By Daniel Cann
For many fans and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic Sergio ‘Maravilla’ (‘Wonder’) Martinez is the best pound for pound boxer in the world today. Tired of the ongoing ‘will they? Won’t they? We no longer care…’ Floyd Mayweather Jr versus Manny Pacquiao saga Martinez emerges as a ray of sunshine in a confused and often frustrating current boxing landscape.
The man from Quilmes, Buenos Aires, Argentina is exactly the kind of no-nonsense, professional who quietly goes about his business ruthlessly and efficiently as he dispatches rivals in an impressive manner. It’s an old cliché but he prefers to let his fists do the talking.
In an almost fourteen year career as a professional he has won the WBC and WBO world middleweight titles, the coveted ‘The Ring’ and BWAA’s (Boxing Writers Association of America) ‘Fighter of the Year Award and ‘The Ring’s’ ‘Knockout of the Year Award.’
Standing five feet ten inches, this acclaimed southpaw boasts a record of 47-2-2 with 26 wins coming inside the distance. Perhaps the most impressive of those inside wins was his two round demolition of Paul Williams. He exudes toughness and calm and is every bit the seasoned, accomplished champion. Little wonder that Lou DiBella promoter of Saturday’s contest with Britain’s ‘Dazzling’ Darren Barker raves about Martinez.
Martinez has boxed in his native Argentina, enjoyed a successful stint in Spain and has also boxed in England and Northern Ireland as well as more recently in the United States. He knows what it’s like to be the ‘away fighter’ and the underdog.
Since those early days he has of course won the WBC ‘Interim’ Light middleweight title, fought a controversial draw against Kermit Cintron (a fight that many felt Martinez had won clearly), lost a close points decision against Paul Williams (the first time around) and outpointed Kelly ‘The Ghost’ Pavlik to take the WBC, WBO and ‘The Ring’ Middleweight titles.
November 2010 saw the Paul Williams rematch and the knockout that won Martinez plaudits, revenge and the ‘Knockout of the Year’ Award. Next up in March of this year Martinez totally dominated and outclassed previously unbeaten Ukrainian Serhiy Dzindziruk scoring no less than five knockdowns en route to an eighth round stoppage win.
Martinez moves well, can fight at range or inside and has that devastating right hand. He has a decent chin, always seems composed and most importantly of all: has massive self belief.
Step forward likeable Englishman, Darren Barker. Born in Barnet, Essex, Barker has lived and breathed boxing all his life. He and his brother Gary were both exceptional amateur boxers at the respected Repton Club. Darren went on to win the light welterweight gold medal at the 2002 Commonwealth Games. Sadly promising amateur Gary died at a young age and Darren has since gone on to use that terrible family tragedy to motivate himself in the professional ranks.
Seven years as a pro has seen the six foot orthodox middleweight rattle up a 23 – 0 log with 14 inside the distance wins. He has won the British, Commonwealth and European middleweight titles and looked good doing so. He is something of an enigma and unknown quantity on US shores but in Europe and particularly in Britain, Barker is a respected professional.
Ranked in all world organisations top ten including a number three listing in the WBC ratings he is no mug. Everyone knows, especially the cynics, that ratings can be manipulated and fighter’s achievements can be inflated, but believe me Barker has taken the traditional well-trodden path and emerged as an exciting talent. You don’t win several titles, a world ranking and the nickname ‘Dazzling’ by being mediocre.
He was sidelined for a year after an operation on his left hip but has this April fought successfully against tough Italian Domenico Spada to lift European honours. Barker looked purposeful and determined in winning a gruelling contest on points. He has proven his mettle as they say.
Admittedly (and no disrespect to any of the following boxers), the likes of Ben Crampton, Steven Bendall, Jason McKay, Darren McDermott and Danny Butler are not going to strike much fear into the hearts of world class operators, but these opponents were all solid, dead game and determined boxers who all played their part in the seasoning and the making of Darren Barker: world title challenger.
What I like about him actually mirrors the attitude of champion Sergio Martinez: There is a dedication and no-nonsense approach to how Barker conducts himself in and out of the ring. He is a consummate professional who was probably shadow boxing when he was still wearing nappies! Boxing is in his blood. It’s who he is.
Martinez will meet a clean, crisp and accurate boxer/puncher that fights behind a ramrod left jab (typical of European fighters). Barker is adept at throwing a left to the body left to the head combination, can uppercut well and has good, fluid movement. He knows how to ‘mix it up’ and is far from the ‘one-dimensional’ caricature some pundits have tried to portray him as.
Both boxers have received their critics in the build up to this one and as usual the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. To my mind both men share the same qualities: dedication, determination, great conditioning (both have professed to good training camps) and boxing skill.
The difference is experience at top level and here is the rub. Martinez has proved time and again that he has ‘it’ whereas Barker is undoubtedly entering uncharted waters in Atlantic City. No matter what sparring he has had and what tactics have been discussed he will be on his own once that bell rings.
If you are a fan of Barker then you will argue that Martinez can be sloppy and is overrated. If you are pro Martinez you point to Barker’s lack of experience at top level. Freshness is not an issue here. Martinez may be the older man by seven years at 36, but as Indiana Jones once said ‘It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.’ Well, Martinez has lots of gas left in the tank.
No matter how much goodwill I can muster for my fellow countryman Barker I cannot see him emulating Bob Fitzsimmons, John H Stracey and Lloyd Honeygan by defeating a heavily favoured world champion on American soil. I doubt we will be witnessing an upset of seismic proportions on Saturday night. What I do believe we will see is a performance that will surprise many and earn Barker kudos as he shows pluck, heart and grit as he loses a clear unanimous points decision against a man who looks at the top of his game right now and may yet prove to be the best pound for pound in the world today.