Boxing’s current matchmaking approach comes with good and bad. The negative is that often we have to wait for meaningful fights, and it can be frustrating to watch fighters waste away their prime on mismatches. However, the positive is that the genuinely elite fights and fighters really do stand out. With a schedule sparse on evenly matched major fights, those that fit that bill feel all the more special. This Saturday night we not only see an evenly matched title fight but also a clash of two fighters that seemingly have that extra something special. On one side is ‘The Special One’ himself, the IBF Welterweight champion Kell Brook. His challenger: Errol Spence Jr, a man with a nation’s lofty expectations resting on his back.
Though Spence didn’t medal in the 2012 Olympics, his hype as a professional soon skyrocketed as the knockout wins quickly stacked up. The competition was slowly improving too but the results weren't changing as Spence finished Samuel Vargas, Phil Lo Greco, Chris van Heerden and Alejandro Barrera in succession. By the end of 2015, the man known as ‘The Truth’ had climbed the ranks rapidly and was already number two in the IBF standings. Though it was almost eighteen months ago, even back then the champion above Spence was Brook and he’d already held the belt for well over a year.
Unlike Spence though, Brook’s ascension to that point hadn't been so swift. In fact, it was 2010 when people first started discussing Brook as a world title contender. After just over twenty fights, ‘The Special One’ was ranked high and his then promoter Frank Warren had already begun publicly discussing a potential fight with dominant superstar Manny Pacquiao. That fight wouldn't come to fruition though and Brook would instead tread water until opting to sign with then only emerging British promoter Eddie Hearn. Other than some scares against Carson Jones, Brook would continue to dominate his much scrutinized opposition too, but wouldn't actually fight for a world title until August 2014.
For years Brook had stood at the front of the waiting line, successfully fighting eliminators regularly. However, as he entered the ring for his title clash with champion Shawn Porter, many felt that Kell was still unprepared for such opposition. That sounds comical considering that Brook had a glittering record of 32-0 at the time but he still seemed to lack any real undeniably quality wins. Porter on the other hand had recently multiplied his own credibility by battering Paulie Malignaggi in his first title defense. Suddenly Porter had seemingly arrived at the elite level and looked a tough task for the British contender.
Fortunately, none of those pre-fight concerns would come to light inside the ropes as Brook calmly handled Porter’s marauding pressure and landed enough sharp counters throughout to secure a majority decision win. Though it certainly hadn't been Brook’s most flashy showing, he’d taken the belt nonetheless. As the IBF crown was placed around Brook’s waist, Spence was just a 13-0 prospect but his rise was seemingly inevitable, even if its eventual pace was impressive. Whilst in the next year Spence’s momentum would surge, Brook’s title run would seemingly stall. Firstly, a life threatening incident in which Brook was stabbed four times almost halted his whole career but in March 2015, ‘The Special One’ admirably returned.
That return would be a triumphant one too, as Brook dominated Jo Jo Dan for his first title defense. One year later and he’d successfully defended the belt twice more with wins over unheralded contenders Frankie Gavin and Kevin Bizier. In a strange way, the perception surrounding Brook had reverted back to what it was prior to his breakout title win almost two years prior. It was undeniably clear that Brook needed a big fight, sooner rather than later. Speaking of breakout wins, just weeks after Brook’s victory over Bizier, Spence Jr battered Chris Algieri for five supreme rounds that showcased everything that had garnered him such acclaim thus far.
The gritty Algieri had previously shown immense toughness and bravery against Ruslan Provodnikov and even Manny Pacquiao but against Spence he simply couldn't stand up to the sharp, fast and flashy combinations coming with regularity. The spectacular stoppage win certainly didn't hurt the American’s standings in the rankings either and he was now almost the mandatory challenger. Fittingly, Spence took no time to call out the champion following his victory and it seemed that Brook finally had an opponent that could truly solidify his title reign as though unproven, Spence’s professional career had been undisputedly impressive so far. Brook’s focus was elsewhere though and he seemed more interested in something bigger, at least in the commercial sense.
Originally the route seemed to be a fight with domestic rival Amir Khan but their never-ending saga continued as another attempt to make the fight went unsuccessful. Negotiations stalled as they always have and seemingly always will though, with Khan instead shocking the Boxing world by signing to fight Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. Shown up by his foe’s ability to secure a major PPV fight, Brook wanted to do the same and after months of negotiating with other options, eventually stunningly opted to go up to Middleweight to challenge the division’s kingpin Gennady Golovkin. Still waiting for his shot, Spence knocked out Leonard Bundu in the meantime, all in front of a huge audience on NBC.
Though his ascension of the ranks had been slowed somewhat, Spence’s growth in both experience and popularity was continuing. One month later and Brook entered the ring for the Golovkin matchup. The London crowd was particularly raucous that night and after a torrid opening round, Brook had some moments of legitimate brilliance as he used his speed advantage to land a few heavy combinations on the Middleweight champion. Though his eye socket was damaged, Brook stood in the fire courageously, trying to keep the fearsome Golovkin off with all his mite. In the end though, Golovkin’s pressure coupled with the eye injury spelt the end as Brook’s trainer Dominic Ingle threw in the towel after five wild rounds.
It was an unpopular decision but a brave one, Ingle was simply protecting his fighter’s career and in reality, his overall quality of life. Brook had fallen short but raised his stock nonetheless. Now eight months later, Brook returns for Saturday’s fight with Spence, who himself has been inactive since last August. Many assumed that Brook’s time as a Welterweight had ended with that ‘GGG’ fight but a hesitancy to vacate his title has led to this, a bout with all the potential to be genuinely special. It’s a fight that stands out on the Boxing landscape for a variety of reasons as though their routes to this point are very contrasting, they in some ways find themselves in rather similar positions.
At heart this is a fight between two men with absolutely everything to prove. Though Brook’s Porter win certainly carries tremendous weight, his title run so far has failed to solidify his spot at the top of the division. On the other hand, Spence Jr now finally gets the chance to thrive or fail at the absolute elite level. At the forefront of America’s new breed of potential Boxing superstars, Spence looks to replicate his countryman Gervonta Davis’ showing this past weekend in London as he heads into Brook’s home city stadium Bramall Lane. It’s a clash of two men on the precipice of super stardom, two fighters that have shown a capability of being something special. Though it currently stands as Spence’s nickname, in reality ‘The Truth’ awaits both him and the champion Brook this Saturday night in Sheffield.