ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- In a year that has already seen terrific, action-packed fights such as Mike Alvarado-Brandon Rios II, Timothy Bradley Jr.-Ruslan Provodnikov and Omar Figueroa-Nihito Arakawa, one more can be added to the list.
Daniel Geale and Darren Barker went toe-to-toe for most of their middleweight title brawl Saturday night, but it was Barker who erased his previous nightmare experiences on the New Jersey shore to win a world middleweight title by split decision in a sensational fight in the first boxing event at the Revel Casino-Hotel.
In 2011, Barker, of England, traveled to Atlantic City to challenge world champion Sergio Martinez for his crown, and although Barker gave a great account of himself and caused Martinez all kinds of trouble, he was ultimately knocked out in the 11th round.
In May, he returned to Atlantic City, this time to work the corner of pal Lee Purdy in his challenge of welterweight titlist Devon Alexander only to see Purdy get blown out.
But on Saturday, Barker's dreams came true in an inspired performance that saw him somehow get off the deck from a brutal body shot in the sixth round that nearly knocked him out.
Barker not only survived, but thrived, going on to win 116-111 and 114-113 on two scorecards while Australia's Geale, making his fifth title defense and fighting in the United States for the first time, got the nod 114-113 on the third scorecard. ESPN.com also had it for Barker, 114-113.
"Geale is a very tough man and he came in with the belt. I knew what I was up against," Barker said. "Daniel is a fantastic champion who pushed me all the way. I want to go home and see my daughter. I miss her badly. Before that, there might be a couple of beers consumed.
"Not many people know the journey I've been through. It's been a real 'Rocky' story. I dedicate this to my late brother. Everything I've done is for him. Gary, this is for you, mate."
Geale (29-2, 15 KOs) was hugely disappointed in the outcome but showed class.
"I'm not going to cry," he said. "It didn't go my way tonight. I'm very disappointed. I worked so hard for that. I put everything into that. I hurt him throughout the fight."
And Geale almost knocked Barker out in the wild sixth round, a clear round of the year candidate.
During the round, Geale, 32, dropped Barker, 31, with a digging left hand to the body. Barker barely beat the count and was obviously in pain, and Geale continued to pound him downstairs and with chopping right hands to the head.
Geale was on the verge of a stoppage when Barker suddenly came back and hurt Geale to the head in a huge change of momentum.
They went back and forth, round after round, with both fighters inflicting damage on each other and their faces showing it in the form of lumps and bruises. But Barker (26-1, 16 KOs), who was cut over his left eye, seemed strong and had a big 10th round. He landed a hard right hand early in the round, hammered Geale to the body with a combination and then snapped his head back with an uppercut.
The fight was an all-out punch-a-thon in the final couple of rounds, and with the outcome seemingly hanging in the balance, both fighters went for knockouts in the final round of a fantastic fight. Geale had a big 12th round, but it wasn't enough to close the gap.
Barker finished the fight having landed 292 of 862 punches (34 percent), according to CompuBox statistics, while Geale landed 259 of 693 (37 percent).
"I could tell he was throwing a lot of punches," Geale said. "Were they catching me or not? That's to be said. I will have to sit down and watch the replay. I felt like I caught a lot on the gloves and a lot were glancing, missing. I did feel in control. It wasn't my best performance, but Darren is a great fighter. It was a close fight. I'm very disappointed."
It was the sixth round those who watched the fight will remember most.
"I take my hat off to Daniel Geale. He hit me right in the solar plexus and completely took my breath away," Barker said. "The only thought that went through my head was my late brother and my daughter and the rest of my family and everyone that has stuck by me. They pulled me through. Without them, I couldn't do anything."
Eddie Hearn of Matchroom Sport, Barker's promoter, wasn't quite sure if Barker was going to be able to beat the count.
"It was just a great fight, as good or better than anyone expected," he said. "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 heart. 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."
After such a tremendous fight, there was immediate talk of an eventual rematch.
Barker must next face former titleholder Felix Sturm in a mandatory defense.
"We've got the Sturm mandatory," Hearn said. "We're happy to make that fight with Sturm."
Hearn said he would push for the fight to take place in London in December and has no intention of taking Barker to Germany, Sturm's home country, where he is a major star and has gotten the judges' benefit of the doubt in some controversial decisions.
"We'll look for that fight with Sturm, but then, obviously, in the new year we'll sit down with [Geale promoter] Gary Shaw, who will be co-promoting with us moving forward, and we'll talk about a rematch with Daniel Geale."
Who wouldn't want to see that?