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Darren Barker believes fights against fellow middleweights Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray "must happen"
After 18 years in the ring and a largely faultless boxing career – which has included 15 professional knock-outs – Darren Barker has taken his fair share of punishment. But he has a confession to make.
“I feel rejuvenated and fresh,” he said. “I feel like a young 30-year-old. I have had injuries but I am doing things that don’t cause the injuries to worsen. I feel fantastic.”
The former British and European middleweight champion – a battle-hardened fighter with 24 professional wins out of 25 – is confident he can punch his way to an eventual world title bout and then on to high-profile fights with British rivals Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray.
But first Barker, a former member of the New Barnet-based Finchley and District Amateur Boxing Club, must defeat Italian champion Simone Rotolo when he tops the ‘London’s Finest’ bill at Wembley Arena on March 9.
The venue’s virtually on his doorstep. “I am really hoping the Barnet supporters turn out in force. It’s just around the corner so hopefully there will be a good crowd,” he said.
“It is an honour to be headlining at such a prestigious venue. It shows my career is working in the right direction.”
Rotolo’s pedigree cannot be ignored. He hasn’t tasted defeat since a 2007 European title showdown against former world champion Sebastian Sylvester of Germany.
The fight against Rotolo, for the vacant IBF inter-continental middleweight title, was initially scheduled for last September until an arm injury sidelined Barker.
Barker said: “I performed well against Kerry Hope in my return in December, had a couple of weeks off over Christmas but then got straight back into the gym to train hard.
“It was unfortunate that I had to pull out of our previous fight and he missed his chance. He deserves a crack and there is a sense of unfinished business as well.”
Barnet-born Barker concedes his 26th fight is another test of character: “Rotolo is the Italian champion and he is a proud man. He is going to be a handful. He knows his way around the ring and he is experienced.
“So I have to stay switched on and make sure that I put in a good performance. I didn’t know who my opponent would be for a while, but it does help when you know who you will face because you can really visualise, concentrate on him and get a game plan together.”
The word ‘unscathed’ rarely applies to any boxer. Barker has suffered more than most. In 2006 his 19-year-old brother Gary, who was a junior Olympic champion, tragically died in a car accident. Barker didn’t box for nine months.
He has also struggled with injuries. Prior to his bout against Hope he considered retirement after another setback in his recovery.
“The injuries will never really go away but you have to manage them,” he explained.
“I have changed my training – I have cut down on road running and I do a lot more on the treadmill – and I feel like I haven’t even had any injuries.”
And as to those possible British showdowns, he said: “Martin Murray, Matthew Macklin and myself all believe that we are the number one. That is why these fights must happen because I want to prove that I am the best in the division.
“Fingers crossed that I can get another crack for a world championship in the future as well. I think I am ready and I will have had two fights in the space of four months.
Above: Darren Barker was beaten in his WBC middleweight title bout against Sergio Martinez. His last world title fight.
“I would have shaken off any ring rust and I truly believe I am world class. I feel that I am ready to take on a world champion.”
To purchase tickets for Barker’s fight, visit www.matchroomboxing.com.