Sturm is overdue for another controversial decision. If he doesn't get it I'm beginning to think that Germany just doesn't like him very much anymore. Also, Sturm has a very good left hook to the body. And we saw what Geale did to Barker with that. Sturm by decision.
It's been a while since Felix Sturm has been the golden child of Germany, getting questionable decisions on the reg. After the Macklin and Murray controversies of 2011, Sturm has lost at home to Daniel Geale and Sam Soliman on the cards (the latter overturned to a no-contest later). Maybe it's just Australians that are big with officials in Germany. I don't know. Barker has less miles and is living up to the promise he showed early in his career. He's determined and fighting like someone who feels a legitimate second wind in his career. I'm going to go ahead and pick the guy I think is currently the better fighter and hope that if it goes down that way, the judges see it the right way. Barker by decision.
It would be no surprise were this to steal the show as fight of the weekend before the HBO and Showtime cards even get underway. A first title defence on the road against Felix Sturm would, a few years ago, have sounded like a recipe for disaster but, as the performances of Sam Soliman and Daniel Geale showed, it is possible to go to Germany and get a fair shake against Sturm with the judges (albeit 'fair', in the case of Soliman, is probably stretching the point somewhat).
Clearly, Sturm has slipped a little of late, but it's worth remembering that he's been matched tough. It's certainly arguable that there's nobody else at middleweight who's taken as creditable a sequence of opponents as Barker, Macklin, Murray, Geale - and to a lesser extent, Zbik - but then, Felix Sturm is probably a fighter who often hasn't been given the credit he deserves.
This, as the odds suggest, is a pick 'em. Since his return from injury it's hard to have not been impressed by this new, more aggressive version of Barker. I've changed my mind on this one a few times, but I have a feeling that Sturm has regrouped. The overturning of that Soliman fight to a no-contest - preventing two straight defeats on paper - would have been a morale boost, and he looked sharp in his tune-up back in July. As Barker's gutsy showing against Geale proved, he's not going to give up his belt without one hell of an effort here, but the hunch is that Sturm meets him head-on and gets a razor-tight - but legitimate - nod on the cards. Sturm SD.
I've got a feeling this could be the fight of the weekend. Sturm knows this is most probably his last chance of regaining a world title, whilst Barker seems determined to succeed in the first of what he hopes to be many defences. Sturm has been involved in numerous close fights in the past couple of years, starting with his split-decision victory over Matthew Macklin and also including a draw with Martin Murray and defeats to Daniel Geale and Sam Soliman, the latter being changed to a no-contest after Soliman failed a drug test. This fight will be another one which could go either way.
There's been a new found aggression and purpose about Barker since his loss to Sergio Martinez a couple of years ago. If that fire's still there now that he's won a world title, he should be considered a strong favourite on Saturday night. The danger for Barker is thinking that Sturm's past his best and that he's got nothing to prove after defeating Geale last time out. Sturm might not be the fighter he once was but he's still boxing at a very good level and a lackadaisical approach from Barker could prove disastrous for him.
Their styles should make for an entertaining fight, with both using their skills early before exchanging blows more from the midway point onwards. I can't see there being much between them after eight rounds and the fight could come down to who finishes the stronger. Both have had stamina issues in the past but recent form suggests it's Barker who's most likely to finish the better. Barker UD in a very close and entertaining battle.