Only as good as your last performance: Brook vs Rabchenko preview

James Oddy
02/03/2018 10:30am

On Saturday night Kell Brook looks for his first win since March 2016 when he faces Sergey Rabchenko at super welterweight. James Oddy previews the Sheffield man's comeback...

It’s an unfortunate reality of sport that you are often seen as only being as good as your last performance.

Many a promising career has been stunted due to a slip or miscalculation, and many a legacy has been tarnished by a meek final innings.

It’s deeply unfair, but in boxing, the most unfair of sports at times, it’s a brutal reality.

Sheffield's Kell Brook (36-2, 25 KOs) is coming off two successive losses. First, the Sheffield welter was stopped after a gutsy effort in September 2016 against middleweight KO machine Gennady Golovkin. There was no shame in that, Brook being saved by his corner in the fifth round after his eye socket was fractured by a Golovkin bomb.

Prior to that, Brook had surprised Golovkin with some wonderful work, enhancing his reputation but paying a dear price in the form of the resulting inactivity that came with facial surgery.

Next, in summer last year, came a homecoming at Sheffield United’s Bramall Lane stadium against highly touted American Errol Spence Jr, with Brook boiling back down to 147lbs to defend his IBF title. It was a crown hard won back in 2014, when Brook handed Shawn Porter his first loss in one of the best performances from a British fighter overseas in some time.

Yet Spence evened the score for our transatlantic cousins, showing some special skills to outbox Brook before he was stopped in the 11th. The stoppage was the main talking point from that fight - Brook, with terrible luck, managed to fracture his other eye socket after shipping some heavy shots from the American.

Behind on points and injured once again, he took a knee and was counted out in front of his hometown crowd. Some commentators after the fight were critical of Brook, arguing that he had broken the 'warrior code' of boxing by deciding that to continue would be futile, that he had transgressed a pact with spectators to lay everything on the line.

To others, the idea of potentially damaging or perhaps losing one's eye sight, when you are in your 30s and with a young family, was an understandable enough reason for Brook to decide that 27 May 2017 wasn’t his night. For what it’s worth, I was in the latter camp.

One thing that can’t be denied, however, is that Spence looked the better fighter for the majority of the fight, a fact which prompted much speculation concerning what the rest of Brook's career may look like. Now 31-years-old and wealthy, some even suggested that Brook should walk away from boxing.

Instead, like most championship prize fighters, the lure and challenge of regaining former glories has proven too alluring. Perhaps wisely, however, Brook has decided to campaign in a new realm, looking to rebuild his career as a super welterweight. For a fighter who was extremely tight at 147lbs, 154 could be a whole new, healthier world for 'Special K'.

His first opponent at the weight should be a solid, if passable, test. Sergey Rabchenko (29-2, 22 KOs) was a high quality amateur in his native Belarus before relocating to Manchester under the stewardship of Ricky Hatton. He picked up some British scalps, most notably stopping Ryan Rhodes in Rhodes' last fight, with the EBU super-welter title on the line.

That being said, he was edged out by a long-in-the -tooth Anthony Mundine in 2014 and stopped by Tony Harrison in summer  2016. Rabchenko has boxed twice since against opposition that tells us little. From Brook's point of view, coming off two losses, with two surgically repaired eye sockets and now fighting at a new weight, it’s understandable why Rabchenko has been selected as his comeback foe. Whilst he isn’t an easy opponent, he should offer the correct amount of low risk to allow Brook to ease his way back into the ring and for spectators to see how the former IBF welter champion fares with more weight to play with.

It will be fascinating to see if the physical skill set Brook had at welter - strong, quick, and compact - follows him up in weight. Brook was always a fighter with plenty of versatility, being able to box and move, work on the inside and trade if need be. His educated jab and healthy regard for attacking his opponent’s body were his key tools, and I expect both to be used with increasing accuracy as Brook finds his feet and confidence as the fight wars on.

Rabchenko will be strong and game, but I expect Brook to have his man in trouble on a few occasions late on before securing a wide points win.