“I saw Gary as clear as day. I know it sounds like a movie script, but I saw my brother. He told me to get up.”
Everything struggles to live, yet it is in surviving our own individual struggles that true strength is forged. Barnet middleweight Darren Barker had known the worst of times; after his beloved kid brother Gary, a promising amateur, lost his life in a car accident in December 2006, Barker almost gave up. He was lost — pulverised to his knees. But he fought on. Boxing had bound the Barker boys together — had made them inseparable — and so in continuing his career, Darren was able to keep Gary close by him. But there was depression, career-threatening injuries, operations and a brutal street attack carried out by a drunken mob that had left him unconscious; kicked around the pavement like a crumpled tin can. But he got up.
When rugged Aussie Daniel Geale rammed a left hook into his liver during the 6th round of their world title contest in Atlantic City in August — the latest gut-punch in a lifetime of them — Barker’s body gave up on him once again. He sank to his knees with his face buried into the canvas — a silent scream — apparently only moments away from his second, and perhaps final, loss at top level. Yet as our pulses quickened, time expanded for Barker. His brother had been responsible for bringing him here and now, as he lay benumbed and beaten in the middle of an American boxing ring, Gary told him to get up.
Did this really happen? Could real life possibly have produced such a heart-rending moment?
Barker willed himself upright as referee Eddie Cotton’s count reached nine, yet he looked like a lamb to the slaughter as the New South Wales brawler teed off on him with roundhouse lefts and rights, battering Barker upstairs and down. The Brit, with his elbows hugged into his ribs and gloves cupped up to his face, listed this way and that — tossed and blown like a dingy lost at sea.
Cotton hovered close by, looking for the right spot to interject, when suddenly Barker responded. As the grip of what had felt like death itself loosened momentarily, he scored with a defiant left hook and right hand that stunned Geale – a further three rights forcing the Australian back onto the ropes. Both men now swung for the fences, wounded and with control up for grabs. On the bell, Barker, looking like he’d been 12 rounds rather than six, raised his arms. Somehow, he had survived.
The Londoner went on to take a split decision. He would lose his world title just 112 days later in Stuttgart, to the resurgent German Felix Sturm, after fielding a right hand that somehow managed to dislocate his hip. But did that really matter? Perhaps Barker’s boxing career will forever be encapsulated in those nine seconds contained within boxing’s three best minutes of 2013?
Lightweights Omar Figueroa and Nihito Arakawa may have thrown more punches at one another during the 3rd round of their July pier-sixer, while junior lightweight John Molina’s 10th round turnaround against Mickey Bey was as shocking as it was Lazarus-like, but no other round would resonate as strongly as the 6th round of Barker versus Geale.