Like most other sports, boxing boasts a global presence. Three of the four "major" sanctioning bodies are based beyond U.S. shores, as have many of its greatest practitioners. But it's only in recent years that international fighters have come to our shores to be featured on U.S. premium networks and it's rarer still when both participants arrive here without considerable American fan bases.
Such is the case Saturday when IBF middleweight titlist Daniel Geale, an Australian, defends his belt against Briton Darren Barker, whose only defeat occurred the only other time he fought on American soil. Of course, anyone who fights Sergio Martinez anywhere would likely have an "L" -- or in Barker's case a "KO by" -- added to his record. The fact that Geale and Barker would eschew hometown money to fight on neutral ground is a welcome display of ambition and confidence in an era where boxing's marketplace is pockmarked by extreme caution.
Statistical factors that may shape the outcome include:
The Aussie Road Warrior: Geale managed to do the near-impossible not once, but twice: Winning a major title belt on German soil against German favorites -- by split decision. And in both fights, against Sebastian Sylvester to win the IBF title and versus WBA titlist Felix Sturm in a rare unification bout, Geale produced more than worthy efforts.
Knowing he had to impress to squeeze out every possible point, Geale set -- and maintained -- a torrid pace. He averaged 89.8 punches per round against Sylvester and 73.6 against Sturm, quite a bit above the 56.8 middleweight average and as a result he built sizeable connect leads. He out-landed Sturm 238-143 overall, 56-55 jabs and 182-88 in power shots while outdoing Sylvester 182-111 (total) and 141-52 (power) to offset Sylvester's 59-41 lead in landed jabs. Accuracy wasn't a premium for Geale, for the Germans largely were more precise (25%-17% overall, 20%-7% jabs, 35%-27% for Sylvester, 27%-26% Geale overall, 17%-14% jabs for Sturm, 38%-38% power). All that mattered was scoring far more connects in the hopes of neutralizing the innate home ring advantage.
Geale vs. Athleticism: When Geale is confronted with slightly taller men with longer arms and good movement, his white-hot pace is negatively affected. Osumanu Adama was particularly effective in slowing Geale as his mobility and quick hands limited the Australian to 44.8 punches per round to Adama's 61.8. But Geale rightfully won the decision by being the constant aggressor and out-landing Adama 150-144 (overall) and 93-70 (power). In his most recent outing against veteran Anthony Mundine, Geale threw 57.5 per round but because he was more accurate when it counted (30%-22% total, 20%-17% jabs, 38%-31% power), he built leads of 208-141 (total) and 147-71 (power) to sew up a decision that some considered controversial but in reality was justified.
Standing 6-feet and one-half inch tall, Barker is taller than either Adama or Mundine, so given Geale's issues he would be wise to use his legs and maintain a busy but long-distance fight.
A New Attitude: In earlier fights, Barker depended on speed and mobility to pile up points but after losing to Martinez he has become more proactive. His two most recent efforts -- four round stoppages of Kerry Hope and Simone Rotolo, illustrated that shift in attitude.
In stopping the southpaw Hope, 63% of Barker's total offense was power shots (126 of 200) and there he out-landed his rival 51-17 (overall) and 48-13 (power). The jab was nearly non-existent (3 of 74, 4%). In his most recent effort against a defensive-minded Rotolo, 61% of Barker's total punches were hooks, crosses or uppercuts (133 of 218) and he out-landed the 37-year-old Italian 72-21 (overall), 19-4 (jabs) and 53-17 (power). The change in attitude has made him a more TV-friendly fighter and no doubt helped him secure a second title shot in only his third comeback fight.
A Fatal Flaw?: The two quick KOs masked what may still be a big issue in Barker's game -- a lack of stamina. Against Affif Belghecham and Domenico Spada -- the only two profiled fights that went the full 12 -- Barker's effectiveness waned over time. He out-landed Belghecham 144-121 in the first six, but the tables turned in the final six (116-93 for Belghecham). In the final three rounds, a badly tiring Barker was on his bicycle.
That pattern re-emerged against Spada as Barker was sharp early (a 101-68 total connects bulge in the first six rounds) but once the second half of the fight began he receded into John Ruiz-like mauling in retaining a 78-58 edge. This is particularly bad news going up against Geale, who has gone 11 or more rounds in nine consecutive fights.
Prediction: This will be a fight determined by pace and disposition. If Geale adopts the aggressive volume-punching attack he used in dethroning Sylvester and Sturm, he will pile up points early and tire Barker out in the second half as Martinez did and win by decision, if not by stoppage. Barker's best chance is to box Geale and make him come forward, using his athleticism to give Geale pause in terms of emptying his guns.
The most likely scenario is the first. Eager to prove himself in the American market, Geale will take the lead, score plenty of points and slowly break the Briton to win a unanimous decision.