Barker is willing

Barker is willing

SO Darren Barker is getting some criticism for deciding to take the first defence of his IBF World Middleweight Title to Germany - Stuttgart, to be precise, where he will face Felix Sturm on Saturday December 7th.

Barker had options for the fight - he could, for example, have boxed at Wembley Arena. He would have done all right out of it, with a sell-out crowd and the fight on Sky. He would not, though, have made what he will be getting for going to Germany.

The Sturm fight is a mandatory defence, and so keen were the challenger's people to avoid coming to London that they have offered Barker, I understand, probably twice what he would have made from fighting in London.

Now I have known Darren Barker for nearly five years. We have been working on a book together. The story of his fall and rise after the death of his brother Gary has become well known, though, believe me, there is still much poignant detail that has yet to emerge.

During that time, I have twice been with Darren to Atlantic City, first for the brave world title shot against Sergio Martinez, where he took the brilliiant Argentine to the 11th round, then for the challenge to Daniel Geale in August when he so gloriously rose from the canvas in the sixth round to take the Australian's title on points.

Barker, despite what people may think, was not paid big sums for those fights. He just wanted shots at a title and so took what he could get. After expenses he was not left with fortunes. Put it this way, he still has a big mortgage. Boxing has not yet given him the rewards he deserves, is yet to make him rich.

To those critics now questioning his decision to go to Stuttgart, I would pose simply one question: given Barker's back story, all the adversity and work to get back after injuries, all the cost and comparatively small purses, the driving desire to take care of partner Gemma and their daughter Scarlett Rose: What would you do?

Darren worked desperately hard for this title. I have seen him down after the hip operations, watched him sweat and strain in his benign mentor and trainer Tony Sims's Essex gym. Surely Barker has the right now to decide his own future?

Promoter Eddie Hearn has been clever, as usual. Should Barker lose his title, he has the right to a rematch in London in March.

It is unlikely to come to that, however. Quite apart from the money, Barker is going to Germany because he believes he can take Sturm, who may well now have gone past his best. 

Those worrying that it will be tough to get a decision in Germany, as Matt Macklin found, should remember that Sturm has lost three of four fights that have gone to the judges' scorecards. And this fight will, anyway, have three independent IBF judges.

Champions, Barker believes, can go anywhere and win.

Come March, still champion, I then expect Barker to be taking another winnable fight in London in his second defence ahead of the huge pay day that next summer should bring. Those fans lamenting not being able to see Darren in person now that he has the title will get their chance. And it could be quite a chance.

When Barker fought Martinez, the Argentine was full of admiration for the way the Barnet boy conducted himself and showed 'Maravilla' the respect he deserved as a legend of the middleweight division. He still texts Darren.

And he would be willing to come to London for a rematch, with two titles on the line. It is a fight that could even take place in the open air at Stamford Bridge, home of Darren's beloved Chelsea, in front of 40,000 fans and maybe even on pay-per-view. 

As well as Great Britain, it would be a fight to appeal to both the United States and South America and would represent a huge pay day. After what Darren has endured, there are few boxers more deserving of a fight that would see him and his family set for life.

Maybe then, Barker will look closer to home for opponents - Martin Murray, Macklin maybe, Andy Lee. He gets to choose now, though. He took a title the hardest way, away from home. They don't have a right to a fight just yet.

In the meantime, what Darren Barker doesn't deserve is some uninformed criticism - if born of understandable disappointment - for having a smart game plan to bring him the rewards and legacy he so merits.