By Alistair Hendrie
Although Darren Barker may be in line for a world title shot after dismantling Kerry Hope over four rounds, the repercussions could be even greater for Hope himself. After a galling loss such as this, a fighter’s next decision is always paramount. Still, it can be difficult for a boxer to make any concrete judgment on perhaps dropping down a level or switching promoters when their pride has been wounded in the heat of battle. The Barker loss, it seems, hit Hope in more ways than one.
“It was only the third time in my eighteen years of boxing that I’ve ever been knocked down,” lamented Hope. “I switched off for a second and then bang, the next thing I know I’m down. I got up and knew where I was, I was ready to carry on but then my corner threw in the towel and I have to respect that. They were looking out for my best interests. Something like this hurts you badly, though. I’m a proud man and defeats are difficult to handle.”
Perhaps that is down to the rapid, smooth start Hope made at London’s Olympia. Early on, the Welshman seized the centre of the ring and caught the eye with the greater hand speed and accuracy. Come the second round, he advanced inside and attacked the body. “I know even against a top fighter like Darren,” Hope claimed, “I’m too good to be beaten on the inside. So I knew if Darren stood in front of me all night I could have taken him out in the latter rounds.”
After a pensive start, Barker dropped his hands and went to work, scoring with a thudding head-body combination as Hope, covering up, stood blocked off in the corner of the ring. The tide was turning and, soon after the bell for the fourth, Barker plunged a sickening right to the body of Hope and dropped his domestic rival with a short hook to the jaw. Despite beating the count, Hope glanced anxiously at his corner and moments later faced a decisive if untidy flurry from Barker, prompting both the referee and Hope’s corner to halt the action.
“He started to find his range in the third round,” said Hope. “My gameplan was to make him miss but after a while he started to find his rhythm. That’s boxing for you and you can’t predict what will happen.”
With four fights and 30 rounds of boxing under his belt since March, Hope now faces a harsh rebuilding act and will need to evaluate all aspects of his career and family life to make an educated decision on his next move. Golden carat fights against the likes of Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray look well out of reach for now, although Hope is eager to continue his thus far beneficial deal with promoter Eddie Hearn's Matchroom stable.
“I’ll sit down with my manager, Steve Wood, and we’ll make a decision,” said Hope. “I’d like to stay with Matchroom, though. I fully believe they’re the best promotional company in the UK and they always treat us with the utmost respect. They’re second to none. I’ll maybe drop down to British and European level again and, if that doesn’t work out, maybe even pack it in and go for a 9-5 job. I just want to get back in the ring as soon as possible and show what I can do.”
Just hours after the fight, Hope tweeted a good luck message to Barker and wrote how “boxing is the most honest conversation two men can have.” He later received numerous tweets from fans and boxing figures proclaiming him “an example to youngsters” and “a consummate professional, always humble in victory and gracious in defeat.”
Discussing his opponent’s next move, Hope said: “I will give Barker credit – I’m all about sportsmanship - and I hope he goes on to win a world title because he’s a quality fighter. He’s a gentleman in a sport where you rarely see that.”
Though Hope’s career now lies on tenterhooks, at least he still has the perspective and dignity needed to learn from a setback.