ATLANTIC CITY - Two years after suffering a painful defeat here, British middleweight Darren Barker earned a huge victory Saturday night.

Barker earned the IBF championship with a 12-round, split decision over defending champ Daniel Geale before a crowd of about 3,000 at Revel Casino-Hotel.

Judges Barbara Perez (116-111) and Carlos Ortiz (114-113) both favored Barker, as did The Press (114-113). Judge Alan Rubenstein scored it for Geale (114-113).

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As soon as the decision was announced, Barker (26-1, 16 KOs) leaped in jubliation, then collapsed to the canvas and covered his face with his gloves while his promoter, Eddie Hearn, and handlers rejoiced in the ring.

The win came in his second title fight. On Oct. 11, 2011, he suffered an 11th-round TKO loss to WBC champion Sergio Martinez. Since then, he's been longing for another chance.

"The journey to get me here was long," Barker said. "The occasion kind of got to me. If I had stuck to my game plan, I think I would have won a little easier."

Barker prevailed in a thrilling, grueling bout that emerged as a strong contender for The Press' Fight of the Year for 2013. Both fighters traded powerful punches throughout while fans stood and cheered.

Geale (29-2, 15 KOs) nearly ended the fight during a sixth-round slugfest that had the fans roaring at the bell. With about a minute left in the round, Gaele landed a powerful left hook to the liver that caused Barker to slump to all fours in obvious pain.

Just before referee Eddie Cotton completed his 10-count, however, Barker managed to struggle to his feet. He spent the next 30 seconds covering up his midsection while pinned against the ropes before regaining his composure and unleashing his own flurry of punches that had Geale staggering.

"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."

For the remainder of the fight, Barker and Geale never stopped punching and refused to retreat. The result was non-stop action in which one fighter would seem to gain an edge, then the other would rally.

According to CompuBox statistics, Barker landed 292 punches to Geale's 259 and connected with 244 power punches to Geale's 211.

"I felt like I won the fight," Geale said. "I was never hurt. It was a close fight and it's very disappointing. I definitely want a rematch."

In the co-feature, Spain's Kiko Martinez (29-4, 21 KOs) used a relentless, aggressive attack to upset IBF super-bantamweight champion Jhonatan Romero (23-1, 12 KOs), 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 and absorbing a beating. Martinez dropped to his knees in the center of the ring and began to sob while his cornermen hugged him.

"This is a dream for me," Martinez said through a translator. "(HBO ring announcer) Michael Buffer called out my name (as the new champion). This is a dream. I am so happy. I have no words. Today is a marvelous day. We're going to have a big party when I get back home."

Martinez, who is managed by WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez (no relation), capped an impressive performance by punishing Romero in the sixth round.

He rocked him with a left hook and right hook early in the round, then unleashed a torrent of punches as Romero reeled along the ropes. Romero briefly tried to fight back, but was soon overwhelmed. Martinez pinned him in a neutral corner and continued to fire punches until Fields wisely stepped in.

"I just kept throwing punches," Martinez said. "I had to keep the attack on and I knew the referee was going eventually going to have to stop the fight."

Martinez nearly ended the bout much earlier. He jumped on the taller Romero in the opening round, stunning him with a left hook and hurting him again with an overhand right.

Romero weathered the storm and began firing jabs and combinations, but Martinez kept coming forward. In the fourth round, he caught Romero again with a left hook that left him with rubbery legs. Romero was also cut over the left eye from an accidental head butt.

"I didn't follow the game plan," Romero said through a translater. "I was told to stay off the ropes and stay in the middle of the ring and I didn't do it. I knew he was going to attack me, but I couldn't keep him off. (In the sixth round), my equalibrium was way off. I was trying to hold him, but I didn't have enough energy left."

Martinez outlanded Romero 180-126 in total punches and 158-83 in power punches, according to CompuBox statistics.

On the undercard, Peru lightweight Jonathan Maicello (20-1, 12 KOs) scored a 10th-round knockout over Mexico's Jose Alejandro Rodriguez (19-12, 11 KOs). Puerto Rican junior-welterweight Thomas Dulorme (19-1, 14 KOs) dominated New York's Frankie Figueroa (20-5-1, 15 KOs) en route to an eighth-round TKO.

Miami junior-welterweight Yordenys Lugas (15-1, 7 KOs), a bronze medalist for Cuba in the 2008 Olympics, cruised to a 10-round, unanimous decision over John Williams (11-3-1, 5 KOs), of Charlotte, N.C. Australian featherweight Joel Brunker (27-0, 15 KOs) overcame a nasty cut in the early rounds over his left eye to gain an eight-round, unanimous decision over Mike Oliver (25-5, 8 KOs), of Hartford, Conn.

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Member of The Press sports staff since 1986, starting my 25th season as The Press Eagles' beat writer. Also cover boxing, MMA, golf, high school sports and everything else.

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