Truth or dare: Brook vs Spence Jr preview
With a huge outdoor crowd expected in Sheffield, Saturday night's showdown between IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook and challenger Errol Spence Jr has Chris Williamson salivating with expectation...
The four main governing bodies administering world championship boxing attract much criticism, some of which is richly deserved. Through enforcement of mandatory defences on their champions, they sometimes impose fights virtually nobody demands, as well as often facing claims of favouritism in rankings towards those who fight for a secondary championship trinket, hobnob at the right conventions or align themselves with a certain promoter.
This is a narrative which partially explains IBF welterweight champion Kell Brook's stuttered reign since he won the title back in August 2014 with easily the most impressive win of his career against Shawn Porter in California.
The Briton's first challenger 'Jo Jo' Dan earned his status as mandatory contender by winning something called the IBF inter-continental title against Canada's Kevin Bizier. Dan was floored several times before being stopped in the fourth round by Brook. As if that wasn't bad enough, almost exactly a year later, Brook was forced to defend against the hapless Bizier, a mismatch which Brook ended in the second round.
Some fourteen months later there can be no complaints whatsoever though about the third mandatory defence faced by the 31-year-old Brook. In the midst of what is shaping up to be the finest year for the sweet science in recent memory, Brook faces the challenge of Errol Spence Jr, an unbeaten 27-year-old southpaw contender anointed by a number of good judges - including Floyd Mayweather Jr whose own prodigy Gervonta Davis broke British hearts last week by blasting out Liam Walsh - as the 'next big thing'. Boxing Monthly rates Brook as the number two welterweight in the world (behind Manny Pacquiao) with Texas-based Spence at number five.
Spence is no stranger to Britain having climaxed an impressive amateur career at the 2012 London Olympics, reaching the quarter-finals before being defeated by Andrey Zamkovoy. As a professional fighting under the guidance of Al Haymon, this challenge is the first time Spence has ventured outside the USA. Brook vs Spence continues a theme of recent outdoor stadium bouts held in Britain, and is the first fight at Sheffield's Bramall Lane football ground since Herol Graham boxed American contender Lindell Holmes back in the summer of 1984. Around 30,000 fans are expected on a baking hot bank holiday weekend.
Spence arrives with a formidable reputation as a boxer-puncher, established with knockouts of durable men in Chris Algieri (KO5) and Leonard Bundu (KO6) and whispers from behind closed doors of impressive sparring sessions against the likes of Mayweather and Adrien Broner. With Bundu lying on the canvas after his last bout in August, Spence motioned an imaginary belt across his waist while appearing to mouth: "I want that strap". Brook's welterweight belt has been on the young New York born contender's shopping list for quite some time.
Spence is extremely athletic with an excellent right-hand jab from the southpaw stance, good feet and he thuds in wicked body punches with both hands to tempt his opponents hands down. One wonders if a potentially weight-drained Brook will struggle to take these punches if and when they land. The punishing jab is often followed by a vicious straight left hand, with the right hook also a favoured weapon Brook will have to be wary of. Defensively, though, Spence can look open while on the offensive, particularly while winging those wide, albeit very fast hooks and especially tends to leave his right hand low.
"I don’t feel the pressure at all," Spence said at a media workout this week. "I feel like there’s more pressure on him because he’s fighting at home. You know, he has to please his family, his friends and all the hometown people that are coming to see him fight. But, of course, there’s pressure on me to win. But I welcome that pressure, because it’s gonna do nothing but motivate me, and make me more hungry and make me want the win even more.”
Brook, of course, is coming off the only defeat of his career, a wildly exciting fifth-round defeat to middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in which his reputation was enhanced. Brook proved his fighting heart in that match, even having his moments with the fearsome Golovkin before being pulled out by trainer Dominic Ingle. Brook suffered a broken orbital in the bout which he claims are now fully healed.
Brook recently told the BBC boxing podcast he has no concerns about the eye injury. "My surgeon said it will be as strong as before and it's supposed to be practically bullet proof," he said. "I know when someone tries sticking it on me I see red. I go forward, I don't think it will be an issue."
Apart from recovery from the eye injury, another question mark has been in Brook's ability to effectively make ten and a half stones (147lbs) safely. In a revealing interview for the May issue of Boxing Monthly magazine, Brook admitted to John A. MacDonald that the speed at which he's dispatched his title challengers means he doesn't know if he still has the energy and stamina at welterweight to go the full 12 rounds
"I believe I can do it," Kell told MacDonald. "I believe this fight is going to be very difficult, but I've definitely got it in my locker to go out there and win."
For this bout Brook has spent 16 weeks training in Fuerteventura and, if social media posts are anything to go by, he looks in terrific shape with his nutritionist Greg Marriott posting details of a 'cheat meal' of garlic prawns and mushrooms, steak and chocolate fudge cake on 19 May, exactly a week before the weigh-in.
Brook, like Spence, is highly athletic with a solid jab from an opposing orthodox stance. The champion can crack hard enough to gain respect, especially at this weight where - outside of the defeat of Porter - Brook has only twice gone the distance since 2012 - notably in his tussle five years ago with Carson Jones, which was widely regarded as the close call which prompted the Sheffield man to take his training regime much more seriously.
Brook seems to relish the opportunity to fight at home. "I am Steel City, I am Sheffield born and bred and these are all the crew. I've got all my people behind me 100 per cent. We're going to rock Sheffield Saturday night," Brook said this week. "I am going to draw some serious energy from these guys. They're going to be screaming and shouting. They're coming to a great event and I'm ready. I'm pumped and can't wait to let them 'brownies' [hands[ go."
In his May BM magazine preview, editor Graham Houston sided very slightly with Spence while noting that the odds on Brook would likely tighten if he were looking physically sensational in fight week.
Well, Brook does look to have prepared himself fantastically well and when fighters are well matched and in or around their prime, I tend to side with the fighter who is the more battle-tested, who has proved they can operate at the highest level.
While Spence - much like Gervonta Davis before his arrival on the world scene - passes the 'eye-test', the Shawn Porter victory and brave challenge to the mighty Golovkin proved Kell's mettle.
When faced with danger, the Sheffield fighter thrives. I expect Spence to have some notable success early on, almost certainly hurting the home fighter with lightning quick hooks and uppercuts while in close, but I back Brook to ride out the storm of the first two or three rounds and begin to take over in the middle period for a mid-to-late rounds stoppage victory.