DARREN BARKER, the former IBF middleweight champion, has a message for anyone intrigued by the prospect of seeing him return to the ring: Don’t call it a comeback. No, seriously, don’t call it a comeback.
Following rumours last week, the 36-year-old Londoner is keen to distance himself from talk of a potential comeback and says he would only ever be tempted to return if offered a rematch against Sergio Martinez at Wembley Stadium.
“I was asked, if I was to make a comeback, who would I want to fight? I said Sergio Martinez,” Barker, retired since 2014, told Boxing News. “The power of the internet then saw it blow up.”
This power delivered to Barker’s social media feeds countless comments, as well as an acknowledgement from Martinez himself. Before he knew it, Barker’s answer to a hypothetical question had taken on a life of its own and seemingly all but confirmed his imminent return to the ring.
“The main reason Martinez’s name was mentioned was because I lost to him and feel like I could have done better,” Barker said, recalling his 11th round stoppage to the Argentinean in 2011. “Also, the second reason why I mentioned Martinez was because he has been training and is looking to have a fight back. It’s not like I’ve been calling him out and begging him to come out of retirement.”
It’s true that Martinez, 43, has been embroiled in a back-and-forth with Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr with a view to running back their fight from 2012. However, the pace has now slowed on that one, which has left many wondering whether the former world middleweight king is serious about going through with his planned return, and left Barker wondering if a new opponent is required.
“Dazzling” Darren’s fit now, after all. He’s fitter than he was when active as a pro, and certainly fitter than he was the night he hobbled to a second-round defeat against Felix Sturm in 2014.
“I’ve been ticking over and doing bits and pieces in the gym,” Barker said, “and my body feels better than ever.
“I’ve looked after my hips and strengthened them. I had a 10-year pro career, and when you’re boxing you don’t ever really give yourself time to heal properly. My body now is the best it has ever been because of the rest it has had.
“A lot of people have given me grief for saying I went to [fight Sturm in] Germany injured, but you tell me a pro boxer who goes into any fight 100 per cent fit. It doesn’t happen. Footballers and boxers are always having injections and painkillers to get them through a match or a fight. It’s the most stupid thing ever to say I conned the fans. It’s crazy.”
Vulnerable is the former fighter who sticks around the fight game when no longer competing. Still attached to it, they hear the comments, they experience the buzz, they watch the fights. Reminders are everywhere.
“I’m still surrounded by boxing,” Barker said. “I’m at these fights every week, doing the job with Matchroom. I’m always around the hype. It grabs hold of you. When you’ve been doing it your whole life, it’s very difficult to not get carried away.
“It’s not an urge to come back, but anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am. I’m competitive in everything I do.
“When I was a kid, I used to come out at High Barnet station and have to beat people to the top of the hill. They didn’t even know I was racing them. But that’s how competitive I am. If a challenge is put in front of me, it’s hard for me to not respond to it.
“Thankfully, I’ve got a lot going on at the moment. I’ve got the gyms. I’ve got this gig with Matchroom, I’m happy. Financially, I’m fine. It was just the fire inside me; the fighter I used to be; the fighter I still am. I don’t know if you ever lose it.”
Because he’s competitive, because he’s determined to stay in shape, and because it’s a source of enjoyment, Darren Barker continues to train on a daily basis. But that doesn’t mean training camp starts anytime soon. “If I was offered Martinez at Wembley, it would be very difficult to say no,” he conceded. “But I wouldn’t go beyond that fight. I wouldn’t fight anybody else.
“I don’t want people thinking I’m making a comeback. I’m happily retired. My life is brilliant. I have no reason to fight. I achieved my ultimate goal of winning a world title for my brother. That was always the goal. I don’t need to fight again.”
The comeback rumours might not be true, but that final sentence, given all Darren Barker achieved, absolutely is.