Manchester’s AO Arena played witness to the resolution of the Amir Khan–Kell Brook rivalry after over fifteen years of exchanges between the pair, the latter halting his arch nemesis at the beginning of the sixth of a scheduled twelve rounds. The two finally embraced and demonstrated their respects for one another both in the ring and then at the post-fight press conference, ending what had been a bitter feud on a positive note in what may prove to be the final fight for both. Earlier on the card, Natasha Jonas secured a world title belt at the third time of asking against Christian Namus, Frazer Clarke won early in his professional debut and Brad Rea scored another first-round knockout in his home city.
SKY SPORTS YOUTUBE COVERAGE:
Saturday’s card in Manchester was kicked off by Ricky Hatton’s super-bantamweight protégé Ibrahim Nadim who moved to 6-0 as a professional with another shut-out points victory over Taka Bembere, displaying great hand-speed and footwork throughout behind a stabbing orthodox jab in the four-round bout. Cousin of Amir, featherweight Abdul Khan cruised to his third professional win in as many fights over Ricky Starkey, knocking the latter to the canvas in the opening round with a well-timed right hook in the final seconds of the first round, although replays appeared to show the shot landing onto the shoulder of Starkey. Nevertheless, Khan ran out a comfortable winner across four rounds on the cards by score of 40-35.
Sky’s televised coverage began with Germaine Brown’s successful acquisition of the English super-middleweight title in a fight which proved to be the most competitive of the night, outpointing Manchester’s Charlie Schofield on the cards over ten rounds (92-99 twice and 92-98 respectively). London’s Brown started the bout fast, seemingly closing the distance and working on the inside comfortably throughout the opening rounds. Schofield prodded with the jab but couldn’t seem to halt the oncoming Brown, forced to clinch regularly throughout the contest.
Though Schofield enjoyed some temporary success as the fight entered the middle rounds, again Brown regained the ascendancy from both short and longer range, demonstrating a sharp jab before letting his hands go on the inside, the Manchester man again forced to hold to slow the challenger’s momentum. Upon the sounding of the final bell, it was clear that the belt would be changing hands, though Schofield should be afforded lots of credit for his perseverance, never letting his head drop through his continuous searching for a way to win. He will come again. Brown meanwhile showed character to come to the champion’s backyard, in an arena which albeit was barely half full, and to take the belt home with such a dominant performance.
Promising lightweight prospect Adam Azim moved to 3-0 as a professional with a third-round stoppage of Jordan Ellison in a bout scheduled for six. Azim again demonstrated his lightning hand-speed, sending Ellison to the canvas inside the first round before finishing the bout with a devastating left hook which left the Tyneside man sprawled on his back before scrambling to reclimb to his feet. Referee Darren Sarginson immediately waved the fight off, signalling Azim’s second knockout of his short career so far.
His brother, Hassan Azim, also secured victory later in the night to move to 2-0 after comfortably outpointing MJ Hall over four rounds (referee Sarginson scoring the bout 40-36 respectively). Azim was equally impressive against a tough Hall, demonstrating good shot selection and footwork as he glided around the Manchester ring. Both Azim brothers no doubt have big futures ahead of them and a strong coach in Shane McGuigan in their corner to guide them on their professional journey.
Popular cruiserweight Viddal Riley secured his fifth professional win in as many contests in his first pro fight on UK soil, sending Willbeforce Shihepo to the canvas after walking the Namibian onto a beautifully timed right uppercut on his way to a comfortable points victory over six rounds. Riley, who has already gained a strong following due to his work with YouTubers ‘KSI’ and ‘AnesonGib’, is looking to prove he is more than capable inside the squared circle as he continues to develop in the professional game.
Manchester’s ever-entertaining middleweight Bradley Rea moved to 12-0 with the fifth knockout of his career so far, blowing away Ireland’s Craig McCarthy inside the first round with a phenomenal left uppercut which left the latter flat on his back. Rea stunned his man with a stabbing straight right which appeared to stiffen the legs of McCarthy before unleashing a devastating uppercut which snapped the neck back of the Irishman, sealing his fate in front of Rea’s home fans. This follows on from Rea’s superb dust-up last year with Jez Smith which was one of the domestic fights of the year, another statement of intent as Rea, trained by Ricky Hatton, moves ever closer to a domestic title shot.
Tokyo bronze medallist Frazer Clarke got his professional career underway against a last-minute replacement in fellow debutant Jake Darnell in a bout which drew a fair amount of criticism online. Nevertheless, Clarke dusted any cobwebs off that may have been hanging around since securing bronze at the Olympics last summer, and given the circumstances surrounding the change in opponents, no blame can be laid at his feet. ‘Big Fraze’ will no doubt be moved at a faster pace than the norm due to his extensive amateur background and age, the thirty-year-old unable to hang around if he is to reach the same heights in the professional code as he did as an amateur.
The chief support of the evening saw Liverpool’s Natasha Jonas finally secure a world title belt in emphatic fashion, blowing away Uruguay’s Christian Namus inside two rounds in what was her third shot on the world stage. Unfortunate to not have her hand raised previously against Terri Harper and slightly edged out by the great Katie Taylor, Jonas knew defeat would likely call an end to any ambitions of attaining a world title strap, and wasted no time on Saturday, sending the Uruguayan to the canvas in the opening round with a hard and precise left hand which Namus did well to get up from. The bell appeared to have saved Namus at the end of the first, at least momentarily, before Jonas immediately set about her at the start of the second. The finish wasn’t far away, with ‘Miss GB’ following a short right hook up with another punishing left to send Namus into the ropes and onto the seat of her trunks again, the Uruguayan’s cornerman waving climbing onto the canvas to wave the towel, already having seen enough.
Not only had Jonas stepped up three weight divisions in the process by jumping up to super-welterweight, four if you consider that she is probably a natural super-featherweight and stepped up to 135lbs to challenge the aforementioned Taylor, but she had also carried her punch power up through the divisions with her. Most expected Jonas to be the more technically astute of the pair, but weight divisions exist for a reason, and one couldn’t help but ponder how she would cope against the size and physicality of Namus who had previously held a world title at 154lbs before losing it in the ring four years ago.
Jonas however answered any questions with flying colours and may now look for a fight with WBA champion Hannah Rankin who was on commentary and pundit duty for Sky Sports at ringside. Not many scousers can claim to have received standing ovations from a capacity crowd in Manchester, but it is hard not to be delighted for the former 2012 Olympian as she finally secured her dream of attaining world champion status.
THE MAIN EVENT:
Once all regarding the undercard was said and done, attention soon turned to the long anticipated main event between Bolton’s Amir Khan and Sheffield’s Kell Brook. The arena crowd appeared to be split down the middle, both fighters attracting large sections of support from the approximate 20,000 that had gathered at the AO Arena. The wait for the ring walks seemed to go on and on however, with the Sky Box Office broadcast announcing that there was a last-minute dispute regarding the type of glove to be worn by Brook.
Eventually, the legendary master of ceremonies Michael Buffer bellowed out his iconic ‘let’s get this party started’ line and introduced the ‘Special One’ to the ring. The melody to Kanye West’s ‘All of the Lights’ was played via piano, triggering boos from pro-Khan portions of the crowd, before the actual West hit bellowed out across the arena, signalling that the entrance of Brook was just moment away. The Sheffield man emerged from the stage lift in a vibrant red robe and marched towards the ring with intent, boos and cheers sounding around him depending on the area of the crowd in focus. Brook entered the ring but then peculiarly changed gloves again, stating after the fight that he was told he would not get paid unless he did so. It wasn’t great to see, Brook himself suggesting afterwards that it marked a last-ditch attempt at unsettling him from his game plan with the opening bell now only minutes away.
The crowd then awaited the entrance of Khan, which was kickstarted by the tune of Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’, the same song Terence Crawford walked to on his way to stopping Brook in 2020. Khan too walked to the ring with real purpose and the pair were soon ushered to the centre of the ring for final instructions by referee Victor Loughlin. Both fighters stripped down, British fans were moments away from finally witnessing an Amir Khan – Kell Brook fight.
The first round was frantic, both enjoying moments of success, but it was Brook who appeared to land the most impactful blow, rocking Khan towards the end of the round with a stiff straight right followed by a hard left. Khan’s legs appeared to wobble, prompting a reaction from the capacity crowd, an encouraging sign for Brook in the opening session. The second was not as eventful, though Brook probably taking it. Khan was enjoying some success for most of the third, moving around the ring much better and evading much of what was coming his way. That was until the final thirty seconds, Khan initially landing a solid right to the head of Brook before the latter unleashed a big straight right down the centre, Khan somehow maintaining his footing. There can be no doubting the heart and desire of the Bolton man who did not once shy away from the onslaughts from Brook. Khan again appeared hurt in the final ten seconds with his back to the ropes.
Brook again looked to have hurt Khan with a hard right in the fourth, before enjoying further success in the fifth with solid one-twos and clubbing hooks on the inside. Khan looked to defend himself behind a tight guard, amazingly still on his feet. For a fighter with a supposed weak chin, Khan was eating everything coming his way. Brook meanwhile looked focused, displaying patience and superb timing as he looked to pick apart a faded Amir Khan.
Khan’s punishment was brought to a merciful ending in the sixth, referee Victor Loughlin stepping in to wave the fight off after he was again hurt by a Brook right early in the round, with Brook lining up another punishing barrage with his opponent’s back to the ropes. Brook immediately raised his arms in the air, long-term trainer Dominic Ingle lifting him onto his shoulders to the delight of the Sheffield fans that had gathered ringside. Brook had finally vindicated everything he had said over the years, proving himself right after continually insisting he would stop the Bolton man. He did just that, winning every round on the night, punishing Khan who was clearly now far beyond his prime. Referee Loughlin should be afforded enormous credit for stepping in when he did, the fight seemingly heading one way which would have ended with Khan flat on his back, a sight nobody wanted or needed to see.
Khan will surely now retire, indicating as much in his post-fight interview backstage where he said he would sit down with his family to discuss his future, admitting his love for the sport is no longer as strong as it once was. Brook too can certainly be forgiven if he was to choose retirement after a long, hard career, though the temptation will surely be there for one more big night, Chris Eubank Jr and Conor Benn among those to throw their names into the hat for a big domestic showdown later in 2022.