By Shaun Brown
In the Great British boxing landscape a middleweight triangle is taking shape featuring three very different men at different junctures in their careers.
Matthew Macklin and Darren Barker have always been on one another’s radar but now the private party has been gate-crashed with the arrival of Martin Murray. As each man kisses goodbye to 29-years old and about to salute the big three-o in the coming months, Boxingscene caught up with them about the possibility of facing one another in a trio of fights that would capture the imagination of British boxing fans.
Taking time off to recharge the batteries after two unsuccessful world title attempts Macklin, 28-4 (19), spoke from Spain about those potential fights and what they would mean to him.
“I’m now rated as one of the best middleweights in the world in America and in Britain and Europe. I’m twice European champion, where’s Martin Murray come from? He fought an 8-0 kid (Nick Blackwell) on a TV show last year. I’ve fought in a domestic fight of the year which was also domestic fight of the decade against Jamie Moore and I’ve fought on HBO. He needs me more than I need him and so does Barker,” stated Macklin.
Murray, 23-0-1 (10), recalled the night he fought Blackwell on Sky Sports when Macklin and Barker were fulfilling pundit duties in a near by television studio.
“Before I fought Sturm I was saying I wanted to fight them, but I had nothing to bring to the table,” said Murray when responding to Macklin. “There was no reason for them to fight me and the night I fought Blackwell they were in the studio saying I’d fought no-one, and Macklin as he normally does was thinking he was the best thing since the light bulb and blowing smoke up his own arse.”
As a rivalry between Macklin and Murray goes from simmering to boiling point, Barker 23-1 (14), watches on as he continues to recover from a hip operation which he now believes has removed a three-year burden from his career and will soon see himself firmly back in the big picture at 160lbs.
“I’m off crutches and still getting a bit of physiotherapy. I still can’t run yet but I am in the gym doing bits and pieces,” said Barker when speaking to Boxingscene. “It was all caused from wear and tear in boxing. My hip bone was a funny shape; I actually had the same thing done two years ago on the other side so really for around the last three years it’s been a major hindrance. Now with this sorted I‘m going to be better than ever.”
The Londoner confirmed that he will be back in September headlining a big Matchroom Boxing promotion in the nation’s capital and with an opponent still to be sorted; Barker is in no rush to push himself too hard with his comeback still months away.
When the next bell sounds for “Dazzling” it will have been almost a year since he graced the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City with courage and ability against the division’s numero uno Sergio Martinez. A noble defeat and an enforced break have given Barker the chance to reflect not only on his biggest fight to date but also on himself and how much he has missed the sport.
“Regardless of what happens you do need a break physically and mentally, it’s so important,” Barker said.
“You figure out how much desire you have when you’re away from it so long and how much you want it. I’m desperate to get back and absolutely buzzing at the thought of it.”
That thought could lend itself to many a contender or champion in a division that has matured itself into one of the strongest over the last couple of years as Macklin predicted when he went on a trip to Youngstown, Ohio back in 2010.
“I was trying to get a fight with Kelly Pavlik as that was the only fight out there really; you could see then it was a young division that was going to develop into one of the biggest,” said Macklin.
“After my last two fights I’ve fought the best in the division. There’s a good top 15-20 fighters in the division, there’s nothing easy out there.”
Martin Murray proved that very point when as a heavy underdog he travelled to Germany last November to take on the seasoned WBA champion Felix Sturm in his own backyard six months after the champion had endured a torrid encounter against Macklin.
A split decision verdict that night in Cologne provoked cries of “robbery” not only from Macklin and his team (which involved then trainer Joe Gallagher) but also from the media both here and in the fatherland.
And despite Sturm clinging on to his titles in a closely fought draw against Murray, the St Helens man refused to make a song and dance about the decision. Instead he chose to take solace from the fact that such a performance moved him to world level status, which had been one of the main objectives.
“Everyone has their opinions on how my fight with Sturm went but I’m not going to sit down like Macklin and cry about it and say it was daylight robbery,” said Murray.
“I’ve had time to go over the fight and it didn’t go as well as it could have otherwise I would’ve won. Having said that had Sturm fought against me the way he did against Macklin I would have definitely won. We were confident, but we knew Sturm was gonna be a different fighter, he talked about having his best camp and that he wouldn’t underestimate me the way he did with Macklin. He came in top shape and condition and I fought a better Sturm. The fight was what it was.”
Each of them has now had a taste of world title fights, worldwide exposure and deserved recognition having performed valiantly in their attempts to bring part of the 160 crown back to the UK but some questions now need answering.
Having had two failed world title attempts and some gruelling fights is Macklin on the slide or is it only a matter of time before he becomes world champion?
Will Barker be able to rediscover his best form having been out for so long or have these injury problems held him back from showing his very best?
Was Murray’s performance against Sturm a one-off or does he have it in him to mix with the finest middleweights again and again?
One thing that was successfully answered by Britain’s three leading middleweights is that they are all eager to face one another, albeit with differing reasons.
“They’re great fights and let’s get them on while we still can,” Macklin said. “It would be a step back though, I’ve fought better fighters and for world titles. If I can’t get a world title shot immediately then those would be ideal keep busy fights for me. Martin’s got a date in June, no-one knows who against, it won’t be a big name so why not scrap that date and come and fight me in August or September?”
Barker was seething when told that he was seen as an ideal keep busy fight. He said: “I tell you what; I really want to fight him [Macklin] now after he said that. I wanna bash his head in! He’s had two title fights and lost both where’s he gonna go now? Is he just in it for a payday now because he’d get more fighting me than he would against a [Daniel] Geale or [Dmitry] Pirog. Before I fought Martinez no-one wanted a piece of him and I stepped up to the plate and challenged him. Macklin’s had his shots and he’s failed. Him saying that has really done my head in now. He’s nowhere near what he thinks he is if he thinks me or Murray is a good warm-up fight for him.”
And while the usually restrained Barker continued to foam at his rival’s comments, Murray wasn’t overly surprised and instead used that as more fuel to a fire that is already raging.
“It’s no secret that me and Matthew Macklin don’t like each other,” said Murray. “I don’t like him, the way he goes about things or his type of people.
“He’s saying me and Barker would only be a warm-up for a world title? He’s got nothing that I want. If the fight wasn’t worth it I wouldn’t take it but it benefits us both financially. He’s deluded thinking he’s gonna be a world champion. He could have plenty of warm-up fights, so why does it have to be me and Barker?
“I knew it wouldn’t be long before Macklin started calling me out. It happened on Twitter which looked pathetic. He’s bad mouthing me because he’s on his last legs, he’s on his way out and he’s come looking for me now.”
Macklin explained why he did call out Murray on the social networking site which is fast becoming the ideal playground to do so. He said: “My career doesn’t revolve around them but these are two fights out there that can be made before I get a world title shot that’s why I put it out there.
“Sky TV need to take some accountability because they keep talking about the fights on Ringside, they want the fights so why not put your hands in your pockets and make it happen?”
Whilst Barker is as keen as his domestic competitors to make these British blockbusters happen he’s not prepared to wait forever, a point that cannot fall on deaf ears as a fight with him and Macklin is long overdue and should have taken place a couple of years ago.
“We chased Macklin ages ago, I wanted the fight badly and I want it bad again after what he said. Macklin isn’t what he thinks he is and he’d find out against me,” declared Barker.
The British boxing family is always looking for a series of fights that can recreate heady heydays of decades such as the 1990s and provide another chapter in the country’s illustrious boxing history. The fighters want it; the fans want it and in an era of too much talk and not enough big fights let’s hope the powers that be can deliver.