The reception to the announced October 1 fight between middleweight world champion Sergio Martinez and Darren Barker has been mixed -- some like it, some are just OK with it, some hate it, some assume there just had to be someone better.
There really wasn't anyone any better. Let's examine.
Here's my personal top ten at middleweight, and then I'll throw in some other guys, too:
- Sergio Martinez
- Felix Sturm
- Paul Williams
- Dmitry Pirog
- Gennady Golovkin
- Daniel Geale
- Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam
- Marco Antonio Rubio
- Matthew Macklin
- Darren Barker
I have bolded the names who currently have fights scheduled, and keep in mind that Williams is returning to 154 in his next fight, and is merely listed at 160 until he makes the return official by fighting at 154. But let's really look at this division, or a few from 154 or what have you.
Guys Who Were Absolutely Not Fighting Sergio Martinez on October 1
Felix Sturm isn't going near Sergio Martinez. It's a half a marvel that he's fighting someone as good as Macklin on 6/25. Miguel Cotto and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr are right out -- Top Rank has no interest in putting them in a ring with Martinez. They say it's money. Most assume they're afraid of the results of either fight. Rubio, on that token, is waiting on Chavez, who gives him a chance at the WBC title in a much easier fight.
And through all of this, it should be said: Poor Sergio Martinez actually believes the WBC will soon enforce a fight between he and Chavez after their fall fights are done. I don't know if Lou DiBella buys that, but my instincts tell me he's at least a bit doubtful.
Guys Who Might Have Fought Sergio Martinez on October 1
Dmitry Pirog is the big one that people keep talking about, or at least a very vocal diehard section of the fanbase. And I have no problem with Pirog. I would have very mildly preferred Pirog to Barker. But let's get real: Pirog beat a hyped prospect who had a couple of quality wins to his credit, and that was a year ago. And since then he's done nothing but disappear and fight once, against Javier Maciel in Russia, a fight nobody apparently saw because it wasn't quite so impressive as Pirog picking apart a kid who probably came in a bit overconfident in himself, underestimating the then-unknown Pirog, and got whacked for it. My opinion of Pirog's stock dropped just a bit after that fight.
Pirog is a good fighter, but how much better is he than Barker, or many other middleweights? The issue with this division is that after Martinez, I don't think there's a tremendous gulf in class between the next 12 or 13 guys. You can throw Andy Lee in there, too, who I'd give a reasonable shot to beat anyone from Sturm on down. I'm not saying he'd be a favorite, or more than a large underdog against some of them, but I'd give him a chance.
Pirog's biggest issue is his management. He brings little to the table in the U.S. as he has no fanbase and his management just did not capitalize on that win over Jacobs. They can say that everyone avoided him all they want, but he's got the WBO title, and plenty of guys will take a title shot, even if they're the general Sturm-level opponents. He fought nobody from July to March, which took the hype down, and his big win was on a PPV undercard of a show that wasn't exactly a huge hit. It created buzz, and then the buzz was quieted by inactivity.
In other words, is Pirog any better known in the States than Barker? Maybe slightly, but enough to make a difference when you add in that Barker means there's UK TV money, too? Pirog has become little more than a ghost image on Max Kellerman's "here are the best fighters in the middleweight division" features, and a name that hardcores or "hardcores" call up because of one win last year, which still needs some time before we could properly judge, truly, how impressive it was. All I know for now is he hasn't been active and he didn't look so hot the next time out.
Personally, I'd have preferred Daniel Geale to Barker. Again, I don't think he's a notably better fighter than Barker -- I'd see them about 50-50 head-to-head -- but he would have been a personal preference for me. I think Geale is a good fighter.
But in the end, all I'm really saying here is that for those who are complaining about Barker, you really have to look deeper than "WHY ISN'T HE FIGHTING PIROG?" or "WHY ISN'T HE FIGHTING COTTO?" There are reasons those fights aren't happening -- some good, some bad, and both sides are far from innocent in most cases like these.
And give Darren Barker a little credit. He's a two-time European champion and world stage is the next step. He's a good fighter. Martinez may well dominate him, but this wasn't a soft choice -- it's a far better fight, in my view, than Sebastian Zbik would have been in March for Martinez, had HBO not pulled the old switcheroo on that whole ordeal.
As for Pirog, who seems the greatest complaint from fans who may or may not have ever seen Darren Barker and may or may not have ever seen Pirog more than that one time, his situation is pretty simple: They've got to get him a fight that makes noise again. And I hope he gets one. A lot of people seem to think he'd present a serious challenge, rather than just an acceptable challenge.