Not so very long ago it was received wisdom in boxing circles that a boxer based outside of Germany never went to Germany voluntarily. If the champion was there and you wanted a title shot then you were forced to eventually but otherwise, whatever the money, it wasn’t worth it. As the old phrase goes, you had to knock out the home fighter to get a draw. If you did go to Germany to box you went there expecting to lose but hopefully with a nice payday for your troubles. Which all seemingly makes it rather strange that Darren Barker would make his first defence of his IBF Middleweight Title against Felix Sturm in Stuttgart? After all, isn’t one of the benefits of being champion that you don’t have to go to places like Germany and risk home-town decisions to the local fighter?
These times, they are a’changing…
So why is Darren Barker, having finally fulfilled his dream of winning a world title, having finally got the reward he wanted after years of toil, willing to risk it by going to Germany?
First off, the money point still remains. Both Barker and his promoter Eddie Hearn have been open out this; they were offered a lot of cash to box in Germany. Considering the price that boxing extracts from those who take part, I don’t think any of us can be too dismissive of a boxer taking the highest paying option. Barker may only be 31 but he’s already had to put his career on hold twice due to serious injuries and with that in mind I’m not going to complain about him feathering his nest.
Secondly, while Germany’s reputation may be infamous, how true is it? And how true is it in relation to Felix Sturm?
Felix Sturm’s record in his last three bouts to go to decision in Germany is no wins, two losses and a draw (although one of the wins was later changed to a no contest when Sam Solimon controversy failed a drug test). And these weren’t whitewashes where the opponent won virtually every round and still only picked up a narrow victory. These were close, nip-and-tuck matches where it wouldn’t have been hard to justify Sturm getting the decision. I had him the narrow victor over both Martin Murray and Sam Soliman and while I thought Daniel Geale won their bout it was very much a question of if one preferred Geale’s workrate and aggression or Sturm’s defence and accuracy.
Put simply, Sturm hasn’t been getting the close decisions in Germany. Since leaving his former promoter Universum in 2009 and beginning to promote himself there’s been a distinct feeling that Sturm hasn’t been getting the rub of the green in the way he used to… and that makes Germany a more attractive place to go.
So, who wins?
Stylistically Darren Barker is a boxer/puncher with his game characterised by sharp pot shots and flowing combinations. A classy boxer with a good understanding of range and solid footwork, there is at times still a hint of the amateur about Barker, with him preferring quick, light punches to more solid shots. This helps him to win rounds but does nothing to deter a motivated opponent, although to be fair in recent bouts he’s started to plant his feet a little more and put a bit more spite into his shots. Occasionally he overcomits when aggressive, throwing five or six shot combinations which leave him open to counters and he tends to throw a wild stepping uppercut from the outside which generally misses and again leaves him open. Perhaps his biggest weakness is that he can be one-paced at times; quickly finding his own rhythem but then unable to respond if an opponent ups the tempo. This could be seen against both Domenico Spada and Sergio Martinez; in the first six rounds he was winning (and against Spada was near perfect) but as his opponents went through the gears put the pressure on he struggled to respond. That said, in both cases he was coming off long injury enforced layoffs which sapped his ring fitness; while Geale was the busier man in his last bout, Barker was able to match him for much of the contest.
Sturm is 34 and coming towards the end of his career but he’s still a talented boxer. On the outside he uses a sharp jab and tight defence but his real skill comes when he steps into the pocket. He throws short punches accurately, either splitting an opponents guard or catching them during an exchange. His uppercut when in tight is particularly nasty and he uses angles intelligently to frustrate opponents. Where he has struggled is with his workrate. He tends to box fairly conservatively, waiting for opening to appear rather than to create them himself and when pressured he likes to simply keep his gloves up and ride out the pressure. Despite some fairly decent results over the past couple of years (stoppages of Sebastian Zbik and Predrag Radosevic) he’s looked a little bit slower and a little bit weaker than in the past.
If Barker keeps himself disciplined I think he should win this. He came through a real test against Geale, including an incredibly hurtful bodyshot knockdown and Sturm shouldn’t offer anything as physically demanding. Instead the demands will be mental. Barker at range should be able to comfortable outbox and outpoint Sturm, keeping a moderate workrate and using the jab followed by occasional combinations. But the temptation will be there to take that half step forward and start to let his combinations go… and that’s when Sturm picks his moment to strike.
Sturm will trouble Barker at times. He’ll snap his head back with an uppercut, he’ll sink a few hooks in, he’ll slash his face with a jab. But on the whole Barker is going to be the quicker, faster, more active and just a tiny bit classier boxer and that’s going to bring him a narrow but clear decision win.