HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: HBO Round of the Year

Photo Credit: Will Hart

With the end of the year approaching and Boxing's Best airing, it's as good a time as any to take a look back at a stacked year of fights on HBO. HBO Boxing Insiders made their selections for the top everything from this year's HBO fights. Next up, HBO Round of the Year.

Previously: Fighter of the Year, Breakthrough HBO Fighter, Best Blow, Best HBO Boxing Moments, Trainer of the Year

Kieran Mulvaney: Darren Barker vs. Daniel Geale, Round 6

When a fighter crumples to the canvas from a body shot, he normally stays there. It isn't a question of having his senses scrambled; it's more that every last molecule of oxygen and vestige of energy has escaped through his pores, to be replaced by a paralyzing agent that renders movement impossible. Yet somehow, when Barker dropped to the floor against Geale, he found a way to will himself to his feet; amazingly, after withstanding Geale's efforts to finish him, he actually turned the tide and by the end of the round was the one battering his opponent.

Eric Raskin: Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 12

Rounds two and six of this fight were also in contention, as were half the rounds in Alvarado-Rios 2, but the "will he or won't we?" intrigue over Provodnikov's pursuit of a needed knockout in the frenetic final round separates these three minutes from the other candidates.

Nat Gottlieb: James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia, Round 2

Not having fought in 20 months, Kirkland took on the undefeated but unproven Tapia and changed the course of a brutal fight when he landed a ferocious straight left with about 1:10 to go in the round that clearly hurt Tapia. From then on, Tapia fought purely on courage, but after that round, the end was inevitable.

Tim Smith: James Kirkland vs. Glen Tapia, Round 1

The first round of Kirkland-Tapia was the kind of opening salvo you would have expected in a match of this type. Neither gave an inch and they traded punches like kids swapping baseball cards. It set the stage for a back and forth battle of attrition that you know would leave only one man standing.

Hamilton Nolan: Timothy Bradley vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 12

The fact that Tim Bradley stayed awake and on his feet for 12 rounds with Provodnikov is the year's best survival story. The fact that he won is icing on a most delicious cake. Here's to you, Tim Bradley. Never try to slug like that again, you psycho.

Michael Gluckstadt: Darren Barker vs. Daniel Geale, Round 6

A good measure for picking round of the year is how closely it resembles Round 9 of the first Gatti-Ward fight. When Barker mashed his face against the canvas in anguish after being felled by a left to his liver, it did not look like he was getting up. And when he did get up and couldn't throw a punch for 30 seconds, it didn't look like he would get out of the round. But Barker willed himself back into the fight and finished the round strongly en route to a split decision victory.

Barker Comes Back from the Brink to Capture Split Decision Victory

by Eric Raskin

Photo: Will Hart

It only takes one punch to end a fight. And it only takes one punch that nearly ends a fight to define a man's character.

British middleweight Darren Barker, who came up achingly short against lineal champion Sergio Martinez in his previous trip to Atlantic City, came through by the slimmest of margins in his return to the Jersey shore, winning a split decision over Daniel Geale by a single point. And halfway to the finish line, in a stirring sixth round, he was less than one second from defeat. Geale capped a mid-ring exchange with a single, crushing left hook to the liver, and Barker collapsed the canvas, his legs kicking in agony. It looked like he wasn't going to get up. But he willed himself to a standing position just barely on the bright side of referee Eddie Cotton's 10-count.

"He caught me right on the solar plexus, took my breath away from me," said Barker (26-1, 16 KOs). "When I was down on the ground, it was all going through my head—my wife, my family, my daughter. And it all made me get up."

Read the Complete Geale vs. Barker Fight Recap on HBO.com.

CompuBox Analysis: Geale vs. Barker

by CompuBox

Like most other sports, boxing boasts a global presence. Three of the four "major" sanctioning bodies are based beyond U.S. shores, as have many of its greatest practitioners. But it's only in recent years that international fighters have come to our shores to be featured on U.S. premium networks and it's rarer still when both participants arrive here without considerable American fan bases.

Such is the case Saturday when IBF middleweight titlist Daniel Geale, an Australian, defends his belt against Briton Darren Barker, whose only defeat occurred the only other time he fought on American soil. Of course, anyone who fights Sergio Martinez anywhere would likely have an "L" -- or in Barker's case a "KO by" -- added to his record. The fact that Geale and Barker would eschew hometown money to fight on neutral ground is a welcome display of ambition and confidence in an era where boxing's marketplace is pockmarked by extreme caution.

Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:

Read the Complete CompuBox Analysis of the Daniel Geale vs. Darren Barker fight on HBO.com.

Read the Complete CompuBox Analysis of the Nathan Cleverly vs. Segey Kovalev fight on HBO.com.

Read the Complete CompuBox Analysis of the Jonathan Romero vs. Kiko Martinez fight on HBO.com.

Streaking Meteor Kovalev Looks to Become Shining Star

by Kieran Mulvaney

Earlier this year, the morning skies above Chelyabinsk lit up as a meteor streaked across the sky, detonating in the atmosphere with a concussive explosion that shook buildings, set off car alarms, and shattered windows.

In January, a month before the meteor loudly announced its entry in Earth's atmosphere above the Ural Mountains, Chelyabinsk's native son Sergey Kovalev underlined his emergence as a major contender in the light-heavyweight division with a three-knockdown, third-round stoppage of former beltholder Gabriel Campillo. Prior to that, Campillo had not been stopped in almost six years. But Kovalev, who makes his HBO debut on Saturday against Britain's Nathan Cleverly, left no doubt.

It was, the Russian tells HBO.com, the fight that "brought me the most attention and notoriety" among boxing fans. But it was merely the culmination of a boxing career that began in December 1994 when, as an 11 year old, he walked into a boxing gym next to a cinema behind the Chelyabinsk Tractor Plant. That led to an amateur career that brought gold, silver and bronze medals at national championships, gold medals at World Military Games and a reported amateur record of 193-22. In 2009, not enamored of his opportunities in his home land, he moved to the United States to pursue a professional career.

After an unhappy spell in North Carolina ("I had a feeling of being alone in a strange country," he says), he moved to Los Angeles, hooking up for a while with Abel Sanchez – formerly chief second for Hall-of-Famer Terry Norris and now  for Gennady Golovkin – before ultimately settling with middleweight champ-turned-trainer John David Jackson.

The four fights to date that he has worked with Jackson have coincided with perhaps the most impressive run of his career, with none of his opponents in that time lasting past three rounds. Part of that, says Kovalev, is that as the level of opposition has increased, "I can show my boxing skills." Part of it also is the evident comfort level he enjoys with Jackson.

"The beauty with Sergey is, the first day he gets to camp, I tell him what I'm thinking and he tells me what he's thinking, and he comes up with a plan," Jackson says. "From that point on, I don't really mess with him, because as the weeks progress, he's working on it. I might just add small things to his game, because he knows how to fight. We work real well together, because I let him do what he likes to do best."

Discussion of Kovalev's record inevitably focuses on the fact that his 21-0-1 record includes 19 KO's. But, says Kovalev, he doesn't enter the ring with the intent to knock out his opponents: it just happens. "I never felt like I was a Superman in boxing," he shrugs. "I don't even know how to describe it."

Jackson, however, does.

"He knocks people out because he sets them up a certain way," he says. "He has a great boxing style because his foot is always right, and he plants it really well before he throws punches. That doesn't happen because he's lucky."

Indeed, Jackson insists, Kovalev's knockout percentage disguises his boxing abilities:

"He's a really intelligent fighter. He just hasn't had the chance to show the public how intelligent he is, because he's been knocking people out by the third round, and honestly I wouldn't care if he never got the chance to show his true boxing skill. But one day he will. He'll face a guy who can take his punch pretty well, and he'll have to rely on his boxing skills to win the fight."

That day may come on Saturday against Cleverly, a skilled boxer with a high punch output who holds a world title belt, and who, like Kovalev, is undefeated. It stands to be by far the toughest test of his career, and Cleverly's backers are confident of upsetting the apple cart.

But Kovalev, while recognizing the magnitude of the task in front of him, sees it as an important bridge to the next phase of his career, one that he hopes results in him not only moving to another level but also staying there long enough to make his mark. It is, after all, one thing to be a meteor that streaks across the sky, leaving an impression but soon disappearing forever; it is another entirely to be a star that shines for years to come. 

Battle of the Clones: Geale and Barker's Twin Trajectories Collide

by Hamilton Nolan

Daniel Geale (29-1) and Darren Barker (25-1) are, superficially, exactly the same fighter. Both are middleweights in their early 30s who’ve made their names overseas -- Geale in Australia, and Barker in the UK. Both have a single loss on their records -- Geale a close decision loss to the veteran Anthony Mundine in 2009, and Barker a somewhat more defensible 11th round knockout loss to pound-for-pound contender Sergio Martinez after what had been a remarkably close fight. Neither are enormous punchers. Both are seeking to step up to a big money fight at the top of the middleweight division. Their fight this Saturday night would seem to be a meeting of clones. But it will be their slight differences that will matter much more than all of their similarities.

Geale, in a way has the better pedigree: he’s avenged his loss to Mundine, cleaned out the ranks of Australia, and last year notched a win over the solid (but fading) Felix Sturm in Germany, cementing himself as a contender on the world stage. He holds the promise that always comes with those who have dominated their own far-flung corner of the world -- the vague hope that the talent that proved so overwhelming in one place may translate to The Big Time. It is the crackle of possibility that makes boxing’s nature as a global sport so fun. As men like Daniel Geale conquer their home countries, they all must step into greater arenas in America to see if they can conquer the very best of the best.

Read the complete Daniel Geale vs. Darren Barker Fight Overview on HBO.com

Four Bone-Crunching Knockouts from Sergio Martinez

by Kieran Mulvaney

Since defeating Kelly Pavlik via blood-soaked unanimous decision in April 2010, Sergio Martinez has made four defenses of his middleweight crown. None of them has gone the distance, but each of them has unfolded and ended in a new way. Here’s a rundown of the Argentine’s recent roll of knockout honor:

 

Sergio Martinez, Paul Williams - Photo Credit: Will HartPaul Williams: November 20, 2010

Martinez knocked Williams down in the opening round of their first encounter, eleven months earlier. Had the knockdown not come at the very end of that frame, it might have opened up Williams to a potentially decisive follow-up flurry. As it was, the American survived and eked out a close and controversial points win.

Second time around, Martinez left no doubt. After a fast-paced first round that appeared to presage another compelling contest, Martinez landed a crunching left hand in round two that dropped Williams to the canvas face-first. It was a decisive knockout of the normally iron-chinned ‘Punisher’ and vaulted Martinez high up pound-for-pound lists.

 

Sergio Martinez, Sergiy Dzinziruk - Photo Credit: Will Hart Sergiy Dzinziruk: March 12, 2011

Dzinziruk had never been beaten, or even dropped, as a professional prior to challenging Martinez. The champion ended both those records emphatically. The first two knockdowns, one each in rounds 4 and 5, were relatively flash affairs, the Ukrainian rising to re-engage in battle on both occasions, but in round 8, Martinez dropped his opponent three times in rapid succession, a sequence that was initiated by a left hand to the temple not dissimilar to the one that flattened Williams. A final flurry, punctuated by a right hand, sent the challenger into the ropes and onto the seat of his pants, prompting the referee to call a halt to the contest.

 

Darren Barker, Sergio Martinez - Photo Credit: Will HartDarren Barker: October 1, 2011

For the first two-thirds or so of the scheduled 12 rounds, Barker frustrated Martinez with a tight defense without offering much in the way of offense. Finally, perhaps cognizant that he was far behind on the scorecards, the challenger began to open up. Big mistake: The new strategy allowed him to land some shots but left him open for the Argentine’s fast hands.

A right hook in the tenth wobbled Barker and sent him staggering sideways; although he survived that round, the Englishman couldn’t make it through the following one. Another right hook, this one landing behind the ear, dropped him to his hands and knees and rendered him unable to beat the count. For Barker, as for Dzinziruk, it was his first defeat.

 

Matthew Macklin, Sergio Martinez - Photo Credit: Will Hart Matthew Macklin: March 17, 2012

Unlike Barker, Anglo-Irishman Macklin came to brawl, and for the first half of this contest gave as good as he got. After a seventh-round knockdown (which Martinez claimed was really a push), the challenger was actually ahead on the scorecards. But that seemed to serve only to kick the champion into high gear.

Over the next three rounds, Martinez began to land with greater ease and authority, and in the eleventh, a straight left hand sent Macklin down and into the ropes. Clearly hurt, Macklin rose for more, but as the bell rang to end the round, another Martinez left dropped his foe hard. Macklin made it back to his corner, but his team had seen enough and elected to save him from further punishment.

Sergio Martinez Predicts Bernard Hopkins Victory Over Chad Dawson

By Gabriel Montoya

Martinez Photo Credit: Will HartBefore last weekend’s middleweight title fight between Sergio “Maravilla” Martinez and “Dazzling” Darren Barker began, HBO interviewed Bernard Hopkins and Chad Dawson about their October 15 fight on HBO at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Near the end of the interview, Hopkins called out Martinez, stating he would be willing to face him in a 170-pound catch weight fight.

After Martinez dispatched Barker in eleven tense rounds, the media was all over the potential showdown. Martinez, who suffered an injured nose in the fight to go with a left elbow injury he carried into the fight, declined to comment. His adviser, Sampson Lewkowicz, fielded the question instead.

“We will never let him fight at 168. Put it like that way. Ever,” said Lewkowicz. “So whomever comes with 168, 170, [Martinez’ promoter] Lou DiBella, myself, and his team will not allow it. [Martinez] can say whatever he wants but he will not fight at super middleweight.”

Speaking from his home in Spain Saturday, Martinez elaborated.

“I think we would have to go a little bit lower in weight,” he said. “I know that would hurt [Hopkins], or would cost him a lot, but the maximum I can make is 165 pounds. More than that is impossible. I am too small.”

Martinez weighed in on fight night for Barker at 165 pounds and walks around near that weight between fights so the point is taken.

In regards to Hopkins/Dawson, Martinez said “It will be a very even fight, but I would bet Bernard Hopkins wins. Dawson is a great boxer. He is a great champion, but my point of view is that at this moment, Hopkins is better; he is in better [condition].”

Martinez Stops Barker in 11th Round

Photo: Will Hart

In an outcome most fight fans expected Darren Barker (23-1, 14 KO's) traveled all the way from London to the Atlantic City boardwalk to suffer his first career defeat at the hands of middleweight champ Sergio Martinez (48-2-2, 27 KO's). Despite earning respect for sticking his neck out against a fighter that no one wants to face, the Brit spent most of the night behind his gloves, clipping Martinez with consistent but unsuccessful jabs and the rare power right – one of which did manage to break Martinez’s nose in the fourth round. (Read More at HBO.com)

Fans Turn Out for the Martinez-Barker Weigh-In

Photo: Will HartOutside the Palladium Ballroom at Caesar’s in Atlantic City, Argentinean power-puncher Sergio Martinez weighed in at 158 pounds for his bout Saturday night against Darren Barker, an Englishman who stands out as one of the few fighters willing to take on “Maravilla” for his WBC “Diamond” middleweight belt. The undefeated challenger hit the scales at 159 and one-half pounds.

The fighters’ traditional faceoff lasted for a few intentionally steely seconds before both men cracked smiles and started mugging and flexing for their fans. A platoon of Brits carrying beers chanted “Walking in a Barker Wonderland” (a repurposed version of the Ricky Hatton fight song that had already been strangely repurposed from a Christmas carol), while across the room, a growing crowd of Martinez supporters booed enthusiastically.

The conversation happening online this week has been a bit more nuanced – but also leans more heavily toward Martinez. Here’s what fight fans have had to say:

  • @HBO My prediction in a KO victory for Martinez in the middle rounds - a big step up in class for Barker #MartinezBarker – @Sport_Of_Boxing (Twitter)
  • I can’t see anyone beating Martinez except maybe but Froch or Hopkins lol.....Martinez is the king – Rice Man (Facebook)
  • @hboboxing @hbo @maravillabox knocks down barker twice in the fourth and gets the tko on the five round. #boxing #MartinezBarker – @hurricanenito (Twitter)
  • Martinez wins by KO in 7th rd!!!! – Frankie R. (Facebook)
  • Don't underestimate Darren Barker. It will be a tough fight for Martinez. – Stuart A. (Facebook)
  • Maravilla is the best P4P right now. Period –  Red L. (Facebook)
  • #MartinezBarker its a KO victory for Martinez. Barker will have a go, but the gulf in class will be evident. Good luck to Barker – @Darloal (Twitter)
  • Martinez in the 3rd by ko. Too much for anyone to handle right now ..power and speed .. – Aristeo C. (Facebook)
  • Barker tko 7 – Dan C. (Facebook)
  • #MartinezBarker outcome is simple... Martinez by a TKO in the 6th. ¡No hay mas na! @hboboxing @maravillabox – @carmonAlejandra (Twitter)

Want your voice heard? Post your take on Martinez-Barker in the comments.

Oscar hops on the phone, Martinez gets his man, and the Cotto-Margarito war begins early

By Kieran Mulvaney

Kieran Mulvaney reads between the lines of a few of the latest stories in the boxing…

Photo: Will HartThey Said: Nine days after his controversial knockout by Floyd Mayweather, Victor Ortiz held a conference call with reporters on Monday. Ortiz insisted that the knockout blow, which came while Ortiz was evidently trying to apologize (for the third time, it should be emphasized) for a headbutt that had just earned him a point deduction, was “a cheap shot.” Mayweather, he insisted, “is not respected by me and never will be in my eyes as a pound-for-pound fighter.”

I Say: That call, which also included Ortiz’s manager and his promoter Oscar De La Hoya, all three insisting that Ortiz was winning the fight until the knockout and demanding a rematch, was ill-advised. Ortiz lost virtually every moment of that fight; he needs simply to accept he was taught a painful but valuable lesson by a masterful veteran, pick up his career and fight his way back to the top. He’s done it before. He can do it again.

 

They Said: Speaking in advance of his middleweight title defense on HBO on Saturday, Sergio Martinez complimented Darren Barker for rising to the challenge. “The fact that Barker is willing to step up and put his undefeated record on the line shows you that he has a lot of heart and that he is a true warrior, which isn't the case for all fighters,” he said.

I Say: It’s a strange state of affairs when the middleweight champion has to express gratitude for having a willing challenger, but such is the curious case of Martinez. Several other potential opponents appeared to have other pressing appointments that prevented them from fighting for the middleweight crown, which is a sign of just how good Martinez is. Credit to Barker and his promoter, who threw down the gauntlet over Twitter, where it was rapidly picked up by Martinez and promoter Lou DiBella. (You can read more about the fight in Eric Raskin’s overview on HBO.com.)

 

They Said: “Just finished Cotto-Margarito II Face Off. Oh. My. God.” @Max_Kellerman, September 22.

I Say: The back story for the December 3 rematch between Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito writes itself: Margarito’s brutal beatdown victory was his finest hour but it was tarnished six months later by the discovery, prior to the Mexican’s fight against Shane Mosley, of tampered hand wraps. Cotto has long made it clear that he believes Margarito cheated against him that night in July 2008, and for years was unwilling to fight him again. As Kellerman’s tweet underlines, the hate between the two burns fiercely, increasing anticipation for the rematch two months from now.