Unbeaten British welterweight prodigy Kell Brook will finally fight for a world title this summer, after Golden Boy Promotions received the signature of the IBF’s mandatory challenger to fight champion Shawn Porter at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. Originally scheduled for August 9th, speculation arose earlier this week that negotiations for the fight had collapsed, with reports circulating that Porter was yet to sign the contract.
Golden Boy’s Vice President and matchmaker Eric Gomez moved quick to release a statement claiming that Brook-Porter would definitely go ahead however, assuring fans that the fight would “take place within the next couple of months.” There seems to be a number of issues to iron-out, such as the use of random drug-testing, and there’s still no date confirmed at the time of writing, but noise from both camps suggest that confirmation will arrive imminently.
It’s not unchartered territory for Brook, who after a protracted rise to the higher-echelons of the sport seems to have waited an awful long time to finally nail down a world title opportunity. The 28-year-old’s attempt at realising a lifelong dream will come effectively two years after he initially earned his mandatory position, with a three-round blowout of Hector David Saldivia way back in October 2012.
That win gave Brook a shot at then titleholder Devon Alexander, with whom a meeting was scheduled for the 19th of January last year, but in training for the fight Brook sustained an ankle injury and the transatlantic battle of stylists was pushed back until February 23rd. Further injuries to Alexander and Brook respectively then ultimately led to the cancellation of the fight, with Alexander instead routinely defending his title against Lee Purdy and Brook’s future, at that time, left uncertain.
But the Sheffield star bounced back and having eventually gotten over the disappointment of missing his world title chance, returned to the ring to stop Carson Jones in a rematch, before signing off 2013 with a four-round mauling of former titleholder Vyacheslav Senchenko. Those victories retained his standing as the IBF’s number one contender and following an eighth-round stoppage of Alvaro Robles in a tune-up on March 15th, Kell was back in line to face the champ.
This time however the IBF had a different ruler. Whilst Brook was rebuilding, Alexander scheduled another title defence for December of last year. Enter Porter, who upset the odds and wrested the crown from the St Louis native in surprisingly dominant fashion, with a bullish display of aggression and variety en-route to a unanimous decision verdict.
With the mandatory against Brook looming, Porter then scheduled a voluntary defence in the meantime, agreeing to take on popular former two-weight titleholder Paulie Malignaggi in April. In one sense an eliminator to fight Brook with the IBF ruling that Porter or Malignaggi do so within ninety days of their bout, British fans perhaps hoped that Porter had bitten off more than he could chew, preferring the 33-year-old ‘Magic Man’ as an opponent for Sheffield’s unbeaten hope.
Familiar with them since he fought Ricky Hatton, the Brooklyn native possessed a sizeable fanbase in the UK and aroused hope that should he emerge victorious, a fight with Brook on British shores would be a realistic possibility. There were many who thought stylistically he could pose serious problems for Porter, who in hindsight may have been flattered by his win over a potentially below par Alexander.
But if the victory over Alexander had been Porter’s coming out party, then his fight with Malignaggi was an unadulterated confirmation of his surest assets. Spiteful and venomous from the get-go, the 26-year-old from Ohio demolished his much more experienced foe in just four rounds, administering a brutal beating along the way. Admittedly never one of the sport’s true elite, Malignaggi had been a world-level campaigner for a number of years and fought a long list of the top names in and around his division. Nobody before had been able to bully him the way that Porter did.
Able to boil down to welterweight from a middleweight’s frame and vastly improved from the talented if unspectacular prospect he had once been, following his ferocious first title defence, Porter has suddenly been portrayed as a 147lb Mike Tyson. Brook has waited a long time for his opportunity and now it will finally come his way, but after Porter’s destruction of Malignaggi, few are envious of the task he has at hand.
A professional for eight years, many moons have passed since Brook (32-0, 22 KO’s) was first earmarked as a potential superstar. Hailing from the same Wincobank gym that produced the likes of Johnny Nelson, Herol ‘Bomber’ Graham and a fighter that a young Brook idolised in ‘Prince’ Naseem Hamed, the brash and exciting youngster set tongues wagging when he claimed a Lonsdale belt outright less than thirteen rounds after winning the British title.
But five years have passed since then and it’s almost four years since Brook bested Michael Jennings in a WBO eliminator, which should have begun his assault on the world stage. Now looking back, the cut-induced stoppage of Jennings was something of a false dawn, with what seemed like a never-ending conveyor belt of preliminary bouts standing between Brook and his long mooted world title challenge.
It’s been the source of much derision, which is unfortunate for Brook, but understandable particularly in this fickle age where social media rules. Fans have become frustrated with his development and tired of the countless times when it was deemed Brook’s crowning was just around the corner. In his first bout with Carson Jones he was on the ‘Edge of Glory’, against Hector Saldivia we were told ‘This Is It’, but, until now, a world title shot has not materialised. Much has been of the fact that since Kell first became a mandatory, newly-crowned IBF bantamweight titleholder Paul Butler has turned professional and gone on to win a world crown.
Of course, Brook cannot be blamed for the collapse of the Alexander fight through injury, but there are those who suspect that the ankle ailments were nothing more than convenient get-out-of-jail-free cards for a fighter who felt he was not ready to mix with the best. The delayed announcement of the Porter clash has been met with jeers and eye-rolling by the anti-Kell Brook society on Twitter, who’ve made Matchroom supremo Eddie Hearn all too aware of how they feel.
One man who could perhaps chair that club is Brook’s longstanding rival Amir Khan, a fighter with his own fair share of detractors but a successful world-level operator for a number of years. In Khan’s mind, Brook doubts his ability after some of the scares he has encountered along the way and isn’t, nor ever will be ready to win a world title.
“Brook-Porter is not going to happen because Kell doesn’t think he can win it,” Khan told BBC Sport in May, “I don’t think Kell has got the bottle to take a big fight like that – he’s always been all talk when it comes to the big fights.” There’s clearly no love lost between Brook and Khan, who offers a jaundiced view of his compatriot, but you have to credit that the former light-welterweight king has plenty of material with which to base his damning verdict.
If Khan and his anti-Brook army are correct, perhaps the doubt began with Kell’s first meeting with Jones back in July 2012, where he put was through the grinder and had to dig deep to survive a gruelling twelve-round war of attrition. Brook dominated the fight’s early rounds, compiling a healthy lead on the scorecards by the sixth and looking a class above the journeyman-turned-fringe-contender. But from there, it all turned rather sour.
Brook dominated the early rounds of his first fight with Carson Jones, but was put through hell by the American down the stretch.
It’s long been suspected that Brook has stamina issues and simply may not be a twelve round fighter, evidence of which began in round seven of what was truly a fight of two halves. If Brook had dominated the first six rounds, Jones was on top for the majority of the last six, breaking Brook’s nose in the eighth and down the stretch looked on the brink of claiming a stoppage in his opponent’s backyard.
Kell hung on in a reassuring display of heart if nothing else and at the fight’s conclusion was adjudged to be a majority decision winner, with close scorecards across the board. In the aftermath, Brook and his camp blamed poor preparation for what they saw as a lacklustre performance and a result that was far too close for comfort. Brook handled Jones easily in their rematch last year en-route to an eighth-round stoppage and ever since the scare on that summer’s night, his diet and conditioning has reportedly come under greater focus. Hopefully it was just that, a blip, a wake-up call and a lesson learned, but the worrying fact remains that a fighter of Jones’s calibre was able to cause Brook so many issues.
A skilful, dynamite puncher with terrific speed and reflexes, Brook does however leave gaps defensively and isn’t the most active of fighters in terms of his low punch-output. Though he may have run out of gas, Brook allowed an active pressure fighter like Jones to outwork him for long periods in the fight. Shawn Porter is leagues above Jones as a pressure fighter, not to mention as a fighter altogether and can match Brook in areas that Jones didn’t.
On the evidence we have to go on, Porter will be the aggressor come fight night, something that is routinely rewarded by judges particularly on American shores. Trained by his father Kenny, Porter is an undoubtedly well-conditioned athlete and again on what we’ve seen, would appear to trump Brook in both fitness and strength. He’s got fast hands, is vey mobile, versatile and can probably match Brook for speed. Although a quick glance at his record would not indicate a puncher, he demonstrated against Malignaggi that he has the power to take out a world-class fighter who’s always displayed reliable punch-resistance.
Another concern is Brook’s overall level of opposition up to this point. He’s beaten all who’ve been put in front of him and compiled some impressive looking numbers, but his biggest scalps are Jones and Senchenko. Porter’s victories over Alexander and Malignaggi ensure he’s been in with the better adversaries and not only that, but he beat them both convincingly.
Porter (24-0-1, 15 KO’s) will enter the ring as the favourite and rightly so. Particularly on American soil, the world title Brook has long been waiting for won’t come easy. But to flip the scrutiny, it’s worth noting that whilst the American represents a difficult task for one of Britain’s brightest hopes, there’s also plenty that can offer reassurance in the coming weeks.
Brook stopped former world champion Vyacheslav Senchenko in four rounds in his biggest test to date.
Brook has had his struggles, but it’s not too long ago that Porter received the only blemish of his professional career, fighting to a draw with Julio Diaz only eighteen months ago. Forgotten in the wake of his more recent form and rematch victory over Diaz, it’s clear however that Porter isn’t the invincible beast that many are inevitably portraying him as since his win over Malignaggi.
Also, whilst both wins were impressive, the man who failed to qualify for the 2008 U.S. Olympics team faced light-punching foes in both of his biggest fights. Alexander and Malignaggi between them don’t have as many knockouts as Brook, who took out Saldivia with a jab and clearly possesses world-level power. At his slick, sharp best, that power might be enough to dissuade Porter from bulldozing in and even if it doesn’t, Brook’s powerful counter shots are a priceless commodity against such an aggressive foe.
As with any unbeaten and largely untested fighter a question-mark remains. We simply don’t how Brook will fare at the highest-level. What we do know however, is that at twenty-eight and after a particularly long and winding road to the top, if Kell Brook isn’t ready for Porter now, he never will be.