As I wrote last week, on paper there was something very special about the Kell Brook-Errol Spence matchup. There was the lingering possibility that it would disappoint of course but this just seemed to have an aura and feeling that is rather rare in boxing nowadays. Just like most memorable battles that came before it, this was a clash of two fighters that simply needed to win. Brook had made a surprising choice in returning to Welterweight and that coupled with the 30,000 fans packed inside his home stadium left him in a must-win situation. Though much of the focus was on Brook’s return though, Spence entered with his own story and considering the obscenely high expectations that followed him into the ring, failure simply wasn't an option for him either.
When you get two world-class fighters opposite each other it often makes for something memorable but when both men enter truly desperate for victory, that’s a special thing. This past Saturday’s fight in Sheffield certainly encapsulated that. Considering his complete lack of experience with an event of that magnitude, Spence’s composed disposition was certainly impressive and in hindsight, that likely signified something bigger. If you watch the sweet science for long enough, you soon realize that not every touted prospect will deliver under the brightest lights. That concern surrounded Spence too but the way he carried himself suggested that there was a little more to him. Behind the hype was a man poised in the moment, completely assured that his quest couldn't and wouldn't be stopped.
He was up against a man of genuine talent though and that showed early as Brook’s sharp jab gave Spence some issues at range. However, though this was only his first world title bout, Spence’s success hadn't made him a one-dimensional fighter and the American immediately began to rip into Brook with ferocious body shots. The attacks were focused, intense and quickly changed Brook’s body language. The champion refused to wilt under the consistent pressure though and continued to have success at distance. That intriguing clash of styles would become a pattern for the next handful of rounds too, as the two fighters battled for any sustainable advantage possible.
Whilst Spence was definitely scoring to the body, Brook’s strength and size did allow him to push the contender around inside the clinch. In that same way, Spence certainly wasn't out of his depth in the pure boxing exchanges and landed some excellent straight shots of his own. After six rounds it was very close and though Brook was slightly leading on most scorecards, there seemed to be an underlying truth behind the scores. Some had doubted Spence’s punch resistance but his chin had held admirably firm and so far Brook’s had done the same. Both men entered with the reputation of knockout artists but neither had visibly rocked their counterpoint thus far.
The difference was that Spence had invested in body work early and it now seemed to be paying dividends. With each clinch Brook seemed to be more weathered and Spence’s confidence simply refused to falter. At the halfway point the fight hung in the balance but Spence’s route to victory seemed increasingly clear. Too much was uncertain and in order to avoid controversy, now was the time for Spence to forcefully take the belt from the champion. After a somewhat quiet 7th round Spence would indeed adapt too and his pressure intensified. Brook’s punches suddenly seemed to have less pop and power and Spence’s persistence was now having an impact.
A couple of strong rounds likely left Spence in a much better position on the scorecards and Brook’s momentum had now been almost completely halted. He looked tired, weary and damaged both mentally and physically. Worse than all of that though, Brook’s left eye had begun to swell rapidly and it was understandably affecting the Englishman’s body language and demeanor. That recent defeat to Gennady Golovkin had come due to a broken right eye socket and now that same injury was repeating itself on the left side. Some dialog in Brook’s corner suggested that the injury had left the defending champion and his team greatly concerned but with just three rounds left, the fight was still winnable, at least on paper.
The next nine minutes of boxing would decide who was leaving Bramall Lane champion and Spence wasn't willing to trust the judges, now stepping up his onslaught even more and overwhelming Brook in the process. The combination of Spence’s continued body attack and Brook’s inability to see much of the oncoming offense forced the Brit to take a knee. It was all just too much and as he rose to his feet, Spence looked set to end proceedings with the very next flurry. He tried to do just that too, jumping on Brook with combinations but the champion stood firm. His vision was impaired and his gas tank emptied but there was still some fight left in the hometown fighter and he fired back with some heavy shots of his own, each one filled with pure desperation.
If there was any doubt in Spence he likely would’ve unraveled under that ferocious Brook rally but the American refused to back up and continued to throw shots of his own, even if his recent aggression had left him somewhat depleted. The 10th round will likely end up as one of the year’s finest but in the 11th the inevitable finish finally occurred as Brook’s eye injury led to him dropping to a knee and with that, the fight’s merciful end. Human nature meant that much of the focus was on Brook’s saddening demise in front of his hometown crowd but as Errol Spence celebrated, it was undeniably clear that a star had just been born in the American.
In throwback fashion, Spence had claimed his first ever world title by defeating a real champion in front of his own people and he’d done it with a stoppage. Though he’d never even been past the eighth round before, Spence showed the poise and versatility of an experienced champion. In a grueling battle unlike most fights you’ll see all year, Spence stood in the fire calmly and came out on top. There is a long way to go of course but as of right now, the new IBF champion seems to have all the tools to become something very, very special in the boxing and sports world. Regardless of what happens in the years to come though, this past Saturday in Sheffield Spence proved that his nickname ‘The Truth’ couldn't be more apt.