Darren Barker: My mother graduated as a mature student. We were at the Southbank when I received a phone call from Eddie Hearn. I was walking over the bridge heading back to Embankment. “Good news – got the fight with Daniel Geale.” “Right – this is it. This is it now.” I was incredibly excited and didn’t even ask about the payment. It didn’t matter to me. I was buzzing.
Eddie Hearn: Tony had asked me, “We’re out of contract – would you be interested in promoting Darren Barker?” He was essentially my first signing. You never knew when it would all be over. He was becoming disheartened with the injuries and it seemed like the big paydays were slipping away. “We’ve got a title shot – Gennady Golovkin.” “No thanks.” “But they don’t even really want a purse.” Later on, I found out why.
Tony Sims: “Mate, there’s no way you’re putting Darren Barker in with Gennady Golovkin unless you’re giving him at least a couple of million.” The Sergio Martinez fight was a huge learning experience for him. It was the best thing we could have done; after that fight, he knew he could compete at the world level. When this fight came about, he knew he was ready. We had to stop the running by then. He started swimming and doing a lot of yoga, stretching, and exercises. He continued sparring and doing pad work the same way.
Hearn: He also worked on his mental game. Physically, he was in a great place. He was very focused going into the fight.
Barker: The laws of attraction – I remember walking down the stairs at the gym and running into this guy. He was into yoga and had two hip replacements, just like me. He started talking about how yoga helped him. Usually, I wouldn’t stop to talk to anyone when I’m training – I’m not the friendliest person. But for some reason, I started talking to him. His name was Wayne Leal. During our sessions, he would do guided meditations. To be honest, he would tell me things that made me feel great, even if they were a load of nonsense. It helped me feel calm. It was incredibly beneficial. I had never approached a camp with such professionalism and intensity. Some might say I overtrained, because even when Tony told me to rest, I would do extra sprints in the pool. I shouldn’t have been running because of my hips, but I ended up doing a few hill sprints. I was obsessed.
Hearn: We stayed at The Revel Casino, a new hotel which was amazing. I honestly had no idea what I was doing. We were just trying to get the fight in the first place, and to be in Atlantic City made it even more special. It was me, Darren, Tony, and the team, rolling the dice.
Sims: The hotel was like one of those you see in Vegas. I remember Gary Shaw driving around the hotel on a mobility scooter. It was huge.
Hearn: He has a very close-knit family. They all started arriving one by one in Atlantic City, including his father Terry who was a boxer for the Repton as well. With what they had been through with Darren’s late brother Gary, I’m sure the entire family felt his presence that week. There were probably 400 or 500 of them there.
Sims: Some of the other fighters came over as well – Lee Purdy, Martin Ward, Luke Campbell, Kevin Mitchell. I remember walking along the boardwalk the day before the fight with Ryan Taylor when we saw a big guy heading towards us. “That guy looks like Larry Holmes.” As he got closer, it turned out to be Larry Holmes. “I’m here to watch the fight tomorrow, and the IBF is presenting me with a belt. Tell Darren to use the jab – it’s all about the jab.” As he was talking to us, we noticed Roy Jones Jr. walking along with his son. Ryan went up to him, “Can I have a photo with you?” “Let me have a photo with my idol first,” he pointed to Larry Holmes, “and then I’ll take one with you.” Then we all had a photo together. It was a bit crazy.
Barker: I felt experienced because I had already gone through a similar build-up with the Martinez fight. It wasn’t unfamiliar to me. “I’ve done all this before.” I felt more relaxed, focused, mature, and self-assured. After the Martinez fight, I knew I belonged at that level.
Hearn: Before leaving for the venue on fight day, he had a moment of doubt and went to have a session with Wayne to get himself mentally back on track.
Barker: For 13 weeks and six days, I was the most confident man alive. Nobody could beat me. On the day of the fight – 14 weeks since Eddie called me – I had a bit of a meltdown. Wayne came to the room, and we did a guided meditation. By the end of the session, I was back on track. He was incredibly helpful to me during that camp.
Hearn: The changing room was tiny and tense. He put on the gloves a bit late. He kept shaking his head, saying they didn’t feel right. Everything was chaotic. “You have to walk now.”
Barker: Right after the weigh-in, I said, “I’m not going to any fighters’ meeting, I’m not trying on gloves, I don’t care.” Well, I was proven completely wrong. Tony tried on the gloves in the meeting. I had my hands wrapped and felt very relaxed. I had a couple of the guys from the gym in there, my brother Lee. Michael Buffer poked his head in, and we exchanged some jokes. I was focused, and all the hard work was done. I was also very nervous – it was the time when I felt most nervous, getting ready to put on the gloves. I couldn’t fit my whole thumb in, so it felt tight and uncomfortable. “These gloves don’t feel good, Tony.” I started hitting the pads. “I can’t wear these gloves, Tony.” I had never experienced this before.
Sims: “We only have two pairs of gloves here, Dal. You have to wear one or the other.”
Barker: We were getting close to the ring walk. “I put on those gloves, and they’re even worse – they’re worse than the other ones.” I went back to the original pair and hit the pads, hoping they would loosen up. They didn’t, but I knew once the bell rang, all that would be out the window. But at that moment, I thought, “This isn’t good.”
Sims: “Once you start punching with them, you’ll forget about how uncomfortable your thumb is.” And he did. Little things like that in the changing room when you’re nervous have a big impact on your mindset. You can go into the ring with bad hands, but once the adrenaline kicks in, you don’t feel anything. I knew once he got in there, he wouldn’t even think about his thumb.
Hearn: Walking out, I thought, “I’m not confident about our chances here.” I don’t know if it was nerves or the gloves, but he wasn’t comfortable. It was a really unnerving moment. “This isn’t right.”
Barker: I have to thank Sky and Ed Robinson, who made a documentary before the fight. They ended it with the U2 song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” “You know what, I’m going to use it as well.” It really pumped me up. The ring walk was powerful.
Sims: He boxed well, until he got caught. He was ahead on points. He was very aggressive – he wanted to win the fight for Gary, and we all knew what he had gone through to reach that stage. Just a couple of years before, he never wanted to fight again…