Tonight Darren Barker defends his IBF Middleweight belt against Felix Sturm in Germany, we caught up with him and talked clothes, Chelsea and why he loves dressing like a 1920s criminal...
Six months ago, ‘Dazzling Darren’ dethroned Daniel Geale, a hard as Hulk Aussie brawler, in an emotional rollercoaster of a fight best defined as a ‘tear up’. Having controlled the early stages, Barker looked to be on his way to victory when Geale landed a crushing blow to his solar plexus in the 6th round. If delivered cleanly, a punch to this region can cause a complete lapse in breathing - all but guaranteeing the recipient will be counted out and, for added indignity, will be writhing around in agony on the canvas. American fighters morbidly refer to this complex network of abdominal nerves as the ‘switch off button’.
Darren did all the writhing, but then had a Rocky Balboa moment. He got up and not just content with survival, finished the round strongly. Six gruelling rounds later and Barker was the champion, completing an inspirational triumph over adversity journey. Having won gold at the 2002 Commonwealth Games, Barker compiled an impressive unbeaten record before the tragic death of his brother Gary in 2006 understandably delayed his progress.
He returned to the ring capturing the Commonwealth, British and European titles, but then suffered another setback. Instead of at the York Hall or 02 Arena, Darren’s first defeat in his time as a professional came on Watford High Street. Attempting to help a stranger being intimidated by a group of louts massively backfired, resulting in being hospitalised courtesy of a beer bottle-assisted battering.
This event, coupled with recurring hip injuries, kept him out of the ring for over a year. He returned again and secured his first world title shot against the legendary Sergio Martinez but came up short, losing in the 11th round. It’s fair to say that Darren Barker did not take the easy route to glory.
Despite this incredible story, if you're not a boxing fan, you've probably not heard of him. However, the epic, yet controversial Groves/Froch fight means boxing is attracting more column inches than ever and with exciting Olympic gold medallists Anthony Joshua and Luke Campbell looking like potential stars – the future of British boxing is bright. Barker is a big part of that, so Let's Get Ready to Rumble as the affable pugilist talks through Ben Sherman shirts, Chelsea Football Club and a bit of boxing too.
TG: Without getting too wet, you're a good looking bloke and dress well. How would you describe your fashion style?
DB: I like dressing to impress, I like putting on a suit. When I found out about the theme for today, I was over the moon. I like the proper gentleman's attire – suits, hankies even the braces. I love it – I think it's how men should dress when they're looking to impress. We’ve just moved house and all my rails are on the floor because I've got too many suits!
TG: Any favourite colours?
DB: Not really. I'm building quite a nice collection together at the minute. I was fortunate enough to get a couple tailored at Saville Row the other day, got to pick the all the cloth and that. There was one that would have been perfect for today, it's navy but got subtle pink stripes going through it. You can hardly see them, it's a very 1920s 'I'm going to do ya' suit.
TG: Who's your fashion icon, someone who just nails it all the time?
DB: Any bloke of my age is going to say Beckham. I tried my hardest to copy him, had the bleached blonde barnet and everything.
TG: What was the first item of clothing you remember saving up for?
DB: It was a proper rascal Ben Sherman shirt. It was massive but I didn’t care because I looked the nuts.
TG: How did you get into suits?
DB: I think films helped. Godfather, Goodfellas, even Casino. We had a clear out of DVDs the other day and they all got kept.
TG: What got chucked?
DB: Along Came Polly and all the rom-coms.
TG: The Notebook?
DB: (Laughs) Didn't mind it! Every time I watch it there's always something in my eye. I honestly, didn't mind it!
TG: Boxers either look the nuts or awful. Who's the best and worst you know?
DB: I'll get stick for saying this, but I'm going with my promoter Eddie Hearn. He's put me on to his tailor before, he's got some good whistles. He's got top clobber and dresses well…I'm not saying who the worst is!
TG: You defend your title against Felix Sturm on December 7th, how are you going to win it?
DB: By doing what I do best. Getting back to basics and sticking to my boxing. Last time out against Geale I wanted it so badly that I sort of threw the game plan out of the window and started fighting like a lunatic. So this time, I'm definitely sticking to my boxing!
TG: Two of your domestic rivals, Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray, have fought Felix Sturm in Germany and been the victim of controversial decisions. Are you worried you might face the same?
DB: No. I don't think it's as bad now in Germany as it has been – they've cleaned up a little bit with the judging. As long as I get the game plan on the night right, the judges will have an easy night's work – they'll be giving me 10-9s all the time. I'm not too concerned, I beat Geale in the last fight and he beat Sturm on points in Germany.
TG: Let's take you back six months to the Geale fight…
DB: With pleasure!
TG: It was a beast of a fight and it looked all over in the 6th when he put you down with that body shot, how did it feel, how did you get up?
DB: It hurt, it really did hurt – completely took my breath away. I always knew I had what it took to beat Daniel Geale and I wasn't going to let that shot be the end of it all and ruin that dream. It was a mad 9 seconds but it felt like an eternity. I had visions of my late brother, my daughter and everyone else who helped me get to this moment. I had flashes of all of them and I think they pulled me up and I'm glad I got up.
TG: It wasn't just the getting up, to finish so strongly was incredible.
DB: Yeah. It's one of them – it could only go one way. I know what it's like. When you put an opponent down and you go to the neutral corner, the first thing you're thinking of is 'I hope the fight ends here, I hope he doesn't get up, I hope the ref waves it off'. You don’t want to have to carry on. So for me to get up and finish the round strong, his tail goes from being up to coming down in the space of 90 seconds so momentum was with me.
TG: They say never look past your next fight, but there are some great domestic fights to be made in your division. Matthew Macklin, Martin Murray and Andy Lee are all world-ranked fighters, who do you fancy?
DB: I met Martin at Sky a while back and we had a discussion. I sort of promised that if I won (against Sturm) I'd give him a fight. He put in a good performance against Sergio Martinez and I think he deserves a shot.
TG: Talking of Martinez, he's the only fighter to have beaten you, would you fancy another crack at him?
DB: 100%. I don't know if it'll happen as I don't know how many more fights he's got left in him, but I'd love to right that wrong.
TG: What would you do differently?
DB: (Laughs) Beat him! It was hard last time. It's all about finding that fine line between showing him respect, but not too much and I think I showed him too much. If there is a next time, I'd concentrate on what I've got to do and not what he's doing.
TG: Do you think Murray did the same thing? (Murray lost a close decision to Martinez last year)
DB: A little bit. He had the beauty of watching my fight against him first and now I've got that advantage fighting Sturm. I was surprised that Murray didn't jump on him from the start, Martinez's best days are behind him – he's ready for the taking.
TG: You can't talk to a boxer without talking about trash talk, but you don't really get into that do you?
DB: I don't engage in it. I try my best to let my boxing do the talking. I know it's a bit cheesy, but I don't want to talk myself into a fight or any bad blood, it's just added pressure you don't need. I just want to go in there and express myself in the ring.
TG: Amir Khan vs Floyd Mayweather looks like it might happen next year, do you think that's going to be ridiculously one-sided?
DB: One thing with Amir Khan is that he has very quick hands. I think he could frustrate Floyd for a little while, but within a few rounds Mayweather would get the measure of him and start punishing him. He's a bit fragile around the old whiskers is Khan and I think Mayweather would do him around halfway.
TG: Do you think it's a bit undeserved Khan getting that payday against Mayweather?
DB: Not really. He's a former world champion, he's big name here and the Americans know him. Mayweather has fought everyone, so who's next? Amir's deserving of his shot and good luck to him.
TG: David Haye's shoulder has ruled him out of a fight against Fury for the second time and he might retire now. What do you make of that?
DB: It's unfortunate. It's not like in other sports - when you're injured in football you still get paid. David's probably got bundles of money, but when you’ve put in all the work in the gym and there's no end product it's frustrating. I've had a few myself and it's so annoying. He'll be just as annoyed as Tyson is, but whatever he decides to do next, I wish him all the best.
TG: Do you make the weight easy, or do you end up killing yourself?
DB: I wouldn't say easy. I've never thought 'I'm not going to make it', but it is a bit of a push. You want to be big for the division so you do push yourself. It’s easier now I'm older and a bit more professional. When I was younger I was a pain in the arse – used to pop down McDonald's and stuff like that.
TG: British boxing is in really good shape at the moment. Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua look good and Callum Smith (Super-Middleweight from Liverpool) is exciting. Who are you keeping an eye on?
DB: Smith is showing real potential and Luke Campbell too. I can see Campbell winning a world title 100%, he's the total package for me. I'm excited to watch his career progress, but that whole GB squad are superb talents. There's a guy who didn't go to the Olympics, Martin Ward, who's training with me at the moment, you watch him in the gym and you can only see him doing great things in the sport. It's a great time for British boxing.
TG: Outside of the ring, you're a massive Chelsea fan – glad to have Jose back?
DB: Glad he's back. He's trying to turn Stamford Bridge into a fortress again. When he left, teams were coming to Chelsea and they weren't afraid of us, they were nicking points off us. We were 2-0 up against Southampton and they pulled it back to 2-2, that would have never have happened with Jose at the helm. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season and I think they'll be more silverware at The Bridge come the end of it.
TG: Favourite all-round player?
DB: It was Zola, then Drogba and now Lampard. How can you look past him?
TG: Favourite goal?
DB: (Excited!) Ramires against Barcelona. Ridiculous. I mean Drogba's header in the final is up there but Ramires' goal stands out. What a goal. Ridiculous to score like that under pressure.
TG: Anything good to say about Benitez?
DB: It was a tough reign for him, but he still brought some silverware to the club, so hat's off to him in that respect.
TG: Which footballer would you like to carry your belt into the ring?
DB: Frank Lampard or David Beckham would be good. Joe Cole likes his boxing and came to watch one of my fights. He text me the other day to see if he could come down and see some sparring. It's nice to have that respect from fellow professionals.
TG: Curtis Woodhouse went from footballer to boxer…
DB: I couldn't do the reverse…because I'm sh*t!
TG: Any footballers who would make good boxers?
DB: I wouldn't want to take a dig off Drogba…or Lukaku, flipping heck! There's some units out there I wouldn't fancy or even a little Juan Mata. He'd be tricky and quick, same with Messi – he'd be hard to get hold of.