ATLANTIC CITY, N.J.–They say the mark of a true champion is being able to win even when you don’t have your best stuff. If that’s true then middleweight champion Sergio Martinez passed his test with flying colors by rallying from a lackluster start to score an 11th-round knockout of Darren Barker at Boardwalk Hall Saturday night on HBO.
Before the tenth round most of the discussion on press row and Twitter revolved around Barker and his better-than-expected showing against Maravilla, who looked less focused than in his last two outings against Serhiy Dzinziruk and Paul Williams. Without an obvious weakness to exploit against a technically sound opponent Martinez didn’t appear to have a firm strategy in mind early on. Instead he bounced around and try to pick at the Englishman from the outside.
But Barker stuck firmly to his high guard and made himself a difficult target, showing excellent discipline and defensive skill while avoiding most of the worst damage. His well-placed right hand found Sergio’s face several times in the early going and he quickly had the local sportsbooks worrying about the long odds they offered on him winning. Barker is typical of well-schooled English fighters who compensate for deficits in talent with craftiness and timing; his ability to take advantage of Sergio’s technical mistakes should provide a good fight plan for the next boxer looking to upset the champ. But he simply wasn’t busy enough to seriously threaten the champion.
The middle rounds in particular were a lackluster affair as the Londoner began withdrawing into his shell after the fifth. Maravilla’s superb conditioning enabled him to pick up the pace and deliver combinations as his foe covered up. By the 9th Martinez was firmly in control, forcing Barker to open up more in hopes of closing the growing gap on the scorecards. Barker was able to land, unsurprising as Sergio is always there to be hit, but the punishment he took in return appeared to give him some pause. While Barker held his own, Martinez appeared to get the better of most exchanges.
The tenth saw Barker continue to pressure Sergio but after eating a straight left he looked hurt and went back to covering up. The accumulation of blows finally caught up with Barker in the 11th; he delivered a final barrage but was unable to withstand Sergio’s rapid combination in response. A sweeping right hook that glanced off the back of the Englishman’s head was the final punch of the evening. Barker crumpled to the mat and was counted out as the Argentine’s beating finally took its toll. Regardless, Barker represented himself well and belongs among the top contenders at middleweight. He should carry his head high on the flight back to London.
On the televised co-feature Kronk Gym middleweight “Irish” Andy Lee avenged his only professional loss with class by winning a ten-round decision in commanding fashion over Texan bruiser Brian Vera. Normally known for an exciting southpaw style that involves giving and taking plenty of punishment, Lee played it cool against Vera and controlled the fight from the outside with impeccable right hooks and straight lefts.
“I was trying to knock him out but it’s hard with him,” Lee said afterward. “With Brian Vera his offense is his defense.”
The Irishman demonstrated an educated lefty jab he used to dominate the early rounds and frustrate Vera, a brawler by nature. Lee showed plenty of respect for Vera’s strength, only natural after he was stopped in their previous meeting in 2008. Lee’s normally lax defense was in top form as he moved both his had and feet to great effect while catching most of the Austin native’s wide shots on his gloves and elbows.
Meanwhile Lee’s offense was both precise and more perfectly timed than we’ve previously seen. Both the right jab and hook were on point and he found home with many straight lefts, including a flash knockdown in the third. The middle rounds saw Lee mix in a dangerous lead right uppercut from distance, a treacherous punch that caused some damage but also prompted furious rebuttals from Vera. Vera attempted to get rough and bully his way inside but Lee was too smart to let Brian fight his fight. The final three rounds saw Lee mix movement, boxing and some heavy uppercuts to secure the unanimous decision by scores of 98-91 and 99-90 twice.
Your correspondent was delayed by some inclement weather but arrived in time to see Kentrell Claiborne receive a beating from super middleweight prospect Seanie Monaghan, prompting the ref to stop the fight in the fourth. Light heavyweight Isaac Chilemba, a native of Malawi, scored a 2nd-round knockout of Brooklyn’s Jameson Bostic, who sank to the corner after a flurry and looked like he wanted none of the African. Detroit super middleweight prospect J’Leon Love won his first six-rounder against Eddie Hunter and Kevin Rooney, son of the well-known trainer, suffered his first loss in his third career bout to Daniel Lugo, now 1-1.
Gautham Nagesh is the editor of StiffJab.net