Yorkshire Warrior: Kell Brook interview
John A. MacDonald
Home-town support and top-level experience make Kell Brook supremely confident but, as he tells John A. MacDonald, he’s not taking anything for granted against Errol Spence Jr...
The sternest test of his reign as IBF welterweight champion was just over four weeks away when Boxing Monthly spoke to Kell Brook. You might have expected 'Special K' to be nervous, or perhaps even apprehensive.
This certainly was not the case though. The 30-year-old was calm, relaxed, supremely confident, and at ease enough to jokingly remark that his preparations were going “rubbish”.
Despite his cheerful demeanour, Brook was not underestimating the threat that Errol Spence Jr poses ahead of their fight on 27 May at Bramall Lane football ground, home of Sheffield United. In fact, Brook holds his opponent in high regard.
“I rate him in the top five of the welterweights out there in the world,” Brook said over the phone from his home in Sheffield. “He’s beating everyone they are putting in front of him, with ease. He’s definitely looking the part. He’s been getting rid of [Chris] Algieri, [who] went the distance with Amir Khan and Manny Pacquiao. He got rid of [Leonard] Bundu. He’s a very old man, Bundu, but he still stopped him.”
That glowing assessment should not be misconstrued as self-doubt. While Brook rates Spence as a very good fighter, he believes himself to be a superior one. Three years Spence’s senior, and a professional eight years longer than his rival, who has yet to go the 12-round distance, Brook believes the gulf in experience will simply be insurmountable for Spence.
Brook also maintains that that he will produce the best performance of his career. While such claims are not uncommon in the build-up to big fights, Brook’s statement has more credence than most. To date, his biggest opportunities have come away from The Steel City — Shawn Porter in California and Gennady Golovkin in London. Now, for the first time, Brook is in a fight of real significance in his home city. Rather than feeling the weight of expectation, Brook believes the partisan crowd will help to elevate his performance.
“He’s never fought anything at all that comes close to me,” Brook said. “I’ll be a different animal in this fight. I’m fighting at the home of my own football team, I’m back home in Sheffield in front of people I know. I’m a true warrior so I’m going to go out there [and] execute what I’m supposed to do.
“His calibre of [opponent] hasn’t been at my level. I think I’ve got more experience, I’ve been at the highest level in the sport. I’m 30 years old, I’m a mature man, and he’s going to have to come to my backyard. I want to show [the crowd] that I’m doing it for them. I’m a Yorkshire kid. I’m looking forward to drawing the energy from the crowd. It’s going to be a tall order for him.”
Brook is under no illusions and knows he may well have to be at his best to retain his title. The point was stressed to him by his promoter, Eddie Hearn, who recommended a move up to super welterweight. The extra seven pounds would take less of a toll on Brook physically — his battles to make the welterweight limit are well documented — and allow him to face fighters who presented a better risk-to-reward ratio. But Brook was insistent. He had waited too long for his crack at the title.
Brook’s route to a world title shot was convoluted. He boxed for various regional sanctioning body titles and won eliminators, even final eliminators, to become mandatory challenger. His fight with then IBF champion Devon Alexander fell through three times due to injury — once to Alexander and twice to Brook himself — before Brook eventually got into the ring with Porter in August 2014. So, understandably, Brook was defiant, simply unwilling to relinquish his title outside the ring
“They [his team] wanted me to move up in weight and go to 154[lbs] and compete at that weight,” Brook recalled. “They know how much it takes out of me making 147[lbs], and it’s going to be a real battle, a real struggle to make 147[lbs]. But it took me a long time to become champion, and I dug my heels in and said: ‘No. This is what I want to do. I’m not just going to give the title up.’ If you are going to take the title away from me, you’ve got to earn it.”
The dangers of fighting whilst weight-drained are already well known to Brook. For his first encounter with Carson Jones, Brook — by his own admission — made the weight all wrong. For the first six rounds, he displayed his usual finesse, for the final six, he displayed great fortitude as he bravely fought off his oncoming opponent despite suffering from a broken nose and exhaustion.
Since that fight, Brook has worked with a nutritionist to prevent such issues occurring again, but having only gone the 12-round distance once since — against Porter almost three years ago — Brook is honest enough to admit that he simply doesn’t know if he still possesses the endurance required to go the distance after getting down to the welterweight limit.
“None of these fights have taken me any rounds,” Brook said of his world title defences. “They’ve all ended early, so we’ve never seen if I’ve got the energy and the stamina to go the full 12 [rounds]. I believe I can do it. I’ve done it before, and in the gym I’ll be doing 12-rounders, pushing myself. 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.”
To ensure he is in peak physical condition, Brook has once again based himself in Fuerteventura, trading in the fog, rain and wind of the former epicentre of British steel in favour of the Spanish sunshine. As well as the advantages of more favourable weather, Brook also reaps the rewards of being in an environment free of distractions, solely focused on boxing, surrounded by his gym-mates.
Due to the many benefits afforded to him abroad, Brook will spend the majority of his training camp on the second largest of the Canary Islands, leaving his friends and his partner and two daughters behind in Britain. While this separation is not easy, Brook draws motivation from it.
“I think it makes you more hungry, more determined, more focused knowing why you’re actually in another country,” he said on being away from home. “It makes you more focused when you think: why are you doing it? You are doing it for your family. It pushes you on even more.”
This training camp will be in stark contrast to his last, where he had increased focus on weight training and was able to eat frequently as he jumped up two weight classes to face Gennady Golovkin.
Initially, Brook seemed destined to face then-WBO champion Jessie Vargas, while Chris Eubank Jr looked set to take on GGG. Ultimately, both negotiations stalled, stagnated and eventually broke down, only for Brook to step up to face Golovkin, a decision Brook says he accepted without hesitation.
“I got a text [from Eddie Hearn] saying: ‘Do you want to fight Golovkin?’” Brook recalled. “I probably had to check it three or four times to make sure I were reading it right [laughs]. I thought about it for about 30 seconds, and replied: ‘Let’s do this!’ Easy as that. It shows you that I’ve got massive balls, as they say. I’ll fight anybody, because I believe that I’m a very good fighter and that I can take these guys on.”
While his acceptance of the Golovkin fight may have been almost instantaneous, the magnitude of the task began to dawn on Brook as the weeks passed by. Golovkin’s streak of 22 consecutive knockout victories instilled healthy caution in Brook. Yet despite the lauded punch-power of his opponent, Brook never lost faith that he could win.
“Of course I were nervous,” Brook candidly admitted. “This is the guy that’s knocking everybody out at middleweight. I’d never fought at middleweight. I’m a human being. You have to be nervous, but I were also confident that I could beat this guy. I knew I’d shock everyone in the world of boxing — which I did.”
Although Brook was ahead on one judge’s scorecard and level on the other two, he believes trainer Dominic Ingle did the right thing in throwing in the towel in the fifth round, especially as it was later discovered that Brook had suffered a broken eye socket.
“It wasn’t the plan, but as soon as I got hurt in the eye, I seen red,” Brook said. “I thought: ‘Sod this! I’ll stand and have a fight in a phone booth with you.’ It was very difficult. I couldn’t see out of the eye at all. It were hard. I think my trainer Dominic Ingle — he’s known me from a young age — he knew I couldn’t see, he knew there’s a big problem there, so he were looking after me health. I think he did the right thing.”
Brook’s voice trailed off, before a reaffirmation: “He did the right thing in stopping the fight. The surgeon said if I [had] got hit again on it, I could have been blind in that eye.”
As a result, the man from the Steel City now has a titanium plate to replace the shattered bone. Brook has been assured by his surgeon — fittingly named Mohammed Ali — that there is no risk of the injury reoccurring, and that the area around his right eye is stronger than ever.
Recovery from the psychological wounds of defeat took longer than the physical damage. Brook went into the Golovkin fight with the longest unbeaten record of any active British fighter. He admits he struggled to come to terms with his first loss.
“I felt gutted,” Brook said, his flat tone in marked contrast to his earlier upbeat manner. “It had never happened to me in my career. I’d never lost. It were hard to swallow. I was frustrated because I believe I could still have won the fight if the eye hadn’t gone. I think I would have had a great chance. It [the feeling] lasted a long time. It were very hard to grasp that I’d lost. It were hard.”
Given the profound effect that defeat had on Brook, it is perhaps surprising that he shunned the route of least resistance for his next fight. For Brook, it is simple: He wants to prove himself. It is why he chose to face Golovkin and it is why he is fighting Spence.
“I want to test myself to the highest level, because nobody has really tested me,” Brook said. “I’ve just dealt with whoever’s been put in front of me. I believe this is going to bring the best out of me. It’s going to test me. As well as my legacy, it shows I’ll fight anybody — and I’ll beat everybody.”
With the exception of the Golovkin bout, career-defining fights have eluded Brook. Unifications have failed to come to fruition, and the likes of Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather have been beyond his reach. Even a fight that ostensibly makes perfect sense, against British rival Amir Khan, has been repeatedly bogged down by boxing politics.
Brook is weary of this. He hopes that victory over Spence can be the catalyst to securing the contests he craves. He has one fighter in particular in his sights — Keith Thurman, the WBC and WBA champion. Brook would be willing to put himself through the rigours of making 147lbs one more time if a bout with Thurman could be arranged.
“I just want to get my gloves on and have a fight,” Brook said. “I don’t want to get involved with all the politics and why it can’t happen. It’s spoiling the sport. It’s not nice to have a loss on your record but it’s like the UFC. A load of people turn out to see two great fighters. They might have a few losses on their records, but they know it’s going to be a great fight.
“It has been frustrating, but I can’t carry on getting frustrated about it. You’ve got to carry on and, hopefully, make these fights happen. I think by beating Errol Spence — who everybody has tipped as the next pound-for-pound best — the world has to stop, stand still and give me praise. Then steer me towards Keith Thurman — he’s got the other belts in the division — and have a mega, monster fight between me and him after this one.”