By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
It’s been a long time since a welterweight has burst onto the scene in as spectacular a way as Errol Spence Jr. His rise has been fast, it’s been inexorable and so far it’s been undeniable. His victories have been beyond impressive, bettering the results of established veterans and former world champions. This is not a man to be trifled with.
There were other options for Kell Brook following his stoppage loss to Gennady Golovkin last September. Having jumped two weightclasses to challenge for the Kazakh’s middleweight world titles – and earning a broken eye socket for his trouble – much of the post-fight chatter speculated that Brook would ply his trade at light-middleweight rather than return to 147 lbs.
The gruelling weight cut that the Sheffield native has to endure every time he fights at welterweight was well documented before and after that contest with Golovkin. But, having worked his whole life to capture his IBF title, Brook elected to return to familiar surroundings. That meant a defence against mandatory challenger Spence.
At 27 the American is four years Brook’s junior, and has entered the ring 21 times compared to Brook’s 37. He’s never fought on a stage as big as this one, and his last opponent was Leonard Bundu – hardly GGG. Despite this, there are plenty of observers picking him to win. Why is that?
As alluded to earlier, Spence has wreaked havoc on the welterweight division since his debut in 2012, amassing a perfect record of (21-0-KO18). He is a fearsome boxer-puncher, displaying terrific technical skill as well as tremendous punching power. This is evidenced by his stoppages of Bundu and Chris Algieri – men who Keith Thurman and Manny Pacquiao couldn’t finish.
Those wins suggest that it’s his skill that creates the knockouts, rather than one punch power. Punch for punch, both Thurman and Pacquiao are probably bigger hitters than Spence. But it’s Spence who did what they couldn’t. He’s able to engineer openings for himself and find ways to unload barrages with minimal risk of response from his opponents.
Still, his relative inexperience cannot be ignored. Brook (36-1-KO25) will be determined to take him to places he’s never gone before, and it will be interesting to see how Spence deals with the clinch work and the in-fighting that the Englishman utilised so well in that title win against Shawn Porter in 2014. Brook troubled Golovkin with uppercuts too, so he may well look to conduct his business at close quarters.
The risk is plentiful for ‘Special K’, but it’s another high-reward endeavour. Golovkin was a win-win for Brook, and while this fight isn’t quite like that, it’s likely he’ll emerge with much credit regardless of the result. A win, though, would be the perfect tonic for the Englishman. Five years on and the Porter victory remains the best win on his record. Brook is widely regarded as an elite welterweight, but that remains based on a majority decision win that could’ve gone either way.
Putting aside the Golovkin fight – which was outside the weightclass anyway – and Brook’s list of opponents post-Porter reads: Jo Jo Dan, Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. On the other hand, since the Brook loss Porter has faced: Erick Bone, Adrien Broner, Thurman and Andre Berto. As a result, you could argue that Brook needs this victory far more than Spence does.
Both men are fighting to legitimize themselves in a crowded welterweight division, to prove themselves elite in a weightclass that contains the likes of Thurman, Porter, Pacquiao, Tim Bradley, Amir Khan and Danny Garcia. They could soon be joined by junior-welterweight king Terence Crawford, also, so now is not the time for a slip-up from either fighter.
Brook, though, is searching for something more. Amid the risk of a potential future star of the sport, lies the opportunity for him to re-establish himself as a top 147 lb-er. With the first loss of his career a particularly painful one, Brook now needs to stop the rise of the young buck and reclaim his position at the head of the welterweight table.by