Saturday was Enzo Maccarinnelli. Having endured six stoppage defeats, I’d been pleading with ‘Big Mac’ to retire for three years.

However, new coach Gary Lockett has helped seal his defence and the Swansea star finally added a Commonwealth title to the British, European and world titles he’d previously won by stopping  Ovill McKenzie in round eleven of a titanic battle.

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Shortly after, 2006 Commonwealth Games gold medallist Stephen ‘Swifty’ Smith revived his pro career by delivering the Knockout of the Year thus far to relieve Wales’ Gary Buckland of his British super-feather crown.

The most exquisite right uppercut you’ll ever witness left Buckland prostrate on the canvas and in need of oxygen. Understandably, Gary’s family were concerned but those who attempted to storm the ring to check his well-being simply impeded the paramedics from administering what could prove life-saving assistance. Thankfully, Gary made a full recovery but, in such instances, it’s paramount that heads remain cool. Families please take note.

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Further proof that Belfast super-bantam Carl Frampton is a world champion-in-waiting came on the Geale-Barker undercard when Spain’s Kiko Martinez clubbed his way to the IBF title with an upset sixth round stoppage of Columbia’s Jhonatan Romero. ‘The Jackal’, managed by Barry McGuigan and unbeaten in 16, battered the Spaniard in nine rounds to capture the European crown last February.

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Dereck Chisora’s sixth round stoppage of previously unbeaten American Malik Scott at Wembley last month has sent shockwaves through the heavyweight division.  US kayo artist Deontay Wilder has obliterated all 29 pro opponents inside four rounds and has been calling out all and sundry. Mysteriously he never mentioned Chisora’s name once!
Similarly, Kubrat Pulev, unbeaten in 17, has opted to surrender his European title rather than accommodate ‘Del Boy’, who remains the main contender for the now vacant title.

Instead, the sinister Bulgarian has opted meet two-time David Price conqueror Tony Thompson of the US in Germany this evening, leaving Dereck to debate the vacant crown at The Copper Box on September 21st.

Both fights will be broadcast live on BoxNation, the Channel of Champions. Join at www.boxnation.com

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I saw Arsene Wenger mooching around in Pound-Land last week………Needles to say, he didn’t buy anything!

User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by Weebler I on 08-25-2013

Frank still thinks Cleverly should have forced Kovalev onto the backfoot. He should know you can't walk down a puncher or at some point you're going to walk into something.

Comment by CraigM on 08-25-2013

For once I actually really enjoyed reading that... Until he got to Chisora, I highly doubt Pulev is afraid of him he just wants a world title.

Post a Comment/View More User Comments (2)
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