Those who thought Sergio Martinez would have it relatively easy last night came out of the fight with Darren Barker either pleasantly surprised about Barker's quality, or a bit worried about Martinez's return to earth. But either way you look at it, "Maravilla" is still the middleweight champion of the world, and still a cut above the field at 160 pounds.
Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KO) found himself up against a formidable, smart fighter tonight in England's Barker (23-1, 14 KO), and wasn't able to so easily find the openings that have made him look so great in back-to-back wins over Paul Williams and Sergiy Dzinziruk. But he got the job done, and knocked out Barker in the 11th round on a thudding right hook that caught more glove than head, but folded an exhausted and beaten up Barker for the ten count, anyway.
The win keeps Sergio at the top of the heap at 160 pounds, and also I think gives "Dazzling" Darren a new respect from boxing fans worldwide. He was never in danger of winning the fight, so to speak, but he made Martinez work for it, bloodying his nose and finding some success with his right hand. Martinez looked positively human in this fight, instead of the other-level superstar.
At the time of stoppage, I had the fight 97-92 in Martinez's favor. I gave Barker the second, fourth and eighth rounds, but gave Martinez a 10-8 for a dominant 10th round that saw Barker badly wobbled and on his last legs. It was the one round in the fight where Martinez looked truly superior to his opponent, in the sense of being a class or more above him, and the only round where the pre-fight odds played out. That one was all Sergio, as Barker looked tired and out of sorts offensively, and as a result, saw his defense crumble, with Martinez swinging the hammer that was breaking down the wall.
The 11th round was looking like more of the same before Barker just toppled over and couldn't get up. Official time of the stoppage was 1:29 of the 11th round.
For Darren Barker, it's kind of a mixed bag, at least to me. Yes, he fought better than I expected, but it was still Martinez's fight, and the stamina issues cropped up once again. Is he better than I thought going into this fight? No, not really. I thought he was a pretty good fighter coming in, and he's a pretty good fighter after, too. Martinez is just better than him, and while it may have been an off-night for Sergio or a good game plan for Barker, or just a style matchup that gave Barker a better shot to hang in than I expected (although our own Andrew Fruman called this one pretty damn close to perfect), Sergio got the job done, knocked his opponent out, and carries on as the world's best middleweight.
It may or may not lead to Sergio finding it easier to get big fights, but we'll get into that later today. Martinez didn't look any more flawed than before, he just didn't look as scintillating, because Barker wasn't giving him the necessary openings and looks for a scintillating performance.
Maybe he's back to earth, but Sergio Martinez is still on top of the middleweight mountain.