BOXING

I’m not sure I fully understand why, yet Kell Brook appears to have a lot of detractors. Particularly online and especially in America.

When he turned road warrior last August and ventured out to sunny Carson, California, to challenge “Showtime” Shawn Porter for his IBF 147lb strap, many people, even among his loyal base of fans here in England, quietly harboured serious concerns that The Special One wasn’t going to be able to produce the goods to dethrone the American fighter on his home turf.

Porter was himself also undefeated, coming off the back of his impressive demolition job on Paulie Malignaggi, and the likelihood of Brook joining names like Lennox Lewis and Lloyd Honeyghan as British fighters to win a version of the world title on American soil, seemed highly unlikely to many.

Yet here in Britain, as we always seem to when our sporting heroes take on the rest of the world, we kept our belief in his talent and our fingers remained crossed. Kell Brook, perhaps for the first time in his career, walked into a fight an underdog.

However, he wouldn’t let us down.

Whilst the shorter, marauding Porter started fast and looked to be fulfilling many pre fight predictions, an un-ruffled Brook ignored an early cut to work his way back into the contest, clipping and catching Porter with the faster, crisper and more accurate punching. It was a remarkable show of composure from Brook, who had boxed in America only once before. Given the magnitude of the occasion, and the fact that he had patiently waited so long for his opportunity, one can only respect such calm under fire.

The first two judges scorecards of 117-111 and 116-112, were the most fair reflection of the fight in the opinion of this writer. One could view it as slightly ironic that it was the British judge, Dave Parris, who scored the contest a 114-114 draw. Despite this, it would be unfair not to say that some news outlets, both in America and Britain, gave the nod to Porter, yet it didn’t really matter. Kell Brook could write his name into the history books. He WAS the champion of the world.

Predictably, the blood on his gloves hadn’t even dried before the first detractors took to their keyboards to poke holes in his performance. In this modern age of the internet, the criticism and scrutiny of a fighter and his record is unlike at any time in history. Thanks in part to Boxrec and YouTube, suddenly anyone can become an expert, and with regards to Kell Brook, many so-called “experts” seem keen to have their say and wade in.

Criticism of his performances, level of opposition and how long its taken to win a world honour are some of the things Brooks detractors like to bring up and discuss most often.

As someone who has watched the rise, and intermittent stutters, in the career of Kell Brook, I feel much of this criticism surrounding him is a tad unfair. Obviously absorbing criticism is part of the career of any fighter, yet with Brook, it seems somehow more persistent, more frequent. In Brook’s case I have a sneaking suspicion I know exactly where it all started.

Brook was one of many fighters from Frank Warren’s stable to defect to Matchroom Sport and Eddie Hearn, doing so in 2011. He had captured the British welterweight title back in 2008 and is one of the minority of fighters to have the distinction of owning the Lonsdale belt outright. Since turning professional in 2004, he had looked slick and stylish, improving with every outing. Every sign from the boxing press and every signal from those in the trade, was that once again, the Ingle family’s famous Wincobank gym in Sheffield had produced another potential world beater.

When Brook dominated the experienced Matthew Hatton back in March of 2012, it was Brook’s 27th fight. In this day and age of fighters challenging for world titles after a handful of bouts, this may seem like a lot, but in reality it isn’t. As an outright owner of the Lonsdale belt who was being moved through the levels at a steady and progressive pace, Brook was on the cusp of world titles when he fought Hatton, looking extremely good in doing so. The fact of the matter is the Hatton fight, whilst not relevant to Americans, was a big one for the British fans and a perfect showcase for Brook to a wider British audience.

It was his next fight, an IBF world title eliminator in July of 2012, against American contender Carson Jones, who was then (34-8-2) that things started to go wrong for an out of sorts Brook and the wheels wobbled, even if they didn’t really come off. In reality it was that fight that started much of the criticism of Kell from the Americans.

After an assured and confident start that showcased his superior speed and movement, the Sheffield man rallied hard in the 5th and 6th, but soon came under fire from a game and durable Carson Jones, ending up bloodied and in survival mode on route to grinding out a close MD victory. The US fighter had come in high on confidence after an 8 fight win streak and was immediately crying out for a rematch following the close decision. Crucially though, with regard to the criticism of him, a new American audience had seen England’s new welterweight hope for the first time. And they weren’t impressed. Carson Jones, whilst one of their own, wasn’t exactly an elite fighter even in their eyes.

If this was all that little old England had to offer the welterweight division on the world stage of the near future, then the American’s weren’t bothered in the slightest.

A catalogue of injury on all sides, world title challenge postponements and then shock title changes, all had an impact upon the road Brook was to ultimately take towards his glory night in California against Porter.

In October of 2012, in his final eliminator for the IBF title, Brook blew out (41-2) Argentina’s Hector Saldivia in three rounds, the same month American Devon Alexander actually captured the belt. With injury to both Brook and Alexander seperately postponing their meeting until May of 2013, it seemed certain Brook would finally get his chance until he was cruelly injured again, forcing him to pull out of the bout.

The American fans instead saw his replacement, the courageous yet limited brawler Lee Purdy. With all due respect to Purdy, he was simply outclassed by a fighter who was a level above him in every aspect and the fans, and Brook himself, were once again denied the fight they really wanted to see. In short, whilst he was game, Purdy was not an adequate substitute for Kell Brook.

What many of his critics choose to ignore is that two months after Alexander beat Purdy, Brook, still recovering from his own injury worries, “avenged” his MD win over Carson Jones, doing so by stylish 8th round TKO having floored Jones early, announcing that the postponements to his world title had not affected his psyche. He proved to the doubters he was out of sorts in the first fight with Jones, and this time there were no questions and could be no arguments from the American.

What Brook’s team didn’t bank on was then truly untested prospect “Showtime” Shawn Porter beating Devon Alexander in the December of 2013, thus completely changing their focus given their position as #1 (IBF) contenders. Two months prior, Brook had knocked out (34-1) Vyacheslav Senchenko, the man who had retired Ricky Hatton for good.

However in boxing, a world class fighter and his team are ready for anything and Kell Brook was more than ready when Shawn Porter won the belt and took the defence against Malignaggi, fighting a tick over himself the month before and setting up that magical night in California.

Like every fairy tale however, a villain must always enter the piece, and here it did in the form of a potentially career ending machete attack in Tenerife, that left the newly crowned champion in fear of not just his career, but his life.

Many rumours have abounded as to how Kell Brook found himself in a Tenerife apartment with a man who ended up attacking him with a machete. The detractors I’ve referenced in this piece have speculated it was a drugs deal gone sour, that Brook was seeking to buy cocaine. This is slanderous and in no way provable and whilst there are no doubt questions that remain unanswered about that fateful evening, the fact of the matter is nothing can be proven any which way. What does remain as fact, is that no young man, world champion boxer or not, deserves to have their life and career potentially ended by a madman acting seemingly on a crazed whim.

So after months of anguish, surgery, physio and rehab, a fully fit Kell Brook returns to the ring on March 28th on Matchroom Sports “Unbreakable” card to make the first defence of his IBF welterweight title. The bill name is in itself a reference to Brook and his various trials and tribulations. What is for sure is that thousands will be watching to see if mandatory challenger Jo Jo Dan (34-2,18ko) can indeed break the Special One. Whilst I find that highly unlikely, it will be interesting to see just how comfortable Kell looks under the bright lights come fight night. Whilst he is no push-over, having earned his mandatory status, Romanian fighter Dan, is not expected to provide a stern, world class test. It will be dependent upon Brook and trainer Dominic Ingle to put on a world class performance however, and anything less, despite returning from injury, will send the detractors again into overdrive.

Aside from “you know who”, Kell Brook is now in the mix with the best welterweights in the world. By fighting his mandatory now, rather than later, Brook is essentially getting Jo Jo Dan “out the way”, and Eddie Hearn is already looking to set up a huge summer showdown in Sheffield against Juan Manuel Marquez, Brandon Rios or my personal favourite, Keith Thurman.

It sadly seems that the all British grudge match against domestic rival Amir Khan is not a feature in the immediate plans of Brook, as Khan has ruled himself out of a summer fight between them for now. Eddie Hearn has tempted the Bolton man with a potential June date at Wembley, although as yet, there is no news.

After his electric, step up in class performance against a teak tough Robert Guererro last week, Keith Thurman presents the most exciting and fan-friendly fight for both in my opinion. A brash, no nonsense kind of fighter, “One Time” has asserted on more than one occasion that he is prepared to come to the UK to fight in Brook’s back yard. The clash of Brooks slick counter punching and Thurman’s aggressive, all action style could well make for a fight of the year candidate.

Whilst fights with veteran Marquez and the smaller Brandon Rios hold some sway, I genuinely feel if Brook is to silence those who so doubt his class, the Thurman fight is the one that makes the most credible statement.

Yet for now we await the 28th March and the return of Kell Brook. What we will be looking for is a classy and composed performance from a champion who is finally enjoying his moment in the sun. With the promise of a big summer fight and payday, I expect a motivated Brook to start confidently and break down Jo Jo Dan over the middle rounds with crisper, more powerful and accurate punches. Expect a fighter out of his depth, who will be looking for a way out come the later rounds in the challenger. With the partisan crowd breaking his spirit, and a classy Brook breaking his heart, I see nothing but a Brook stoppage in the last third, indeed proving to his fans that he remains “Unbreakable” indeed.

Many thanks for reading. You can follow me on Twitter @undilutedpoison.

IF BROOKE FIGHTS KHAN WHAT HAPPENS? – Please leave your comments below or on Twitter @britishboxers