By Kieran Mulvaney
A round may last three minutes between rings of the timekeeper’s bell, but punches can come flying at any time. Hence boxing’s primary injunction to protect yourself at all times. It was a lesson young Victor Ortiz learned last Saturday at the readied hands of Floyd Mayweather, and one that British fighter Paul Samuels would likely impress on anyone who listened.
In 2006, middleweight Samuels, a ten-year veteran on the comeback trail after three years out of the ring, cracked his undefeated young opponent halfway through the opening round with a right hand to the temple. His foe’s legs briefly disappeared from under him; he touched the canvas with his gloves, but swiftly leapt back into the vertical position and, before referee Dave Parris could step in to call the knockdown, uncorked a left hand that landed flush on Samuel’s jaw and knocked him out cold.
That undefeated young opponent was Darren Barker. On October 1, slightly more than five years on from that brief but memorable contest, Barker steps onto his biggest stage yet when he confronts world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.
Like Barker and Mayweather, Martinez possesses his own highlight reel knockout, but there was nothing controversial about the left hand that blitzed Paul Williams, also at Boardwalk Hall, eleven months ago. It was a thing of beauty to most, yet from Williams’ perspective, it was unleashed from the very depths of hell, a blow of lightning speed and immeasurable force that sent Williams down face first onto the canvas, his eyes wide open but sending no signals to his unconscious form.
There are many things that can be said about Sergio Martinez: that his success is all the more remarkable given his late start to the sport, that he is fighting more consistently at a higher level against a higher caliber of opponent than just about anyone else in the sport, or that he is ridiculously and enviably good-looking. As much as all of those, though, is this: The man can flat-out punch.
So great is his punching power, in fact, that when he floored Kermit Cintron for the count in February 2009, Cintron refused to believe it. He simply couldn’t accept that a man could hit him that hard, and so forcefully and persuasively did his argue his case that referee Frank Santore Jr. accepted the assertion that the concussive blow must have been delivered by way of a head butt and, after a confusing delay, allowed the contest to continue. Having dodged a proverbial bullet, Cintron made it to the end of twelve rounds, but promptly ducked a second incoming projectile when what appeared a clear Martinez win was adjudged to have been a draw – making Martinez possibly the only man in boxing history to have won the same bout twice without being awarded a victory.
He’s unlikely to need three, or even two, bites of the cherry against Barker, who will come to fight but seems likely to find himself outgunned. It seems reasonable to assume that Barker will at least, unlike Ortiz, keep his hands up at all times.
Whether that will be enough to save him from joining the likes of knockout victims Ortiz, Samuels, and Paul Williams is a different matter.