Darren Barker: My mum graduated as a mature student. We was up at the Southbank, and my phone rang, and it was Eddie [Hearn]. I was walking over the bridge, back to Embankment. “Good news – got the fight with [Daniel] Geale.” “Right – that is it. This is it. This is it now.” I was so excited – I didn’t even ask how much I was getting. I didn’t care. I was buzzing.

Eddie Hearn: Tony had said to me, “We’re out of contract – would you be interested in promoting Darren Barker?” He was, effectively, my first signing. You never knew when it would be over. He was becoming so disheartened with the injuries, and it looked like the big paydays were eluding him. “We’ve got a title shot – Gennady Golovkin.” “No thanks.” “But they don’t even really want a purse.” I subsequently found out why.

Tony Sims: “Mate, there’s no fucking way you’re putting Darren Barker in with Gennady Golovkin unless you’re giving him the minimum of a couple of million.”

The [Sergio] Martinez fight was a big learning fight for him. It was the best thing we’d done; after that fight he knew that he could mix at world level. When this fight come about he knew he was ready.

By then, we’d had to halt the running. He started swimming, and did a lot of yoga and stretching and exercises. He was still sparring and doing the pad work the same.

Hearn: He also worked heavily on the mind. Physically, he was good. He was in a really good place going into the fight.

Barker: Laws of attraction – I remember walking down the stairs at the gym, and bumped into this geezer. He was a yoga bloke who’d had two hip replacements; I’d had hip operations. He started saying how yoga really helps him. Usually when I’m training I’m in the zone and don’t stop to talk to anyone – I’m a miserable bastard. But for some reason I started talking to him. Wayne Leal. In sessions he used to do guided meditations. If I’m deadly honest he’d feed me a load of bollocks making me feel a million dollars. I’d feel so calm. It was so beneficial.

I’ve never approached a camp with such professionalism and intensity. You could say I’d overtrained, ‘cause when Tony would say, “Go home and have a rest”, I’d do extra sprints in the pool. I shouldn’t have been running, because of my hips, but I ended up doing a few hill sprints. I was a man possessed.

Hearn: We stayed at a new hotel, The Revel [Casino], which was unbelievable. I did not have a clue what I was doing, in all honesty. We were just on the blag – to get the fight in the first place; in Atlantic City – and that’s one of the reasons it was so special. It was me, Darren, Tony and the team out there rolling the dice.

Sims: It was like one of them hotels you see in Vegas. I remember Gary Shaw driving around the hotel in one of them mobility scooters. It was that big.

Hearn: He’s got a very close family. They all started arriving one by one in Atlantic City – his dad Terry was a good, good boxer for the Repton as well. With what they’d been through with Gary [Darren’s late brother], I’m sure the whole family felt him with them that week. He probably brought 400 or 500 over.

Sims: A few of the fighters come over. Lee Purdy; Martin Ward; Luke Campbell; Kevin Mitchell. I remember walking along the boardwalk the day before the fight, with Ryan Taylor, and this big guy was walking towards us. “That geezer looks like Larry Holmes.” As he got nearer to us, it was Larry Holmes.

“I’m here to watch the fight tomorrow, and the IBF are presenting me with a belt. Listen, tell [Barker] to use the jab – it’s all about the jab.” As he was talking to us, we looked round and Roy Jones Jnr was walking along with his boy. Ryan’s walked up to him, “Can I have a photo with you?” “Just let me have a photo with my idol first,” and pointed to Larry Holmes, “and then I’ll do one with you afterwards.” Then we all had a photo together. It was a bit crazy.

Barker: I felt experienced, because I’d had that kind of build-up to the Martinez fight [in 2011]. It wasn’t alien to me. “I’ve done all this before.” I felt a lot more relaxed, and focused. I felt a lot more mature, and a lot more self-assured. After the Martinez fight I felt I belonged at that level.

Hearn: When we were about to leave for the venue [the Revel Resort] on fight day, he had a little bit of doubt in himself, and I remember him going to have a session with Wayne to get himself mentally back.

Barker: For 13 weeks and six days I was the most confident man there was. Nobody was beating me. On the day of the fight –14 weeks since Eddie called me – I had a bit of a meltdown. Wayne come to the room, and we did this guided meditation. By the end of the session I was back on it. He was beneficial to me that camp, absolutely.

Hearn: It was a tiny, tiny changing room. Really tense. He put the gloves on a bit late. He’d keep shaking his head. “Nah, they don’t feel right; they don’t feel right”. They want him to walk in two or three minutes. It’s all over the place. “You’ve got to walk now.”

Barker: Straight after the weigh-in, “I ain’t going to no fighters’ meeting; I ain’t trying on no gloves; I don’t give a toss; they’re all the same”. Well, I was massively wrong. Tony tried them on in the meeting.

I had my hands wrapped. Very relaxed; it was good. I had a couple of the boys from the gym in there; my brother [Lee]. Michael Buffer poked his head in and we had a gag with him. I was focused; all the hard work was done. I was [also] properly nervous – it was always the time I felt most nervous, when it was time to get gloved up.

I couldn’t get my whole thumb in, so it felt really, really tight and uncomfortable. “Fucking hell, Tone, these don’t feel too good.” I started doing the pads. “I can’t wear these, Tone.” I’d never done this before – ever.

Sims: “We’ve only got two pairs of gloves here, Dal. You gotta wear one or the other.”

Barker: We’re getting close to the ring walk. “I put them gloves on and they’re fucking worse – they’re worse than the others ones.” I’ve gone back to the original pair, and I’m hitting the pads, hoping they’d loosen up. They didn’t, but I knew that once the bell goes all of that would go out the window. But at the time I was thinking, “This ain’t good”.

Sims: “Once you started punching with them you’ll forget about how uncomfortable your thumb is.” Which he did do. Little things like that when you’re nervous in the changing room play a big part in how you’re thinking at the time. You can go in the ring with bad hands; once the adrenaline goes you don’t feel anything. I knew once he got in there he wouldn’t even think about the thumb.

Hearn: Walking out after that, I thought, “I don’t fancy our chances here”. I don’t know whether it was nerves; the gloves. But, he wasn’t comfortable. It was a real unnerving moment. “This isn’t right here.”

Barker: I’ve got to thank Sky, and Ed Robinson, who produced a documentary before the fight. They finished it with the U2 song [I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For]. “You know what? I’m going to use it as well”, and it really pumped me up. It was a powerful ring walk.

Sims: He boxed well, right until he got caught. He was in front of points. He was very aggressive – he wanted to win the fight for Gary, and we all knew what he’d gone through to reach that stage. It was only a couple of years before he never wanted to fight again. A little bit of his boxing ability he left behind, but the aggressiveness of it, I think the American judges like. He was a lot more aggressive than Geale, which maybe took Geale by surprise.

Barker: I didn’t take into account how slippery and how quick he was on his feet, so I was falling short, quite quickly, with my shots. “I’m going to have to really get close to him.” The plan was always to be aggressive, but I went all-out brawling with him, to get my feet close to him; get on his chest.

Hearn: Darren started well, and he was definitely edging the fight. I was sitting next to my dad [Barry]. “Barker round; Barker round.” We were pretty pleased with the start.

Barker and Geale exchange (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Barker: I knew it was comfortable, considering it was a fast-paced fight. Then [in the sixth round] I got caught with an absolute beast. Usually with body shots there’d been a delayed reaction, but there wasn’t with that – it was fucking instant pain. I just dropped, and that’s where all the visions; the thoughts; the memories [of Gary] come flooding back.

Hearn: At that point we’re winning. It came out of nowhere – a big body shot to the solar plexus, and he went down. He was facing where I was sitting. “He’ll get up.” Then it got to six or seven, and he was kicking his legs on the floor, and I thought, “Fuck, he’s not gonna get up”.

Barker: I could see him. I could see visions of him. When my head’s on the floor and I’m kicking my feet on the canvas, I’m watching him saying, “Come on, come on – get up”. Completing it for both of us – he played a massive part.

Sims: He had his back to me, so I didn’t know whether he’d been hit with a low blow. Then Lee, his brother, the first time he’d ever been in a corner – when Darren was on the floor he was jumping all over my back to stop the fight, and I had to push him away and tell him to be quiet.

I was seeing whether he was going to get up or not. He got up at the count of nine; sometimes they wave it off [in the UK] at that stage.

Barker: I was absolutely unaware of the count that was going on, ‘cause of the pain and the visions. I don’t know how close I was to not getting up but there was definitely thoughts of fucking it off. I was crippled; I couldn’t stand up straight. It was agony; it was awful. It was a poignant moment in my career. Everyone always says, “I don’t know how you got up from that body shot”, and I don’t, if I’m honest. I just somehow rose.

Hearn: He beat the count and was half bent over, and was looking around to see how long’s left. There was a flurry at the end of the round where he went toe to toe, and then the bell went and he banged his chest, to say, “Let’s fucking have it”. We were so pumped at that moment. That may have been just as important as him getting up. That changed the momentum.

Barker: It was about trying to get my composure back, and weather the storm. I knew I had to start throwing back, because I hadn’t for a while, and I could see the referee [Eddie Cotton] getting close. I landed a couple of shots, and then the bell sounds – I remember thinking there was a bit of a shift in power. He was on the brink of victory and I was on the brink of defeat and right at the end [of the round] I come firing back with some shots.

Sims: He just about got through the round and started firing off again, so I knew that he was alright when he come back to the corner. He made it to his feet and he cracked on. I could see the deep will in him.

Barker: The seventh round was probably me best round. After that I had to dig it out, ‘cause it was tough in there. It was high tempo; gruelling, physically and mentally. He was a fit bastard.

Sims: He was boxing well and putting combinations together well. I liked the way he was fighting.

Hearn: Going into that 12th round, this fight is so close – you have to win this round. “Darren,” – he looked right at me – “you’ve got to win this round.” I was losing my shit the whole fight; my heart was beating out of my chest.

Sims: There was a couple of rounds that were touch and go. Geale must have known that he was slipping behind on the scorecards, and started putting a lot more into it. Both of them was biting down on their gumshields, staying ring centre and throwing a lot of punches. It became a really entertaining fight to watch, but I believed when the last bell went that Darren had won the fight. Eddie said to me, “It’s really close”. When they went to split decision you think…

Barker: I knew it was gonna be a split-decision. I could tell, from the tension. As he says, “And the new” [Barker won via scores of 114-113, 116-111 and 113-114], I jump up, but then floods of emotion hit me like a ton of bricks. Initially I was very sad – it was like I was letting go of my brother. That’s why I fall to the floor and I’m crying my eyes out. “I hope I’ve done you proud – I’m sorry I’m letting go.” Looking back, of course I’m not letting go, but it was really vivid pain and grief that hit me in that moment. I don’t really remember the fight but I vividly remember my emotions afterwards.

Sims: It was very emotional. We all had a tear rolling down our cheek. It was the journey we’d all been through. Gary was a fantastic prospect as well; we was all at that boxing show the night he’d died. It seemed like the whole of Britain was behind [Darren] and wanted him to do well.

Hearn: It’s definitely the greatest feeling I’ve had in boxing. When you look back on the emotions in that ring, it was unbelievable. Unbelievable. Darren was on the floor, and Tony jumps on him. “You’ve done it.”

Barker: People thought I was just a tidy boxer but if it got tough I wouldn’t be able to stick around. That fight I proved I could hold my own, so I was proud of myself.

Sims: It was one of the best nights – weeks – I’ve ever had. I still vividly remember most things that happened.

Hearn: When he achieved that, the comfort that he received – it’s so rare. Very few achieve their dreams or their potential; even those who do struggle [in retirement]. There’s very few fighters I’ve represented who have retired mentally and emotionally [content].

Barker: I wish I savoured those moments a bit more. I wish I could go back.