THE first thing that springs to mind when I look back on beating Daniel Geale to win the IBF middleweight title is ‘job done’. I had set out to do what I wanted to do.
I never planned or expected to be a world champion who reigned for a long time. My goal was simply to win a world title and, at times, it seemed an unrealistic goal. The injuries I had, and with the loss of my brother Gary, I honestly didn’t know if I had the strength to achieve that goal.
Exactly seven years on from that night, I’m still celebrating. I honestly don’t think there could be a world champion who is happy as I am. I still can’t believe I did it.
I felt I’d got as far as I could after losing to Sergio Martinez in 2011. I’d pushed one of the best fighters in the world, I was happy with that. I said to my trainer Tony Sims that I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I had to have another hip operation. The injuries wouldn’t go away. I even had a quiet word with my brother who had passed away: “I’m gonna have to leave it there, Gal, I hope you’re proud of what I managed to achieve.”
But then as the weeks and months started to pass I started to look back on the Martinez fight and wondered if I could have done more. I could have beaten him. As soon as those thoughts started creeping in, I knew I wasn’t finished with boxing. I couldn’t let those thoughts rest. So I rang Tony and I told him I was getting back in the gym.
Before I fought Kerry Hope, in my comeback fight, I’d been out of the ring for 14 months. Before that I was supposed to fight Simone Rotolo. While sparring I caught an elbow in my bicep. I was in agony. My whole arm went black. My doctor told me not to fight. I was out of action again. I thought my body was telling me to retire. I had to develop a new approach, I knew I had to win every fight, I had to be more aggressive. I beat Hope and then Rotolo.
On the day of the Geale fight, it wasn’t all going smoothly. I’d got my gloves that I wasn’t happy with. I’ve got these really long thumbs and the gloves just didn’t feel right. I had these horrible gloves on and then I started tapping myself on my stomach and my face – as I always did. I remember hitting myself in the body and thinking, ‘Blimey, that feels tender’.
When I went down in the sixth round from the body shot, I had no concept of time. I was down for nine-and-a-half seconds. When I think about what I was going through at that time, it’s crazy. I must have been subconsciously listening to the count but I don’t remember it. It was the thought of my brother, of my daughter, of my family, everyone. We were all on a journey together. I remember getting to my feet and it was like someone was helping me up. People might think I’m adding spice to the story, but that’s not the case at all. It was actually quite easy to get up, I just got to my feet. I was in pain, I remember the referee asking me how I was feeling, and a high pitched sound came out of my mouth.
Eventually, I started to get my breath back. I started to throw shots back. Then there was a shift of power. At the bell to end the sixth, I threw my arms in the air, it was all done to show Geale I was still there.
I went into the seventh round with a spring in my step. But it was such a hard fight. As a kid, I would play out my career, I’d be leaping around the kitchen imagining my future. The way I played my world title win, as a nine-year-old kid shadowboxing in the kitchen, was exactly as it happened. I’d get dropped, I’d come through a hard fight and I was world champion.
When I watched the fight back, I had a lump in my throat. It was exactly as I imagined it.
To hear Barker’s full recollections of the fight, including the boisterous aftermath, listen to Episode Three of the new Boxing News podcast, The Opening Bell – available free from all podcast providers or directly from our website.