Darren Barker headlines Saturday's show at the Wembley Arena. - Scott Heavey
Darren Barker must be hoping that 2013 will be better than the previous year. After suffering the first loss of his career against Sergio Martinez towards the end of 2011, the Barnet man then suffered twelve months of frustration, picking up one injury after another.
He eventually returned to the ring last December with an impressive battering of Kerry Hope, picking apart and stopping the former European champion in the fourth round. Barker has been accused of being too laid-back and too nice in the past but he was anything but when he faced Hope. There was a lot of anger released, anger that he’d fallen short in a world title shot and anger from the numerous injuries he’s had to overcome.
Barker takes on Simone Rotolo at Wembley Arena this Saturday night, and if his pre-fight demeanour is anything to go by, expect another impressive showing. There’s a fierce intensity in Barker’s eyes when he talks about getting another world title shot, and with the injuries he’s had and at the age he is, he knows that one slip-up could prove fatal for his ambitions.
The Italian will be a sterner test than Hope was. Despite being 37 years old, Rotolo is still fleet footed and should be much harder to pin down and catch cleanly than the Welshman was. He’s the kind of boxer that is hard to look good against, he likes to skirt around the ring and tries to force his opponent into making mistakes that he can counter.
The most notable fight Rotolo has had was when he lost on a split decision against Sebastian Sylvester in a European title bout just over four years ago. Sylvester had the better of the opening rounds, dropping Rotolo in the fourth, but faded down the stretch to allow the fitter and quicker Rotolo back into the fight. I thought Sylvester had won the fight, and so did two of the judges, but there was enough doubt that no-one would’ve complained if there had been a rematch – an idea Sylvester didn’t seem too keen on – mainly due to the point I made earlier about Rotolo being hard to look good against.
Whilst he’s only stopped fifteen of his thirty-eight opponents, Rotolo has produced a couple of brutal knockouts, albeit against very poor opposition. He may not be exceptionally heavy handed but Barker won’t want to take many left hooks like the one Rotolo flattened Csaba Batta with.
Barker usually takes a round or two to get into his rhythm, it may even take him longer against Rotolo, eventually, though, Barker will start to find the range and should have things his own way there on in. The main question for me is whether or not Barker can stop Rotolo; the Italian has been stopped twice previously – against Hamlet Petrosyan and the late Malik Cherchari – neither of whom hit as hard as Barker does.
The stoppage will come down to how often Barker can land cleanly. If he works out Rotolo’s style, I expect him to dismantle the awkward Italian inside eight rounds. If he struggles to adapt and find a way of catching Rotolo cleanly, then he should be able to box his way to a comfortable points victory.
The undercard has been hit with withdrawals, most notably Carson Jones pulling out of a bout with Lee Purdy. He’s been replaced by Cosme Rivera, who’ll be remembered by British fans for his late stoppage victory over the then much touted James Hare.
His victory over Hare was nearly ten years ago, those ten years haven’t been kind to Rivera. He was butchered by Zab Judah in a world title bout before being fed to up-and-coming fighters like Andre Berto, Joel Julio and Alfredo Angulo.
I’ve not seen Rivera fight since he was stopped by Angulo fours years ago, I’m guessing he’s not had a major turnaround in form since then, although his victory over Antonio Pitalua looks decent on paper – Pitalua is in his forties but I’m still slightly surprised Rivera holds a draw and a win over him in recent times.
Purdy is in good form, he’s rebounded well from his defeat to Colin Lynes and looks to be ready to go back into the mix for British and European titles. Rivera is tough, having only been stopped twice in over fifty fights, so it’s most likely the fight will go to the scorecards, with Purdy winning a wide decision.
George Groves makes his Matchroom debut against Dario German Balmaceda. Don’t expect the fight to last long - Groves is a puncher, Balmaceda can’t take a shot. There will be bigger challenges for Groves in the future.
Erick Ochieng was due to face Terry Carruthers in what could’ve been a good fight for the fans. Unfortunately Carruthers has pulled out, leaving Ochieng with a still to be named late replacement.
The best undercard fight could well be the English cruiserweight title clash between China Clarke and Wadi Camacho. Both are unbeaten, Clarke in eleven fights and Camacho in six. Camacho is the puncher in the fight and should be too strong for Clarke.