British middleweight Darren Barker won the IBF championship on Saturday night with a split decision over defending champion Daniel Geale of Australia.
Barker (26-1) received winning scores of 116-111 from judge Barbara Perez and 114-113 from Carlos Ortiz. Judge Alan Rubenstein scored it 114-113 for Geale (29-1).
Barker leaped in jubilation when the scores were read at Revel Casino-Hotel then collapsed to the canvas while his handlers celebrated in the ring. He won the belt almost two years after an 11th-round TKO loss to WBC middleweight champ Sergio Martinez at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
Barker prevailed in a grueling fight that had fans at Revel’s Ovation Hall on their feet throughout.
“I take my hat off to him,” Barker said. “He’s a very tough man and he came in with the belt.”
Geale nearly won the fight in the sixth round. With about a minute left in the round, he landed a powerful left hook to Barker’s liver that forced Barker to drop to all fours in obvious pain. Barker managed to rise a second before referee Eddie Cotton completed his 10-count and actually mounted his own rally in the final seconds of the round.
“When I was down on the ground, it was all going through my head,” Barker said. “My wife, my family, my daughter. They made me get up.”
In the co-feature, Kiko Martinez beat IBF super-bantamweight champ Jhonatan Romero of Colombia with a sixth-round TKO.
Referee David Fields stopped the fight at 2 minutes, 40 seconds with a defenseless Romero pinned in a neutral corner absorbing a beating from his Spanish opponent.
KOVALEV vs CLEVERLY
AP, CARDIFF, Wales
Sergey Kovalev handed Nathan Cleverly his first professional loss by stopping the Welshman in the fourth round to take his rival’s WBO light-heavyweight title on Saturday.
The unbeaten Kovalev claimed his 22nd win after flooring Cleverly twice in the third round, before forcing referee Terry O’Connor to step in 29 seconds into the following round after the Russian unleashed a series of power shots that had his opponent wobbling.
Cleverly had been seeking a victory in his fifth title defense to set up unification fights in the US, but it was Kovalev who emerged with his reputation enhanced
Kovalev is known for his fast starts and he made another on Saturday, successfully deploying his jab to dominate the first round.
A left rocked Cleverly in the third before he went down after a right. The champ got back on his feet, but was back down moments later following another blow to the head.
The bell saved Cleverly, but it was only a temporary reprieve, with a right-left hook combination from Kovalev forcing the referee to end the contest.