Tomorrow night at Bramall Lane Ground in Sheffield, England, IBF welterweight titlist Kell Brook will defend his belt against fearsome up-and-comer Errol Spence Jr. If most fight fans already deem 2017 a flagship year for boxing, it’s because of matches like Brook vs Spence, featuring as it does two highly-skilled fighters who are unquestionably near the very top of their weight division. Brook vs Spence is a match that will provide some long-awaited answers for both men, and perhaps even a glimpse at what the upper echelons of the welterweight division will look like in the near future.
If it’s hard to talk about Brook vs Spence in measured tones, it’s because the match is indeed worthy of the praise it has received, not to mention some genuine surprise at the fight getting signed at all. After all, it’s rare to have boxers aligned with different promoters face each other, just as it’s often difficult to get U.S. fighters to travel to the UK. To say nothing of the fact that the champion, Brook, has had to move down in weight following a hurtful TKO loss in a one-off foray to middleweight last September. There’s also the fact that Brook suffered a serious injury in that defeat and underwent surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone.
It would be easy to point at the currently sky-high popularity of boxing in the UK when trying to find a reason for such a high-profile fight landing there. But the truth of the matter is Spence’s ambition had as much to do with that as anything else. Errol “The Truth” Spence has been patiently waiting for his shot at the IBF title Brook holds and jumped at the opportunity to face “Special K” the moment the match was finally offered, even if it meant challenging the champion on his home turf.
In fact, to get a measure of Spence’s confidence going into the fight, consider what he recently told Sky Sports: “I’m coming out with the win, so I feel like I’m going to be his best opponent.” While it’s standard practice for fighters to bluster and hype themselves in the build-up to a major fight, Spence is surely aware middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin literally broke Brook’s face last summer. Whether you agree with Spence’s assessment or not, if “The Truth” feels he’s a bigger threat to Brook than Triple G, then more power to him. And if Spence is actually able to realize that premise, then Brook will be in a world of pain come Sunday morning.
That is just one of many plausible scenarios, however, and the fact there’s no clear favorite at the moment is what makes Brook vs Spence such an enticing match-up. When it was first announced, bookies placed the champion as the favorite but as fight night approaches, the odds have moved decidedly in the American’s favor. This could be due to the betting public looking at the match more closely and realizing that, despite Brook’s undeniable pedigree, there are some factors that threaten to collude against him this weekend.
“I’ve come back down to welterweight; it’s been tough, been hard, but less than two weeks to go, as you can see, I’m… a fighting machine,” said Kell Brook in a recent interview, and indeed “Special K” sports an admirable physique in recent pictures. But the fact Kell publicly admits hardship in dropping back down to welterweight is telling in itself. In fact, the main question Brook had to ponder before signing up for the match was whether he was willing and able to make 147. Not only is he coming off a match where he weighed in at 159 pounds, but prior to it he had spoken several times of an imminent move to super welterweight.
Since we’re only a few weeks removed from a big fight fiasco which was, for all intents and purposes, decided at the scales 24 hours before the opening bell, boxing fans should be forgiven for focusing on Brook’s weight issues. To be fair, others point out that Errol Spence himself is a big welterweight, and most likely struggles to make weight as well. But unfortunately for Kell, there’s the injury factor that could end up playing an out-sized role tomorrow. Simply put, surgically-repaired eye sockets and boxing don’t really go together very well.
“I’ve been whacked [in sparring] plenty of times and it feels brand new, so there’s no doubt there in the eye,” said Brook recently. Except that the last time a high-profile bout featured a fighter with a previously-broken orbital bone, it ended in a TKO loss and a gruesome mess of swollen tissue where an eye used to be.
That may or may not be the way things play out this Saturday, but either way fans will get one step closer to learning the truth about the welterweight division, which, ever since Mayweather vs Pacquiao, has remained mired in confusion and populated by talented names that refuse to fight each other. Early this year that trend was broken when Danny Garcia and Keith Thurman got in the ring, even if the bout turned was something less than thrilling. Nevertheless, that Brook and Spence are following in their footsteps is cause for both excitement and hope.
Excitement because barring a Rousey-like meltdown from Kell Brook in his return from a devastating first loss, Brook vs Spence should deliver in the thrills department, at least while Kell’s orbital bone holds. Both Brook and Spence are athletic, fast and powerful; moreover, they both possess excellent skills and have shown the ability to adapt to different styles. Brook has dominated the vast majority of his adversaries, while Spence has annihilated opposition that was previously merely dominated by top fighters. These guys are truly elite and this is a terrific match-up. One could argue more talent will be on display this weekend than in the Thurman vs Garcia bout, in which both boxers failed to adjust their gameplans or capitalize on their opponent’s weaknesses, thus producing an uneventful fight. That is not expected to happen tomorrow.
And thus the hope is that the momentum that made Brook vs Spence a reality carries forward and allows the winner to face Thurman sometime soon. Should that match come to pass–and given that the old guard of top welterweights are slowly but surely fading out of the picture–it would yield a clear answer as to who’s the best fighter at 147 pounds. Moreover, if and when they meet, the winner of this weekend’s bout could very well be considered the favorite against Thurman, who will be out of the game for some time given his recent elbow surgery. That alone makes Brook vs Spence a must-see fight, and thus whatever fireworks “Special K” and “The Truth” set off in the ring will be an added bonus. Fight fans don’t often get that kind of deal. So sit back and enjoy.
— Rafael Garcia