British boxers in the spotlight: Darren Barker & Nathan Cleverly looking to seize their moment

Credit: Mario Serrano / Gary Shaw

Tomorrow night both Darren Barker and Nathan Cleverly fight for world titles with the opportunity to seriously enhance their boxing legacies and future career earnings with victory. While Cleverly seeks to retain the WBO light heavyweight title he already holds against power-punching Sergey Kovalev, Barker is hoping to wrench the IBF middleweight title from the paws of its current incumbent, the awkward Australian Daniel Geale.

Here I assess each Brit ahead of arguably their most important bouts to date.

Barker to draw on past agony against Geale

Credit: Mario Serrano / Gary Shaw

Credit: Mario Serrano / Gary Shaw

It will not be the first time Darren Barker has stared across the ring to see a world titleholder when he confronts Daniel Geale tomorrow night in Atlantic City, New Jersey – back in 2011 Barker was unsuccessful in his challenge to middleweight king Sergio Martinez. A heavy underdog, the Essex man started strongly before fading and eventually succumbing to an 11th round knockout.

The realization of losing to the best middleweight champion since Bernard Hopkins reigned supreme was scant consolation to Barker, particularly following multiple injuries that kept him out of the ring for over a year on from the Martinez bout. Nonetheless, the experience could prove crucial as he ventures away from both his home and comfort zone once more in order to realize a dream that has ensured his strength of mind in the midst of grueling personal troubles.

In late 2006, Barker lost his brother, Gary, in a car accident. What followed was a traumatic period for Barker, who admits to breaking down following the loss of a sibling and close friend. The experience must have been harrowing for Barker, at the time a young prospect, though it is one that gives him renewed purpose heading into this weekend’s fight, a fight he intends to dedicate solely to Gary’s memory.

The fight itself is a difficult one to figure. Barker has often shown his boxing skill, though in his last two fights he has combined this with added aggression and stronger punching to stop both Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo in four rounds.

Geale is on another level to such opponents, however, having himself repelled the advances of quality fighters such as Sebastian Sylvester, Felix Sturm and Anthony Mundine in the past. Geale also brings a unique style into the ring with him, setting an intense pace incorporating unorthodox movement with high-intensity offense.

Geale will try to crowd Barker and work him for the full twelve rounds, meaning Barker will need every last ounce of his new-found strength to hold off the Australian. If Barker can do that and keep Geale on the end of his jab, he can dictate the pace of the fight and box his way to a heart-warming victory that would mean so much to both him and his family.

Cleverly and Kovalev set to excite

Credit: Frank Warren

Credit: Frank Warren

When Nathan Cleverly and Sergey Kovalev were matched together for tomorrow night it seemed like the ideal set up – put two fresh, undefeated fighters in with each other to decide who is best. However, these fights are easier to make on paper than in reality. Because, the reality is that both Cleverly and Kovalev have a whole lot to lose come tomorrow night, principally their unbeaten records.

Each man has taken a separate route to this fight. While Kovalev has exploded into the fraternity of world-class light heavyweights in double quick time with stunning inside-the-distance victories against Gabriel Campillo and Cornelius White, Cleverly’s road has been longer and less straightforward. His has included fight cancellations and last-minute replacements meaning that despite his “world champion” status, he is yet to have the widespread acclaim generally associated with such a title.

Cleverly’s world title-winning story is itself not exactly made for the big screen. Then-champion Jurgen Braehmer pulled out of a showdown with Cleverly, meaning the Welshman was upgraded from interim to full champion status, a status he successfully defended against the relatively unknown Aleksy Kuziemski. Cleverly did go into the lions den next time out however, earning his stripes by defeating hard-punching Tony “Bomber” Bellew in Bellew’s hometown to retain his title.

It is only now though, after nearly two years of cancelled fights and uncertainty, that Cleverly gets the test he has relished. And what a fight it is – Cleverly, a young, durable, high-volume puncher up against Kovalev, aptly nicknamed “Krusher” for reasons best described by his fists. If anyone doubted Cleverly’s willingness to face the best, they have been silenced now.

The danger for Cleverly will be at its apex early on. Kovalev doesn’t like to waste time letting his opponents feel his power, and the Russian will probably throw down the gauntlet in the opening rounds tomorrow night. Cleverly would thus be sensible to keep it tight then increase his output as the fight wears on, as he looks to take Kovalev into uncharted territory.

The fight could be a classic – both men are proud and only comprehend what it feels to win, as such they will likely fight that much harder to maintain that feeling. Should it go the distance, however, and I believe it will, look for Cleverly to out-hustle his foe to grab a vital points win.

In boxing, one punch can change a fight, and one fight can change a career. Such is the case tomorrow night for Darren Barker and Nathan Cleverly. I back both to win their respective world title match-ups, and in so doing propel themselves ever closer to the big-money fights they crave.

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