The Heart of a Champion

IN 2011, BRITISH Middleweight boxer Darren Barker travelled to Atlantic City and was knocked out in the 11th round by World Champion, Sergio Martinez, who he challenged for his crown. I met Barker a year later when I invited him to join me for a chat after finishing his training session.

It was the first time that we had ever spoken, and he would look back on his so-called "glory days" as a time when he regarded himself as being better than his present self and thought he deserved more because he earned it once before.

I told him he needed to have what I call “the heart and mind of a champion” and how I believe you need to re-earn everything, every day. I told him it would help if he never said: “I once did this, so I deserve that now”. I also told him to set himself a new boxing challenge to prove his worth and live in the ‘here and now’.  I said: “When you climbed the European mountain, it was your first step to climbing the World one next”.

My training attitude – then and now - ensures clients achieve their goals by giving their best, because there may never be another time. When you want something, want it knowing nobody cares except you. You must see it in your mind and feel it in your heart, knowing that you will achieve it because you want it. There will be moments along the journey where it will all feel too much, or perhaps you don't see the results you want, but keeping your initial targets in mind and remembering why you set out on the journey in the first place will be vital to maintaining your motivation.

I know from experience that, at any time, life will bring challenges and at times it may feel like those challenges may just beat you. But you have to keep focused and disciplined. Don't let the idea of quitting enter your mind; stay strong, and fight for what you want. Winners win occasionally; champions win in life because they are the ones who don't give up!

The key is to stay positive - negativity drains energy and stops you from living in the present. The more you stand up to negative thoughts, the stronger you will become. Otherwise, one little negative thought can become a giant, speeding ball of ugliness. Whereas taking a small positive idea can have the same effect, making you the champion who wins with consistency every time.

My training provided Barker with the mental discipline that took him from being a winner who is happy to win occasionally to becoming a champion who wants to win every time.

Five months after training with me, on 18th August 2013, Barker beat Daniel Geale to win the World Middleweight Boxing title by a split decision in a sensational fight at the Revel Casino-Hotel in Atlantic City.

Barker's victory was a true example of strength, focus and heart that saw his dream come true in an inspired performance. It was the 6th round that those who watched the fight would remember most. It somehow saw him summon the emotional strength to get off the deck from a brutal body shot that nearly knocked him out.

Eddie Hearn, Barker's promoter at Matchroom Sport, said, "It was just a great fight, as good or better than anyone expected." He went on to say, "Darren really showed so much to come back from that crushing body shot. At [the count of] seven, I wasn't sure if he was going to be able to beat the count. But this time, he was not going to take 'no' for an answer. He showed so much physical strength. To come back like he did after that, what can I say? But I did feel like we won it. It was the right decision. When they said, 'And the new ...' I just couldn't believe it."

I was probably the only person in the arena that night who believed that Barker had the physical and emotional strength to get up and win.

Almost six years had passed before anyone knew the part that I played in Barker becoming a world champion. In a Sky Sports interview, he was asked if he felt nervous during the fight build-up. Barker said: "No – I felt that everything was on my side." The interviewer interjected, saying, "Until fight day". Barker nodded and said that he had a wobble and started to believe that he would not win. He then revealed that I took him into a relaxed state and did a guided meditation session which got him through and enabled him to see himself as a champion.

Trainers are un-assuming characters, and our contributions tend to go under the radar, which is why I never got the recognition for pulling Barker out of a dark place when he was psychologically lost only hours before the fight. That occasion is etched into my memory; when I helped him climb to the top of his mountain.

Finally, I was also working with Barker in the first defence of his newly won title. But I knew from his attitude to training that his heart was not there. On the night of his fight in Germany against Felix Sturm, my friend Charlie (a high stakes gambler) called asking if he should put £20,000 on Barker to win. I said let me call you back. I have one question to ask Barker, which I did. I then called Charlie and told him not to place the bet. He said, "Okay. I'll put it on the other guy instead." I asked him not to because I would feel guilty about my prediction. The bottom line was I knew that Barker lost the fight before he got into the ring because his heart wasn't in it.

Copyright © Wayne Lèal
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