What a difference a year makes. Truly, in 2016 I was genuinely worried about the state of pro boxing. There were times last year when it just seemed as if promoters, managers, and fighters were no longer interested in plying their trades. Never in my life can I remember the entire sport of boxing essentially grinding to a halt as it did last autumn. But in recent weeks, despite HBO’s boxing schedule still being a major disappointment, the sport has come back to life. Finally, at long last, it feels like we are entering the post Mayweather-Pacquiao era. And this is particularly true in the welterweight division as the top fighters at 147, the new breed, are finally taking the spotlight.
All that said, I have little doubt that Floyd and Manny can come back and dominate if they want to, at least for now. They’re just that good. As “The Pacman” showed last year when he beat both Timothy Bradley and Jessie Vargas with relative ease. Still, all the Floyd-Conor circuses in the world can’t prevent the times from changing. A new era is arriving, which is very good news for boxing fans. What’s even better news is the fact that the new top names are finally willing to do battle. First, we have Keith Thurman and Danny Garcia unifying major titles next month, a terrific match-up that was almost (“almost” being the operative word here) too long in coming.
But then, in May, we can all ring in the summer with Kell Brook defending his portion of the welterweight title by facing his mandatory contender, the hugely talented Errol Spence Jr. I’m not the first person to say this, but I honestly don’t know which is the better match, Brook vs Spence or Thurman vs Garcia. While the latter unifies world title belts and is therefore the more prestigious of the two, Brook vs Spence is also something very special, belts or no belts.
I don’t hide the fact that I’m big on Brook as I like his strong, lineal style of boxing. Sure, he took on some less than stellar opposition after beating Shawn Porter in a close match a few years back, but then he stepped up to face Gennady Golovkin, one of the most dangerous fighters in the game, in a mad quest for glory. That by itself puts the man in the highly respected category, in my opinion. His now taking on the likes of Spence instead of giving up his title and opting for something far less challenging (à la Canelo), makes him worthy of even more respect, in my opinion.
Because the truth is, Spence Jr., unless our collective eyes deceive us, is a very serious threat indeed. Talented, fast, powerful, and perfectly comfortable in the ring, he may end up being favored over Brook come fight time. And Spence has star potential written all over him. His last match, if I’m not mistaken, garnered around five million sets of eyeballs. Sure, it was after a huge Olympic basketball event, but five million viewers is five million viewers. And those five million saw what looked to be a master at work when he knocked out Leonard Bundu in violent and impressive fashion.
Brook, however, shouldn’t be written off. Not by a long shot. I still give Kell the edge here as this is a sturdy, skilled and experienced fighter. Sure, GGG made relatively quick work of the guy, but Brook was game and a live dog in that fight, something people shouldn’t forget. The outcome was just a case of a natural middleweight being too strong for a natural welterweight. It’s doubtful that Spence’s power can trouble Brook the way Golovkin’s did.
Then again, he may not need to have that kind of power. A mallet isn’t needed to knock someone unconscious, after all, just a well placed shot. And Spence knows how to place his shots. Just ask Chris Algieri, an underrated pro who “The Truth” went through like a hot spoon through ice cream. To be sure, there’s two big questions that will be answered during the course of a Brook vs Spence showdown. The first is whether or not Kell suffered any lasting damage, physical or psychological, from the Golovkin defeat.
The second question is: exactly how good is Errol Spence? We all know he’s very talented but now we’ll learn exactly what he’s made of. Is he Kell Brook good? If Brook’s still able to be in prime form, people are going to find out. People are also going to find out what the welterweight pecking order is as the second half of this year rolls around.
Thurman vs Garcia. Brook vs Spence. Two amazing fights for the welterweight division that should be high-profile battles. And you can bet that if both produce impressive wins, the victors will be called upon to clash in the near future, in a fight that can only be called a major, high-stakes showdown. And exactly the kind of match which shows that boxing is, finally, moving on. — Sean Crose