This Saturday night a world boxing champion will defend his belt against a dangerous contender. That sentence seems rather self-evident. That’s the least a champion should do isn’t it? That and make weight. But in the current fistic age and perhaps in every era preceding, these two things don’t always occur simultaneously.
IBF World welterweight champion Kell Brook is getting an awful lot of credit for, in my armchair-grown opinion, doing what a proper champion should. He is getting below the welterweight limit to defend his belt. I don’t know how often we need to be told how difficult it is for him to make 147 pounds. I’m positive every fighter struggles on the scales but for some reason, this thread is repeatedly picked up every time Brook fights and wrapped around our necks until we are forced to chokingly conceded that yes, he is big for ten-and-a-half stone. Admittedly, much of the focus in this area is cast by Sky Sports television, and hence, by Brook’s own promoter Eddie Hearn. Still, I’ve had enough of seeing that ball being rolled across the floor just in case some excuses need to be quickly sewn together later on.
I believe this does Brook an injustice. His brave, ill-fated step up to middleweight to face Gennady Golovkin aside, we’ve rarely seen him look vulnerable. Even in his one hard welterweight battle against Carson Jones five years ago, he gutted out a tough second half after bossing the first six. This is a durable man with unusual timing and direct attacks who boxes to orders. In winning his title from Shawn Porter in 2014 he clinched, jabbed and spoiled; an ugly but necessary job. If his lone step up to the top of the welterweight division hadn’t been so long ago this would be an easier fight to pick.
His challenger Errol Spence Jr is undefeated in 21 with 18 knockouts and hasn’t gone the distance in three years. His upward curve has been steep through his last four fights when he dispatched four good men with records to match. Most impressively, he demolished the usually steadfast former light-welterweight champion Chris Algieri inside five rounds with light feet and heavy hands, shovelling the New Yorker’s body and detonating dynamite on his face. He is peaking right now, which makes him a dangerous proposition for a champion unsure of his real position amidst his current competition and just recovering from facial reconstructive surgery due to an injury suffered against Golovkin.
The southpaw Spence recognises the crucial moment of vulnerability in the other man as soon as it appears and exploits it before any recuperative measures can be taken. He chases, and when he gets his man to the ropes he lets those hooks and uppercuts fly. The accurate blows fold, dent and eventually fell their target. He is a young man who believes in his power, and I feel he will have the gall to hunt Brook in this fight.
The droopy-eyed Texan, with his smooth drawl and lithe frame is the picture of relaxation. In the first press conference he seemed to tower over the supposedly over-sized champion in the face-off and was far less combative than his trainer, who sniped aloud at Brook’s credentials as champion. Brook on the other hand seemed snappy, eager to show Spence he had made a serious mistake by coming to Sheffield for this fight and said as much. We’ll see how they look at the weigh-in on Friday, whether their dispositions have changed whatsoever, if Brook looks the skeleton he should, and whether Spence’s long muscles look shallow and weak.
The Bramall Lane Football Ground would have been a tense place already in watching their hometown man hopefully fend off the young lion’s charge. Now it will be especially so given that on the Monday before, March 22nd, an explosive was set off during an Ariana Grande concert just 32 miles away, killing 29 people and injuring 59 (figures according to the Independent). Promoter Eddie Hearn has spoken of how the tragic event has caused a tightening of already stringent security measures for the stadium, and there will most likely be a ‘no-bag’ policy for those attending. I wonder if these surrounding circumstances will even enter the fighters’ minds as they prepare to engage in combat with one another.
A preview would be incomplete without a prediction. As already stated, Spence is the kind of fighter meant to be challenging for world honours. He’s a star athlete who could have played football (the American kind) but chose boxing. He has the necessary components; good amateur experience, steady progression through the pros, fast hands, impressive power. We haven’t seen him clipped by a high-level puncher at this point, nor wade through the seas of attrition, or fight so far away from his native Texas; three massive issues we’ll see addressed this Saturday.
Patriotism isn’t my thing. I’m siding with Brook. The way he jams his right hand down the pipe, as a lead with no wind-up, will be a crucial weapon in this fight. Having seen a glimpse of his pad work with Dominic Ingle, where they drilled circling away from Spence’s left hand and looked to shoot across at an angle to land the right, gave me cause to believe they will approach this contest with the tactical caution it deserves. They also spoke of staying well clear of the ropes, where Brook has a tendency to sit and Spence does his most damage. Prudent planning. And since Brook has the mettle to push through even the stickiest of patches I have to go with him to defend his belt for the fourth time.
By James Allen