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Barker is given licence to thrill

PUBLISHED: 11:00 10 July 2008 | UPDATED: 13:26 05 October 2010

By JONATHAN CLEGG THE round trip lasted 18 hours and covered more than 8,000 miles, but for Darren Barker it was another small step on his quest to become a leading name in world boxing. Barker travelled to Edmonton, Canada last week for a whirlwind thre

By JONATHAN CLEGG

THE round trip lasted 18 hours and covered more than 8,000 miles, but for Darren Barker it was another small step on his quest to become a leading name in world boxing.

Barker travelled to Edmonton, Canada last week for a whirlwind three-day publicity tour ahead of his North American debut at the River Cree Resort and Casino on August 15.

The object of the journey was to boost Barker's profile across the Atlantic and generate some buzz before the former Repton amateur puts his unbeaten 17-fight record on the line in a second defence of his Commonwealth middleweight title.

The exercise appears to have been a success. Barker was dubbed "a young James Bond" by the Edmonton Sun's boxing correspondent Murray Greig, who noted that "he exudes the same understated cool as Her Majesty's devoted agent 007".

Barker's mission next month is to take down an as yet unnamed opponent and if he triumphs as effortlessly as he charmed the Canadian press, he will be well positioned for a shot at bigger titles in the coming months.

To do so he must overcome the challenge of fighting abroad for the first time as a professional.

Barker has made the majority of his pro appearances at York Hall, a venue where he has fought for over a decade since his days as an amateur at Repton and a place where he always enjoys strong support from the partisan home crowd.

Next month he will have to contend with unfamiliar territory and the prospect of a hostile atmosphere but Barker appears undaunted by the challenge.

Speaking exclusively to the Advertiser from his suite at the resort's luxury hotel, Barker did not sound like someone who has been taken too far out of his comfort zone.

"I'm staying at the hotel where the fight's going to be and it's unbelievable," he said.

"The complex is quite remote and secluded but the arena has space for a couple of thousand people - to be headlining somewhere like this is a dream come true.

"I'm lucky as well because boxing as an amateur for England, I was travelling all the time and in that respect I'm quite experienced in fighting abroad and in different venues."

Barker will soon feel at home in the River Cree resort. He returns to Edmonton for a fight in October, when promoter Mick Hennessy hopes to match him with a top contender from the United States.

Hennessy has long had ambitions to establish the 26-year-old as a big name on both sides of the Atlantic, announcing before Barker's Commonwealth title triumph over Australian Robert Crampton in November that his fighter had "the potential to be a big star of British boxing".

Barker made a successful first defence of the belt with a seventh-round stoppage of veteran Steve Bendall in February and just six months later Hennessy has him fighting on North American satellite television's Super Channel.

"It's a good chance to get me noticed a bit more globally and to move up the world rankings," Barker said.

"The Commonwealth title moved me up a bit and got me a bit of exposure and it all increases my chances of fighting the best opponents."

While Hennessy plots a path towards a possible Commonwealth title fight with Ireland's John Duddy on US primetime television, Barker insists that he still has unfinished business closer to home.

The 2002 Commonwealth Games gold medallist has made no secret of his desire to become British champion and he talks excitedly about developments on the domestic scene.

English champion Paul Smith's surprising defeat to Bendall - who was outclassed by Barker before being stopped with a nasty wound below his left eye - removed another contender for the belt a fortnight ago, clearing the way for Barker to make a run at the title later this year.

"I will never give up on the British title," Barker admitted. "It's always been a goal for me - not just to win it but go on to defend it and win the belt outright.

"Every win takes me closer to those big fights but I need to come out here and put on a show. I can't afford any slip-ups."

Just like 007, Barker knows that failure is not an option.

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