Just as the bout was warming up, it was over…
Felix Sturm once again became a world champion, stopping Darren Barkr in the second round after the Essex man’s corner threw in the towel.
Early on the bout looked like it was going to be a brawl. Putting all of us pundits who said he was too old and his style a little too inactive to bring him a victory on notice, Felix exploded out of the gate being more aggressive then I’ve seen from him in years. He landed two good hooks within the first 10 seconds and didn’t stop, continuing to use his jab aggressively at distance and then stepping forward with powerful straights and hooks. Barker stood his ground and brawled back, looking for big uppercuts (which admittedly generally missed) and putting together some hurtful body shots, but Sturm had laid a marker down and was the clear winner of the first round. What we didn’t know was that the seeds of Barker’s defeat had allowed been sown; his hip had been tweaked in the round and he told his corner that he thought it had gone.
The second round started much the same way, but now it was Barker that was the aggressor and the better of the two. He pushed Sturm back, sometimes with punches, sometimes physically, and kept hammering shots to the body. Considering the high pace and the nature of the shots it looked like Barker was looking to test Sturm’s conditioning and drag the veteran deep.
But he never got the chance.
Midway through the round Sturm threw a short but sharp counter straight that landed right on Barker’s temple and wobbled the champion. That was bad enough… but the real damage came from the wobble, not the blow or the immediate follow up punches that sent him to the ground. The punch forced him to move in an awkward way and it was immediately apparent that something had happened to his hip… and Barker has had to had operations on both his hips due to injuries there previously. Barker regained his feet (while holding his hip) without much trouble but he clearly couldn’t move and could barely put any weight on his right leg. Sturm forced the issue and dropped him again, Barker gesticulated to her corner, returned to his feet, took a few more punches and was just about to fire back when his corner threw in the towel.
And that was that.
At first glance the towel coming in looked strange but with Barker on one leg (early reports suggest a dislocated hip) he was going to be pulled out at the end of the round anyway. No-one can question Barker’s heart… he was still firing back even with his hip injured… but there was no other option. Barker has had a horrific injury history which was one of the reasons his title win was so emotional and those injuries have kept him out of the ring for long periods before but this was the first time his in-ring career has been so badly affected by it.
The ending and injury robbed us of what looked to be a great fight. Sturm had come out with more intent then I’d seen from him in years and clearly won the first before coming back with a shot that wobbled Barker in a round he was losing during the second but could he have kept that effort up for the rest of the bout, especially with Barker targetting the body? Could Barker survive the onslaught and stay in the bout long enough for that to tell? Did Barker set the stage for the injury by standing in the pocket and trading rather than moving and using his boxing? Would he have gone back to that style if the bout had dragged on? These are all questions that the bout could have answered.
There is a rematch clause in place and under normal circumstances I’d see no reason for the return bout not to happen immediately; I certainly want to see it. But with this hip injury Barker is likely out for at least a year or so (as he has been the other times it’s flared up) and I can’t see Sturm waiting a year or more to make a defence at his age. And that’s if Barker can even return; he’s had a lot of serious injuries in his career and repeated hip surgeries are something no-one in their 30’s should have to deal with, let alone a boxer. Can he come back again? It’s a real question… and in a post-fight interview Barker’s trainer Tony Sims indicated that this could be a step too far and that this might have been the last we’ve seen from Barker. If that is the case then Barker can look back on his career with pride. He always showed skills but also showed great heart and we should not look at his body as a traitor that betrayed him but a faithful friend who has supported him throughout his life but finally broke under the strain.
So while the next step for Barker is likely surgery and extensive rehab, Sturm will likely be looking for a new challenge. If Matthew Macklin can win his bout later tonight in the US he becomes an option after their first close bout. Sturm and Martin Murray have unfinished business after their disputed draw and Andy Lee is looking for another world title bid. Wider afield there are the other 160lbs champions and contenders as well as some domestically interesting bouts; Arthur Abraham may be at 168lbs these days but a big money offer (and Sturm now has a lucrative TV deal behind him) may make a superfight that was much talked about in the mid-late 2000’s viable.
Both men acquitted themselves with aplomb throughout. Felix Sturm may have rubbed fans the wrong way with his reluctance to leave Germany, make some of the big bouts and with his tendency to be favoured by the judges but in how he’s carried himself he’s always been a true gentleman in a sport that rarely has them. He carries himself well, boxed a great back and took the win with class and good spirit. Barker for his part was clearly disappointed with the ending but where there could have been petulance and bitter anger he instead took it in his stride, accepting it as one of the things that happens in boxing. On paper TKO2 looks like he was blitzed but he was not outclassed in there and while he likely lost the first and was losing the second he was competitive and getting his shots in. He has nothing to be ashamed of.
But this is boxing and having nothing to be ashamed off doesn’t mean you win. The end result, whatever the method, is that Felix Sturm had won. He was the man mobbed by his team and supporters, the man who took the applause of an audience and the man looking forward to a bright future.
Barker is looking forward to a hospital room.
Such are the rewards boxing offers. Universal acclaim or lonely suffering.