Dazzling Darren… Interview By Paul Ready

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The rain was pelting down on my car wind-screen; it was 4.52pm as I sat at a set of traffic lights on my way home from work. I decided that listening to Adrian Durham of Talksport going in to yet another tirade about Arsenal was getting some-what tiresome. I changed the station to Radio 1, “Katy Perry – Roar” was playing; not my brand of brandy and immediately switched over to Kiss 100.

“Storm Queen – Look Right Through” began playing and it instantly reminded me of Darren Barker and his entrance music against Felix Sturm in December 2013.

I had the pleasure of speaking to Darren last night for just over an hour, it felt like a matter of minutes. We spoke about his career, friends, family and boxers past & present, Darren has seen some of the very best British and American boxers of all time fight in the flesh, I’m sure we could have spoken for even longer as he is a huge fan of the sport, now more than ever before.

What struck me immediately about Darren is how humble and down-to earth he is. For a guy who has reached the “holy-grail” in boxing and became IBF-Middleweight World Champion, he has no ego, no airs or graces and certainly no diva tendencies.

The conversation was relaxed; it was reminiscent of occasions I’ve been first introduced to a friend of a friend in a bar on a night out.  You find common ground between you, be it sport, children, work. This instinctively put me at ease.

After an initial discussion between us both about football, (Chelsea mainly as Darren is a big fan) to “break the ice”; the formal aspect of the interview began:

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Elite Boxing:

Family businesses are often electricians, painters and decorators by trade, handed down from generation to generation. The Barker’s “trade” was boxing, what made you want to continue the family tradition?

Darren Barker:

My dad pure and simple. The most important thing to me as a youngster and throughout my career was making my dad proud. I could have won convincingly and it wouldn’t have mattered if he wasn’t happy with my performance. Dad’s opinion mattered the most to me after every fight more than anything. He was the biggest influence on me through-out and I always sought his advice and guidance.

EB:

Growing up who was your idol and what was the very first fight you remember watching?

DB:

Mike Tyson was my idol growing up. Dad used to take me to theatre’s in London to watch Tyson’s fights as we didn’t have Sky at home in those days. I absolutely loved his aggressive style and approach to fights. Which may seem odd to some as he is the polar opposite to me as a boxer. I saw myself as more technical, picking my punches and patient. I also was a big fan of Nigel Benn and was there at the Gerald McClelland fight.

EB:

Tell me how you met Tony Sims, and the transition from amateurs to professional boxing?

DB:

I first met Tony when I joined Repton Boxing Club whilst an amateur. Tony was the reason I made the transition from amateur to pro and he backed me from day 1.

I couldn’t have achieved what I did in boxing without him by my side. I can’t speak highly enough of him and we could talk for hours about what impact he has had on me.

I’m gutted to not see Tony every day in the gym now I’ve retired, but we speak on the phone regularly and he is someone I know will be in my life forever as a friend.

When I first became pro, the main shock to me was fighting fully grown men. Journeymen who were putting food on the table for their family. They were strong, aggressive and driven to provide for their loved ones. It took me some time to get used to having no head-gear as well. The whole experience was a huge culture shock. But I loved it.

Winning the National Title even now ranks as a great achievement to me. I would have been content with just that. Never in a million years did I believe I would be World Champion one day.

EB:

My perception of Tony Sims’ gym and the fighters there is that you guys all have a great team spirit; you look out for one another. You were in Lee Purdy’s corner for the Devon Alexander fight. As the senior fighter of the gym, I bet you have a few good stories to share from your time there?

DB:

Haha. Yeah we did have a great laugh there. Proud to say as you said being the senior fighter there, I was a big wind up merchant. One of my trademark pranks was putting Tiger Balm in the boys’ pants when they left them in the changing room.

The best prank I’ve done was to Tyler Goodjohn who was about to spar Lee Purdy. I said to Tony to make sure Ty was laced up so he couldn’t do anything. I had his gum-shield and was fitted so he needed help putting it in and taking it out. I filled it up with “Arse-blaster” Hot Sauce and whacked it in his mouth. He was in a world of pan, his face bright red and was jumping around all over the place.

EB:

I’m sure you’ve seen the news in the past week that the IBF has ordered a rematch between Carl Froch and George Groves, as a fan how do you feel about seeing a rematch and who wins?

DB:

I’m as excited as everyone to see the rematch; it is going to be a great spectacle for British boxing. It’s a really tough one to call. Britain needs these nights and we are all in for a treat, don’t blink for a second.

EB:

What albums/music is on your IPod playlist currently?

DB:

I listen to absolutely everything, currently enjoying John Mayer, Hip Hop. I tend to put it on shuffle and just let it play.

EB:

What TV shows/Box sets are you watching currently?

DB:

I haven’t watched much TV recently as I’ve been so busy. But when I do or if it’s on, I will always watch “Curb Your Enthusiasm”, love that. “Entourage”, “Sopranos”,” Only Fools and Horses” some other favourites of mine.

One thing I have been watching is “Being Mike Tyson”, which is really moving stuff.

EB:

When was the last time you were star struck?

DB:

Meeting my idol Mike Tyson as a boy even to this day that is the most star struck I’ve ever been. I went and saw him train at Grosvenor House Hotel, London. Had my picture taken with him, we had a chat and was in genuine awe of him.

I have banter with Dad now about Ali and Tyson who would have won. If ever I want to wind him up, I just have to drop in to conversation that Tyson would have beaten Ali, and he goes in to one.

EB:

Going back to your love of Chelsea FC; I recall seeing pictures of you on Twitter out in Munich 2012, what was it like being out there and seeing them lift the trophy in dramatic style?

DB:

That was the 2nd best night of my life; only Scarlett (Darren’s Daughter) being born tops it.

It was my 30th Birthday that night and hands down the best celebration I’ve ever had for any birthday. I went out there in a Mini-Bus full of mates; we drove there and back, 12 hours each way. Great crack. I was lucky enough to go to the Chelsea FC after-party, held the trophy, had a medal round my neck, and met all the players. I had pictures with John Terry and Frank Lampard. What a night!

EB:

You touched upon your daughter Scarlett there, tell me how you felt becoming a father and the shift in your priorities as a fighter and man?

DB:

When Scarlett was born, I felt like I had truly become a man then. My life had extra impetus. In the gym, my training became more focussed and I was driven to succeed to provide her the best life possible.

I became the man in the opposite corner of the ring I faced as a young pro. I had to provide for my family, put food on the table, and keep a roof over our head.

EB:

Good luck to any future boyfriend’s when she is older, meeting your girlfriend’s dad for the first time is bad enough, let alone one who is a former World Champion boxer, doesn’t get more daunting!

DB:

Yeah, haha. I’m already working on my stare and sharpening some tools for when she is older, don’t you worry!

EB:

Let’s discuss the other lady in your life; your fiancée Gemma. How has she supported you throughout your career and is there any plans for you to make her Mrs Barker in the foreseeable future?

DB:

I think the plan with Gemma now will be to have some more children. Scarlett needs a little brother or sister to play with before we think about marriage.

Gemma has been there for me from the start, when we lost Gary to where I am now. She has supported me throughout my career. It has been an emotional rollercoaster for us all. I’m not ashamed to say that she does wear the trousers in the relationship, I’m happy to go along with whatever she wants within reason. I just want a quiet stress-free life at home!

EB:

I think most men can relate to that, having a stress-free home life!

One thing I have to complement you on is your style; rarely do I see you poorly dressed. Always wearing a blazer or a 3 piece-whistle (suit).

The press conference for Barker v Sturm fight for example, you, Felix Sturm and Eddie Hearn wouldn’t have looked out of place in a GQ photoshoot.

DB:

Haha. Nice of you to say mate. I wouldn’t say that I spend loads on casual clothes. But I do love a 3-piece whistle. I’m lucky to have some lovely suits and know a few good tailors. That is one thing I do like to spend a bit on as they last.

EB:

Backing to boxing, tell me about why you signed with Matchroom Boxing from Hennessy Sports, your relationship with Eddie Hearn and your main sponsor Elite Scaffolding?

DB:

I felt at that time I needed to make some progression in my career. I was eternally grateful to Mick Hennessy for everything he done for me up until that point in my career. I haven’t spoken to Mick for some time, but I like to thank him for what he done in the early days.

Joining Matchroom has proved to be a career-defining move for me. When I first sat down with Eddie and Barry Hearn, I knew it was the right place for me. We hit it off from day one and I’ve achieved beyond my wildest dreams with Eddie and Matchroom.

Eddie is someone who I am good mates with now and will be for the rest of my days. We speak daily on the phone and I have another friend for life there.

Luke Chandler (Elite Scaffolding) has helped me financially with sponsorship and my personal life. He has provided me with emotional support throughout and has never once asked or expected anything from me.

He is another good mate and I’ve been so lucky to have him, he won’t even let me buy him lunch, he gets the hump if I ever try to pay!

I’m so grateful to have had Luke, Tony and Eddie in my life as they will be 3 close mates of mine forever, I’ve been so lucky to have a great family and team around me.

EB:

Another friendship I’ve seen you develop over the years is with Joe Calzaghe, not ashamed to say my favourite British boxer of all time, what influence and advice has he given you?

DB:

I got to know Joe when he lived in London and we have lots in common as men outside the ring.

Joe has been there, seen it and done it in the ring. I look up to him. He was another idol of mine growing up and coming through as a young boxer. He has been a great mate and mentor.

He has supported me in the real dark days when I was close to retiring a few years back.

I remember being at Joe’s house in Cardiff, and I was on a real downer, telling him that I’ve had enough and I’m going to pack it in for good.

 Joe grabbed me and said “I guarantee you will win a World Title, don’t you dare give up” He believed in me in that dark hour of my life.

When I won the IBF title and saw him for the first time, I will never forget seeing Joe across the hotel, he cupped his hands and shouted out loud: “ANNNND NEEEEWWWW!” came over, gave me a hug and said “I told you so”.

Great boxer and an even better guy.

EB:

Who is the hardest sparring partner you’ve had and what prospects in the gym have you seen you have impressed you the most?

DB:

I sparred with Mikkel Kessler a few years ago and when he landed you really knew about him. Massive power.

Prospects wise I think Luke Campbell and Anthony Joshua are the two stand-outs for me.

Joshua is a tough, tough guy. He has the lot and will win the World Title, they both will.

EB:

Campbell reminds me of De La Hoya with his movement and I could see him being a multi-weight champion as he has the frame to move up.

DB:

Good shout that, great speed & feet and has the body to fill out.

EB:

Internationally, what boxers do you enjoying watching?

DB:

Floyd MayweatherJnr is one of my favourite fighters currently, I was there when he fought Cotto and he was different class.

Golovkin, Gamboa and Rigondeaux are all top talents that I like watching.

EB:

Back to yourself Darren and your fight against Sergio Martinez. I watched this back the other day and you were dictating the first 6 rounds, you broke his nose in the 4th, and later lost in the 11th. How did you find the step up on to the world stage for that fight?

DB:

Obviously disappointing to have lost that fight. But it was great experience; it proved to me that I can compete at World Level. I still keep in touch with Sergio now, top guy. I came up short against him, but it gave me more belief in my ability.

EB:

After that fight, you came close to retiring, what made you change your mind?

DB:

I had my first hip operation and it was a real tough time for me. It was a mental rollercoaster that stage. Do I continue? And I decided yes for Scarlett, Gemma, my family and my friends.

I was determined to get back in the gym and work towards my 2nd world title shot.

EB:

It took just under two years and two 4th round TKO’s against Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo respectively to put you back as a mandatory challenger for a World title, this time the IBF Title against Daniel Geale. Looking back on that life-changing night in Atlantic City, how do you feel?

DB:

I achieved the ultimate goal and realised my dream of becoming a World Champion. The fight took a lot out of me physically and emotionally. It meant everything to me and everyone around me.

I was so determined to win that belt; nothing was going to stop me. I knew it was my moment.

EB:

My favourite part outside of Michael Buffer saying “And Newwww” and the emotion and celebration in the ring after the announcement was your post-fight interview with Max Kellerman of HBO.

Kellerman asked you:

“Who is next? Quillin? Macklin? Golovkin?”

You simply responded:

“To be honest, I just want to get home and see my daughter”.

DB:

Haha, thanks mate. It’s true. Just wanted to be home with her and the belt.

EB:

Felix Sturm in December, your first title defence, how was the preparation for that and more importantly, how is the hip now?

DB:

My hip went before the fight in sparring, so there was a bit of panic and worry before the fight. Would the hip hold? But despite that, I felt that I still had enough to beat Sturm.

Gutted to have lost, the purse for the fight was career best and in a way I wish I earnt that for the Geale fight as I might have considered retiring then. But I couldn’t not take the fight, regardless of my hip.

The hip is still causing me some pain. I’m doing some work in the gym to support it. Some light weight training, etc. Important for me to stay in shape, especially so I can fit in to my whistles!

I still need an operation, but if I’m honest I’m putting it off.

EB:

I’ve got respect for Sturm, he displayed plenty of class in the after-math of the fight, and he was fighting for a big TV deal in Germany. But there was no gloating and he had some kind words for you?

DB:

Felix is a gentleman and we’ve spoke on Twitter, he spoke well of me and I’m appreciative of that, good luck to him and I wish him the best in his career.

EB:

You’ll be delighted to know this is my final question, and you can enjoy the rest of your evening. What is next for Darren Barker?

DB:

At this stage, I can’t see myself as a trainer. I wouldn’t rule it out in the future, but it’s not on my mind currently. I’m working for Sky Sports on Saturday in Cardiff for the Matchroom show so you will see me doing more of that no doubt. I have investments in properties and a few other things happening behind the scenes. But regardless, I’m keen to remain in the sport in some capacity.

EB:

I’d personally like to see you become Matchroom’s Boxing Ambassador, similar to what Bernard Hopkins’ is for GoldenBoy. A “go-between” the fighters and press. They will all look up to you based on your achievements in the sport, and you are an example to them of how to never give up on your dreams.

DB:

That could be an option for the future too; we shall see what happens mate!

EB:

Darren, just like to say, thanks for your time. Been a pleasure talking to you and as a boxing fan, enjoyed your rollercoaster ride. I wish you the best of luck in what-ever you decide to do.

DB:

Thanks Paul, anytime. Been great chatting.

 

@EliteBoxingBlog

@PaulReady

 

You can follow Darren Barker on Twitter at @DarrenBarker82

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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