Barker takes title on split decision
In a year that has already seen terrific, action-packed fights such as Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II, Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov and Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa, one more can be added to the list.
Daniel Geale and Darren Barker went toe-to-toe for most of their middleweight title brawl on Saturday night, but it was Barker who erased his previous nightmare experiences on the New Jersey shore to win a world middleweight title by split decision in a sensational fight in the first boxing event at the Revel Casino-Hotel.
In 2011, Barker traveled to Atlantic City to challenge world champion Sergio Martinez for his crown, and although Barker gave a great account of himself and caused Martinez all kinds of trouble, he was ultimately knocked out in the 11th round.
In May, he returned to Atlantic City, this time to work the corner of pal Lee Purdy in his challenge of welterweight titlist Devon Alexander only to see Purdy get blown out.
But on Saturday, Barker's dreams came true in an inspired performance that saw him somehow get off the deck from a brutal body shot in the sixth round that nearly knocked him out.
Barker not only survived, but thrived, going on to win 116-111 and 114-113 on two scorecards while Australia's Geale, making his fifth title defense and fighting in the United States for the first time, got the nod 114-113 on the third scorecard.
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"Geale is a very tough man and he came in with the belt. I knew what I was up against," Barker said. "Daniel is a fantastic champion who pushed me all the way. I want to go home and see my daughter. I miss her badly. Before that, there might be a couple of beers consumed.
"Not many people know the journey I've been through. It's been a real 'Rocky' story. I dedicate this to my late brother. Everything I've done is for him. Gary, this is for you, mate."
Geale, whose record now stands at 29 wins and two defeats, was hugely disappointed in the outcome but showed class.
"I'm not going to cry," he said. "It didn't go my way tonight. I'm very disappointed. I worked so hard for that. I put everything into that. I hurt him throughout the fight."
And Geale almost knocked Barker out in the wild sixth round, a clear contender for round of the year.
During the round, Geale, 32, dropped Barker, 31, with a digging left hand to the body. Barker barely beat the count and was obviously in pain, and Geale continued to pound him downstairs and with chopping right hands to the head.
Geale was on the verge of a stoppage when Barker suddenly came back and hurt Geale to the head in a huge change of momentum.
They went back and forth, round after round, with both fighters inflicting damage on each other and their faces showing it in the form of lumps and bruises. But Barker, who was cut over his left eye, seemed strong and had a big 10th round. He landed a hard right hand early in the round, hammered Geale to the body with a combination and then snapped his head back with an uppercut.
The fight was an all-out punch-a-thon in its latter stages, and with the outcome seemingly hanging in the balance, both fighters went for knockouts in the final round of a fantastic fight. Geale had a big 12th round, but it wasn't enough to close the gap.
Barker finished the fight having landed 292 of 862 punches (34 per cent), while Geale landed 259 of 693 (37 per cent).
"I could tell he was throwing a lot of punches," Geale said. "Were they catching me or not? That's to be said. I will have to sit down and watch the replay. I felt like I caught a lot on the gloves and a lot were glancing, missing. I did feel in control. It wasn't my best performance, but Darren is a great fighter. It was a close fight. I'm very disappointed."
It was the sixth round those who watched the fight will remember most.
"I take my hat off to Daniel Geale. He hit me right in the solar plexus and completely took my breath away," Barker said. "The only thought that went through my head was my late brother and my daughter and the rest of my family and everyone that has stuck by me. They pulled me through. Without them, I couldn't do anything."
This article originally appeared on ESPN.com