Doing it for myself: Kell Brook interview
John A. MacDonald
Kell Brook is starting afresh at super welterweight on Saturday night against Sergey Rabchenko. Will he struggle for motivation in his first non-title fight in three years? Not at all, Brook tells John A. MacDonald - his personal desire will push him forwards...
Despite suffering a broken eye socket in each of his last two fights, Kell Brook remains undeterred as he returns to the ring on 3 March, making his debut in the 154lbs weight class.
Brook is all too aware of the dangers involved, after suffering consecutive orbital-bone injuries, but as he told Boxing Monthly from his training base in the Canary Islands, he still feels he has plenty to offer the sport.
“I’m born to do this,” he said over the phone. “[Super welterweight] is a very, very hot division. I’m looking forward to locking horns with them. My hopes are to be in some great fights, the fights that fans never stop talking about, really.”
When Brook (36-2, 25 KOs) faces Sergey Rabchenko, it will be the first time in over three and a half years that he has boxed without a world title on the line. Brook’s last two fights were against Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jr at the O2 Arena and Bramall Lane Stadium (home of Sheffield United Football Club), respectively.
From one of the largest indoor venues in Britain, and a football stadium, Brook returns to the more modest FlyDSA Arena (formerly known as The Motorpoint Arena), Sheffield. With no title at stake, devoid of the trepidation of facing one of the most lauded punchers in the sport or the heir-apparent of the division welterweight, Brook admits that getting motivated for an opponent such as Rabchenko will not be an easy task. Instead, Brook will be driven by a personal desire.
At 31, Brook has adjusted his outlook. During camp, Brook has never shied away from the rigours of training. However, by his own admission, between fights he has not attended the gym as frequently as he perhaps should have.
Brook did not return to the gym promptly after last May’s fight with Spence. He believes a new mindset will bring out the best in him
“It’s going to be tough [to get motivated for Rabchenko], but it’s 2018 and I’m doing it for me,” he said. “For me, this year is about being a healthier person, making sure I’m in the gym more often. It’s about competing with myself, not Rabchenko. This year is about getting the best out of myself and giving myself a real opportunity to perform.
“I’ve just been doing the odd day here and there [in the gym prior to the start of camp]. Then something else happens where you are doing something else with the family and there’s nothing on the radar, no fights coming along. I’ve been doing days here and there, but nothing serious.”
While Rabchenko may not inspire Brook in the same manner that his more illustrious opponents did, Brook is not underestimating him. When the Belarusian was trained and promoted by Ricky Hatton, he and Brook shared the ring in sparring. Brook used Rabchenko as a sparring partner ahead of his ill-fated clash with Diego Chaves - Brook withdrew from the fight two weeks ahead of the scheduled date after suffering a rib injury. So, Brook is well aware of the threat the former European champion poses.
“I think he’s a very good fighter,” Brook said. “He’s been in with some good names. He’s very tough, very durable and very clever at what he does.
“I think I’ve sparred with him for a couple of fights, but I’ve not done lots and lots of rounds with him. I think I’ve done enough [rounds sparring] to register that he’s a good fighter.”
It will be Brook’s first fight campaigning at super welterweight. His battles to make 147lbs are well documented and even though, under the supervision of trainer Dominic Ingle and nutritionist Greg Marriott, Brook was shedding the weight in a controlled manner he believes he was depleting himself in doing so.
However, Brook has not ruled out enduring the pain of making welterweight one last time.
“The struggle to make welter[weight] is a big ask for me,” he said. “I think for the right fight, I could consider coming down [to 147lbs], but it takes too much out of me at the minute [to make welterweight] for a fight what’s not really a massive fight.”
Those closest to Brook — including promoter Eddie Hearn — advised him to move up in weight rather than face mandatory challenger Spence. Brook’s last fight had taken place at middleweight, where he put up a valiant but ultimately unsuccessful challenge against Gennady Golovkin.
However, even though it meant moving back down in weight, Brook was unwilling to relinquish his IBF title without a fight — literally.
“At that point, I’d never lost at welterweight,” he said. “Whenever I get in there, I’m always number one. It’s nothing that I’ve not tasted before. It were different because it were in a football stadium, but apart from that, it was just another day in my world.”
However, something was amiss. Brook was emotionless. Even with time to reflect, Brook still cannot determine the cause.
“I felt a little bit different for that fight,” he said. “I can’t really put my finger on what it were. I didn’t really feel nerves. I didn’t really feel anything. It were weird. I didn’t feel anything in that fight, or before the fight. [It was] very weird, very weird. Very weird camp, very weird fight.
“I don’t really like to think about it, to be honest with ya. It’s been, it’s gone.” His voice trailed off. After a short pause, he continued. “I’ve dusted myself down, stood up, I’ve put one foot in front of the other foot and I’m moving, walking forward.”
The first half of the fight with Spence was extremely competitive, which made for compelling viewing. In the sixth round, Brook experienced a sharp, familiar pain. He had broken his eye socket. Against Golovkin, Brook had suffered the same injury - that time to his right eye, this time to his left. Dominic Ingle threw in the towel in the fifth round against Golovkin as Brook’s eye swelled shut. Against Spence, Brook bravely persevered with his vision severely impaired.
“When it first popped I could see, but when I were getting clipped through the other rounds, that’s what were sending the eye really bad,” he said. “Near the end, it was starting to stick in a certain position where I had triple-vision. I tried to adjust it with my hand. It’s a weird sensation.
“The eye did go. It was very hard to see, not just out of the eye, but the double vision. Having one closed is bad enough, but at least you can see out of one eye. When you have double vision it takes you completely off track.”
While the damage to his left eye was a contributory factor in his defeat, Brook believes that it was too simplistic to lay the blame squarely on the injury. He believes it was an accumulation of many things.
The words of Mohammed Ali - the surgeon who fitted Brook with a titanium plate after the Golovkin fight - were flooding his mind.
“It were a big factor, but there were other factors,” Brook said. “The weight were an issue, the preparation were an issue, [my] mental state, the eye. There were a lot of things I had to overcome, especially the eye.
“Seeing the surgeon [sitting] ringside looking at me, [remembering him] telling me [that] in the Golovkin fight that another big shot could have blinded me, knowing that my other eye had gone when I’m in this fight at the time. It were a lot to take in, to digest.”
Brook’s dream of winning a world title has been achieved. His contests with Golovkin and Spence were PPV events on Sky Box Office. He has financial security.
Having reached the pinnacle of the sport, Brook has readdressed his priorities. Where once boxing would have come first, Brook says his health and his family are now paramount.
“If you’d have asked me, maybe five years ago, I’d have been willing to do absolutely anything [to win a fight],” he said. When he won the IBF title from Shawn Porter in 2014 his attitude, he said, was one of victory at any cost.
“I were willing to die in that fight,” he said. “You don’t know until you are in the fight. I were willing to do anything to win a world title.
“When you are comfortable, you’ve got a few quid, you’ve got your family and you are getting older — it’s a sport at the end of the day. I think when you get a bit older, things slightly change.
“You don’t want to be blinded for sport. You live to fight another day, as they say. That’s exactly what were going through my mind [in the 11th and, as it turned out, final round against Spence]. I didn’t want to be blind over defending the world title. It were hard to swallow, but I swallowed it.”
Just as with the Golovkin fight, defeat to Spence hurt Brook. It is not something he is familiar with. It does not sit well with him. He admits that he contemplated retirement — if only briefly.
“There always is [a part of me which thinks about hanging up the gloves] after [a fight],” he said. “I’ve done my thing, but there is still plenty more to give. It’s why I’m back here.”
Having achieved success and secured his family’s future financially, you may wonder what exactly is motivating Brook to continue, given the physical toll and injuries suffered in his last two bouts. For Brook, the answer is simple.
“That excitement [I feel] walking out, the fans, and to push myself,” he said without hesitation. “I’m 100 per cent wiser. You never stop learning.”