ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — British middleweight Darren Barker won the IBF championship Saturday night with a split decision over defending champ Daniel Geale of Australia.
Barker (26-1) received winning scores of 116-111 from judge Barbara Perez and 114-113 from Carlos Ortiz. Judge Alan Rubenstein scored it 114-113 for Geale (29-1).
Barker leaped in jubilation when the scores were read at Revel Casino-Hotel then collapsed to the canvas while his handlers celebrated in the ring. He won the belt almost two years after an 11th-round TKO loss to WBC middleweight champ Sergio Martinez at Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall.
Barker prevailed in a grueling fight that had fans at Revel's Ovation Hall on their feet throughout.
"I take my hat off to him," Barker said. "He's a very tough man and he came in with the belt."
Geale nearly won the fight in the sixth round.
With about a minute left in the round, he landed a powerful left hook to Barker's liver that forced Barker to drop to all fours in obvious pain. Barker managed to rise a second before referee Eddie Cotton completed his 10-count and actually mounted his own rally in the final seconds of the round.
"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."
Geale, a native of Tasmania now living in Sydney, was making his United States debut. The 32-year-old married father of three was making his fifth title defense and was hoping a decisive win over Barker will lead to bigger, more lucrative fights against top-rated middleweight such as WBC champ Sergio Martinez.
"I put everything into this fight," Geale said. "I hit him throughout. It's very disappointing."
In the co-feature, Spain's Kiko Martinez used a relentless, aggressive attack to upset IBF super-bantamweight champion Jhonatan Romero of Colombia with a sixth-round TKO.
Referee David Fields stopped the fight at 2:40 with a defenseless Romero (23-1) pinned in a neutral corner and absorbing a beating. Martinez (29-4) 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), took control at the outset of the bout and never relinquished it. In the sixth, he rocked Romero with a left hook and right hook early in the round, then unleashed a bevy of punishing blows that left Romero staggering 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."
Romero was making his first title defense. He won the belt last February, when he gained a 12-round, split decision over Alejandro Lopez in Lopez's hometown of Tijuana, Mexico.