Darren Barker was finished. A paralyzing left hook to the liver from Daniel Geale had dropped the Englishman. He fell slowly, grimacing in agony. On his knees, kicking his feet in pain, Barker pressed his gloves and head against the canvas. Rising looked like an impossibility, but, wincing through the discomfort, Barker lifted himself up, still on his knees, but with his arms outstretched for support. Referee Eddie Cotton yelled “seven, eight…” and as the third man hollered “nine” Barker somehow willed himself to his feet.
“Can you continue, you sure?” Cotton asked, as Barker, blood visible from a cut by his left eye, nodded unconvincingly.
Geale stormed forward looking for the finish as Barker, still trying to recover his wind, desperately tried to buy time. A left and a right to the body, followed by an overhand right, and another body shot landed before Barker could tie up his rampaging foe. But Geale broke free and smashed home a combination upstairs, forcing Barker to retreat toward the ropes. He was almost doubled over, with his gloves glued to the sides of his head and his elbows tucked in a defensive posture.
More shots came from Geale–a left, and a cuffing right, before Barker, having not thrown a punch for a good 45 seconds, made a sudden charge. He fired back with a left hook and a right hand, the second shot catching Geale. A haphazard but effective flurry forced Geale back, and after the fighters came together again, it was Geale who appeared more in need of a rest, reaching out with both hands to force a clinch. The round finished with Geale, too arm weary to throw, and Barker digging with both hands in a defiant show of resiliency.
The frenetic sequence put an exclamation mark on a fight that had already seen no shortage of action. Barker, with the more straight-up style, had been taking a come-forward flat-footed approach, stepping into his power shots, throwing hooks and right hands with authority, while mixing in a good dose of body work.
Geale had been effective in response, frequently jumping in with slashing rights and cuffing lefts from mid-range, and had been coming on especially strong since catching Barker, Barnet, London, United Kingdom, on the way in with a stinging uppercut in the fourth round.
That session had also featured a strange moment when Geale caught Barker near the ropes with a low blow in a particularly delicate spot. Cotton called time, and Barker, in obvious discomfort, went for a quick jog towards a corner to recover. Inexplicably, Cotton, confusing the two fighters, asked Geale if he was okay, before walking over and warning a perplexed Barker to keep his punches up.
Following the dramatics of the sixth round, Geale’s corner told their man that Barker couldn’t possibly have much left, imploring the fighter to “get him again.” But when the fighters came out for the seventh round, it was clear that Barker had his legs back. He was coming forward, pushing the pace of the fight as he done in the early rounds, and arguably edged the round.
Geale tried to seize back the initiative early in the eighth, but Barker met him punch for punch during and early exchange, and outfought Geale over the last two minutes of the round. The pace remained brisk in the ninth, with both fighters having their moments. Geale, scoring mainly with rights and lefts from mid-range, and Barker, mixing it up in return, finding the mark with a varied attack that included some crisp uppercuts in close.
Barker’s left eye was showing the strain of the contest in the eleventh. There was a trickle of blood coming from the outside of the bruised and slightly swollen area. Still, he managed to keep working, initiating more of the action, and when Geale did get off first, Barker was quick to respond. During one fiery exchange, Geale, Mount Annan, New South Wales, Australia landed a clean right on the button, only for Barker to strike back with an equally snappy left hand.
Geale, 29-2 (15), finished strongly, catching Barker with a right hand-left hook combination with 75 seconds left in the bout. Barker almost did a stutter-step, but in keeping with his gritty effort, he kept his balance and was quick to fire back. Geale, perhaps tired from absorbing a barrage of body punches over the course of the twelve rounds, failed to press the potential advantage with much vigor, though he did land another clean crisp right during an exchange later in the round.
Judge Barbara Perez had the fight scored 116-111 for Barker, a tally that may have been a touch wide, while Judge Alan Rubenstein had the bout in favor of Geale by a 114-113 score. The deciding vote was cast by Judge Carlos Ortiz, Jr., with the 114-113 card giving Barker the victory by the tightest of margins.
That Barker, now 26-1 (16), was even standing for the scores was a minor miracle given how close he’d come to having the 10-count tolled over him. Hearing his name announced as the winner, Barker dropped to the canvas for the second time on the night, this time in a joyous heap.