By Alex Beard (@alex_beard17)
Bright lights and a partisan crowd can be enough to derail the most talented of boxers – especially those who have never experienced such a stage before. It can be hard to erase outside interferences from your mind and concentrate on the business of prizefighting.
The job becomes even trickier when the boxer in question is making a significant jump in opposition, moving from a European level fighter like Leonard Bundu to the world class talent of Kell Brook. To put all these things aside and produce a performance that literally forces your opponent into submission is something quite special indeed.
On Saturday night, in front of a vociferous home crowd at Bramall Lane, Errol Spence Jr. lived up to his moniker. ‘The Truth’ produced a scintillating performance, making a man who stood up to the punches of Gennady Golovkin eight months previously quit in front of his home fans.
Now, there has been much said and written about Brook’s decision to call it a day in the 11th round of this title fight. But the real story from Saturday night is the coronation of a new star of the sport in Spence.
It’s easy for ringside observers and fans of boxing to say Brook should have soldiered on for another round and a half, but it was Spence who beat the fight out of the former welterweight champion. It was Spence who closed up the left eye of ‘Special K’, and it was Spence who adapted mid-fight and relentlessly pursued his opponent until he couldn’t take it anymore.
We should be talking about the electrifying performance of this 27-year-old Texan, a coming-of-age showing where he proved right those who had him as favourite in his inaugural championship bout. Rarely is hype justified in such a fashion.
Kell Brook is an elite welterweight, make no mistake about it. He caused Golovkin problems and outfoxed Shawn Porter to claim his title. This was no ‘gimme’ fight and he had his moments. Midway through the contest it was looking like it was going to be the home fighter’s night. All the more credit, then, to Spence for changing the narrative of the fight.
Early on Brook seemed fairly comfortable picking his shots and clinching when he needed to. When Spence lowered his output he was able to land hard combinations, backing the American up. The forward pressure was mostly with Spence, but Brook was finding it relatively easy to time his counters and nullify the threat.
Much was made of the weight cut of Brook, there were concerns that the extra weight he packed on to face GGG would force him to fade down the stretch back at 147 lbs. This proved to be the case, as it was Spence who came on strong in the latter stages. As well as the weight issues, it was the consistent work to the body of Spence that wore down and eventually finished Brook.
At times his work seemed somewhat crude, and very Porter-esque. However there was method to his constant forward momentum. Over 12 rounds every punch adds up, and Spence was stockpiling hard shots to body and head. In the seventh stanza he caused the eventual fight-ending injury, shattering Brook’s orbital bone in his left eye and restricting the vision of the Sheffield native for the rest of the bout.
From that point on there was only one winner. There is no better word to describe Spence’s performance than relentless. He would not let up and when he smelled blood he made sure Brook couldn’t continue. The Englishman first took a knee in the tenth, having been backed to the ropes and in a world of trouble. To his credit, he fought back and ended the round strongly – but he simply delayed the inevitable.
Spence put Brook out of commission a round later, forcing him to tell the referee he couldn’t carry on. Whatever you think of Brook’s decision, all the plaudits must be given to Spence for backing him into a corner and leaving him with no option but to forfeit.
You could make the case that Spence is already one of the top two fighters in the division alongside Keith Thurman. The post-fight grade he gave himself of B+ indicates that he feels he has more in the tank – a terrifying proposition for the rest of the weightclass.
To employ an overused cliché, this was the night a star was born.
His entire career Spence has been loudly proclaimed to be America’s great next welterweight hope. With the IBF belt now strapped around his waist, and with Thurman his next opponent of choice, we may well be looking at a man who’ll live up to every word that’s ever been said about him.by