WHAT do world champions do when their time in the spotlight has faded?
If you’re Darren Barker, the former IBF middleweight champion of the world, you open a high end boxing gym. The 12×3 gym looks perfect. It’s inspired by Repton, Barker’s famous amateur gym, and has that club’s famous slogan ‘No guts, no glory’ emblazoned on the wall. Quality coaches train all comers (you can train in small group or private sessions), including Barker himself.
The former world champion put Boxing News through our paces when we came to check out the gym in Aldgate (he’s just opened a second branch in Paddington).
After warming up with some skipping, Darren had us shadowboxing to see what we were capable of. His first words of advice were to keep it simple. Boxing is all about drilling the basics, repeatedly. My efforts at long uppercuts and multiple hooks failed to impress Barker. He wanted to see long straight shots, jabs setting up the cross. Equally important I had to get my feet right, don’t cross the legs, push off the back foot to move forward, off the front foot to move back.
The circuits he sprinkled in were inventive and quickly exhausting. The gym floor was clear and clean, but there was a wide variety of kit dotted round the walls. We were attached to the bars, strapped to a thick elastic band and, working against the resistance, we had to sprint out, using boxing footwork in a race to collect as many cones spread out across the floor as possible. The workout finished with a circuit of medicine ball throws, slams and an assortment of floor exercises.
These were taxing and effective. But the highlight of the session was getting to go rounds on the pads with Darren Barker, someone who won every title possible as a professional; Southern Area, Commonwealth, British, European and ultimately world. Nerve wracking to put my meagre skills under the spotlight but Darren did share insights into his tactics and methods. A skilful boxer he still liked to move out quickly to hold the centre of the ring. If an opponent forced him out of ring centre, he visualised an inner square, that he could manoeuvre along, to keep well clear of the ropes and pivot quickly back to return to the centre of the ring.
He and his trainer Tony Sims developed a series of phrases, almost codewords. Instead of the trainer having to call out each punch in a combination, they named combinations after famous fighters. So Tony would only need to say “Zarate” for Darren to fire out a jab, a left hook, opening up an opponent’s guard for a right cross to come through. They had a whole host of these and I found myself on the pads trying to do the same, doing my best Carlos Zarate or Roberto Duran impressions under the less-than-impressed eye of Darren Barker.
As a gym it’s top notch, well designed, with nice touches from private changing cubicles with their own shower to plug sockets inside lockers. Inspired by traditional boxing clubs, particularly the East End boxing institution Repton, where Barker started, it’s everything a modern gym needs too. We’ll be back.