ATLANTIC CITY - British middleweight contender Darren Barker has not had good luck here and it has nothing to do with gambling.
Barker (25-1, 16 KOs) suffered his only loss at Boardwalk Hall nearly two years ago, when he got knocked out in the 11th round by champion Sergio Martinez on Oct. 1, 2011. Three months ago, he was the cornerman who threw in the towel during Lee Purdy's seventh-round TKO setback to welterweight champ Devon Alexander.
"A lot of people have been wondering why I'm back in Atlantic City," Barker said. "If you count the Purdy fight, I suppose I'm really zero and two here. But I'm hoping the third time will be different."
He'll get the opportunity to end his slump tonight. Barker, a 31-year-old native of London, is challenging IBF middleweight champ Daniel Geale (29-1, 15 KOs), of Australia, at Revel's 4,500-seat Ovation Hall as part of an HBO Championship Boxing doubleheader.
In the other title bout, IBF super-bantamweight king Jhonatan Romero (23-0, 12 KOs), of Colombia, will defend his crown against Spanish contender Kiko Martinez (28-4, 20 KOs).
Geale, 32, is making the fifth defense of his title. The married father of three is fighting in the United States for the first time in hopes of gaining enough exposure to land major fights against the likes of Martinez.
He arrived in Atlantic City on Thursday with wife Sheena, son Bailey (9) and daughters Aryelle (7) and Lily (5) after spending a few days in New York.
"We haven't had a chance to see much of Atlantic City because I'm so focused on the fight," Geale said.
"This is a big fight for me. It should lift my profile a lot. Barker and I are pretty evenly matched, so it should be a good one. I think it's going to come down to who wants it more and I definitely want it."
But so does Barker.
He delivered a respectable performance against Sergio Martinez in his last bout on the Boardwalk, breaking Martinez's nose in the fourth round. But Martinez gradually took control in the late stages of the fight and sent Barker to the canvas with an overhand right in the 11th.
"Looking back we have to wonder did we really believe we could win that fight?" said Barker's promoter, Eddie Hearn. "I think Darren may have gotten caught up in the atmosphere and everything. But it gave him valuable experience and he's a different fighter now. Nights like that prepare you for nights like this."
Barker stayed out of the ring for 14 months before resuming his career and registering a pair of wins that earned him another chance at a championship.
An opportunity he doesn't plan on wasting.
"I'm a different fighter and a different person than the last time I fought here," Barker said. "Mentally, I learned a lot about myself against Martinez and I gained that big-fight experience that I was lacking. I'm ready for this. Timing is everything and I just believe it's my time now. I've put so much blood, sweat and tears into this sport. I want this so badly."
They took different paths to the ring tonight.
Barker is a second-generation fighter. He began boxing when he was 12, when he decided to follow in the footsteps of his father Terry, who was a national amateur champion. He played soccer as a kid and remains an avid fan and a Chelsea season ticketholder.
Geale played a variety of sports while growing up Launceston, Tasmania. He was a huge fan of Australian Rules Football's Collingwood Magpies and its star player, former Philadelphia Eagles punter Sav Rocca.
"He was my favorite player," Geale said. "He could kick it a mile."
Geale, who now lives in Sydney, tried boxing at the age of 9 on the advice of his father, Wayne, who was a truck driver.
The first time he put on a pair of gloves, he was hooked.
"He about dragged me to my first session," Geale said with a laugh. "But after that, I think I was dragging him."
He's counting on his experience to pay off tonight.
A notoriously slow starter, Geale uses the first few rounds to formulate a game plan and then executes it.
"I always get better as the fight goes on," Geale said. "Barker's a smart fighter and also has plenty of experience. But I plan on breaking him down piece by piece."
Dave Weinberg's predictions: Barker by decision; Romero by 9th-round TKO.
Punchlines: Geale and Barker both weighed in Friday at 159 pounds while Romero and Kiko Martinez both registered at 121 pounds. They must weigh in again this morning, however, and are not permitted to gain more than 10 pounds under IBF regulations. ... HBO's broadcast will start at 9:45 p.m. with a delayed showing of the light-heavyweight title fight between Nathan Cleverly-Sergey Kovalev in Wales. Romero-Martinez will start 15 minutes after the conclusion of that fight, followed by Geale-Barker.
Contact David Weinberg: