Sergio Martinez to fight Darren Barker
Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez, the 2010 consensus fighter of the year, will make his third title defense against England's Darren Barker on Oct. 1, promoter Lou DiBella told ESPN.com on Monday.
DiBella and Barker promoter Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport had a quick negotiation on Monday for the fight, which DiBella said likely will take place at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J., Las Vegas or in the Dallas-Forth Worth area of Texas.
DiBella and Hearn exchanged tweets on Monday about the possibility of making the fight, which got the ball rolling. Hearn and Barker have wanted the fight, and when DiBella exhausted other possibilities, he and Hearn got on the phone and hammered out a deal that still is awaiting signatures.
"I've known Eddie since he was 11. Easy to make the deal," DiBella said. "They've been wanting the fight and Sergio is willing to fight anyone. Barker has been calling out Sergio and he's a pleasing TV fighter. He'll come at Sergio and I think it will be an exciting fight, and there will be a lot of international interest, especially in the U.K. Barker's never been beaten and he's popular in England. He'll have more people travel to the U.S. for this fight than travel here for (British world titleholders) Carl Froch or Amir Khan fights."
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DiBella said he is tidying up details on a deal for HBO to televise the bout. The network has carried Martinez's past six bouts.
"This is the fight we are doing," DiBella said. "We met with HBO, they know our intention and our meetings have been positive. They know the situation. They are well aware that the fight has been offered to many top opponents. I believe we will have a deal with HBO completed this week."
Barker, the European champion, was certainly not the first choice for Martinez, who has risen to No. 2 behind Manny Pacquiao on most pound-for-pound rankings. However, various other potential opponents turned down overtures DiBella said.
"Out of the guys who are available, this is a guy who wants to fight Sergio," DiBella said.
DiBella said he offered the fight to titleholders Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. and Daniel Geale as well as junior middleweight titlist Miguel Cotto, Andy Lee and Paul Williams for a rubber match.
Martinez and Williams are 1-1 against each other, including Williams' majority decision win in a 2009 fight of the year candidate and Martinez's devastating second-round one-punch knockout win -- the 2010 KO of the year -- in the November rematch.
"Sergio would have fought any of them, but people are turning him down left and right, but Barker is a guy who wanted this fight," DiBella said.
"One thing you can't take away from Barker is he has the courage to face the best," Martinez said. "He has the courage to face the best more than Cotto or Chavez. He has more courage than them. I am fighting an undefeated fighter. As I have always said, I am ready for anyone. Nobody else took a step forward to make this fight, but Barker did. I am very disappointed in Cotto. He has no balls to face me."
Martinez said he was willing to face Cotto at middleweight or drop down to junior middleweight to fight him. Martinez has animosity toward Cotto because he said Cotto refused to shake his hand when they ran into each other at a function in Mexico a couple of months ago. Rather than face Martinez, Cotto is headed toward a likely Dec. 3 rematch with Antonio Margarito.
Barker (23-0, 14 KOs), 29, is an eager challenger for Martinez, but has a limited resume. He returned from a year layoff to win the vacant European title for the second time with a competitive unanimous decision against Domenico Spada on April 11 in London, although he has never faced a top opponent.
"I believe that he was the best available contender," Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser, told ESPN.com while at dinner with DiBella and Martinez on Monday night. "Cotto refuses to fight, Chavez Jr. is missing in action. Cotto doesn't want any part of Martinez. Barker is qualified. He is the European champion, he is undefeated and hungry for the glory. There is nothing better than that -- to be so hungry for the glory."
Argentina native Martinez (47-2-2, 26 KOs), 36, who lives and trains in Oxnard, Calif., won the title in April 2010 with a unanimous decision against a bloody Kelly Pavlik. Martinez made his first defense in spectacular fashion when he knocked Williams unconscious with one punch.
In his second defense, Martinez laid a beating on junior middleweight titlist Sergiy Dzinziruk, HBO's preferred opponent who moved up in weight for the opportunity. Martinez dropped him five times en route to a lopsided eighth-round knockout on March 12.
Because Martinez faced Dzinziruk instead of mandatory challenger Sebastian Zbik (whom HBO rejected for Martinez but accepted for Chavez), the WBC stripped Martinez and elevated Zbik to its titleholder. Zbik lost the belt to Chavez on June 4.
In stripping Martinez, the WBC named him its "champion emeritus," meaning that he is entitled to the next title shot against Chavez if he wants it.
He does, but Lewkowicz said he made a deal with the WBC to allow Chavez a fall defense first as long as Chavez and the challenger to be determined both sign an agreement stipulating that the next defense would be against Martinez -- or else they would be stripped.
Top Rank's Bob Arum, Chavez's promoter, has already said he has no intention of matching cash cow Chavez with Martinez -- a fight widely viewed as an utter mismatch in Martinez's favor.
"I don't believe we're getting the winner of Chavez versus whoever, but Sampson exacted a promise from the WBC and we'll find out if they will honor the promise," DiBella said. "I don't think they will."
Barker had been mentioned by Top Rank as a preferred opponent for Chavez's first title defense in September.
DiBella said he is close to finalizing the HBO co-feature, which would pit Fort Worth middleweight Brian Vera (18-5, 11 KOs), a former participant on "The Contender," against Ireland's Lee in a rematch.
Lee (26-1, 19 KOs) suffered his only pro defeat in an upset seventh-round knockout to Vera in 2008. Vera has an interim bout scheduled for June 24.
Dan Rafael covers boxing for ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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