Kell Brook rolls dice again as British boxing’s great survivor fights on

Kell Brook has titanium plates in both cheeks, he nearly lost a leg in a machete attack, he won the British title in 2008 and this Saturday he fights Terence Crawford, arguably the best boxer in the world, inside a bubble at the MGM in Las Vegas. And, he was paid less than 300 quid for his debut back in 2004.

Ezekiel Brook is part of the British boxing furniture, a long and seasoned survivor in the dirty old game.

The machete attack in 2014 remains a bloody and violent mystery, an end to a dark night best forgotten, but the titanium plates are the end result of two savage fights in the ring, nights when Brook dared to be great. He has fought 41 times, lost just the twice, won a world title against the odds in America – a fight that is oddly and unfairly neglected when people talk about great wins by British boxers – and he is still only 34.

“I have never done things the easy way and never had things easy,” said Brook, who is in Las Vegas now, due to enter the final days of bubble life before the Crawford fight on Saturday. Crawford is unbeaten in 36 fights, a champion at three weights, cold and calculating in the ring; he was also a victim of street violence and was shot in the neck at the end of a 3am gambling session. The pair can compare scars during the boring hours of forced isolation in one of the MGM’s satellite outposts.

In many ways Brook has gone rogue for Saturday’s fight, left the comfort of Eddie Hearn’s patronage, split from his life-long trainer Dominic Ingle, left the familiarity of Sky’s favourable coverage and negotiated the fight on his own. Well, on his own with a couple of behind-the-scenes fight fixers, men available at a good price to join up all the dots. The move has caused a bit of rancour, but at this point in his career it is surely not a shock; Brook does not owe anybody, they have all had years and years of making money together. Brook has probably been in 20 main attractions on television, a dozen title fights of some description, pay-per-view events and massive fights. Make no mistake, Kell delivered for British boxing and Hearn, as the main promoter, certainly did his bit.

“This fight has come at the perfect time for me,” insists Brook. “It’s the easiest that I have ever made the weight and you know how many years I have been fighting the scales – this time, I’m there, I’m ready and there will not be any drain to make the welterweight limit.” Crawford had told Brook in February, when they met at a fight in Las Vegas, that if he could make the weight, then he could have the fight.

Brook has not been inside the welterweight poundage since losing to Errol Spence, still an unbeaten world champion, in May of 2017. He damaged his left eye socket in that fight and was stopped in the eleventh; the fight was cruelly slipping away as the pain from the damage intensified. It was close until the tenth and then it was hard to watch, hard not to feel sickened for Brook as his face started to swell and he yelped as Spence’s punches landed. That was crazy bravery.

Amazingly, in the fight before Spence, there was another painful loss when, having gained 13 pounds, he challenged middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin in front of 20,000 people at the O2; he was stopped in round five, his right eye socket smashed on that occasion. Two bad injuries, two serious surgical procedures, two defeats, two titanium plates and there was realistic talk of Kell Brook’s fighting days being over.

Brook refused to go quietly and has won three since the Spence loss, his face fixed, his desire back and the weight gone. “Everybody thinks that this is a retirement fight for me and that I’m taking it for just the money. That is wrong, I can win this, I know I can. Crawford has never met a big, strong, dangerous welterweight,” added Brook. The payday is meant to be $2million and Crawford will, trust me, make Brook earn every single cent.

Crawford is just a year younger than Brook, he first won the lightweight world title in 2014, added the light-welterweight version the following year and completed his move through the weights in 2018 when he won the WBO welterweight title. Brook will be his fourth defence, his 14th consecutive world title fight. Last April in New York, Crawford overwhelmed Amir Khan in six rounds at Madison Square Garden. Khan seemed shocked and I have noticed that with a lot of Crawford’s victims; he is bigger, stronger, faster and hits harder than people imagine. Four of his last five opponents, all stopped, had previously never lost. He persuades people the old-fashioned way – he hits them on the chin to make converts.

In the summer of 2014 Brook had to travel to California to fight the IBF welterweight champion, Shawn Porter, who was unbeaten in 25 fights. Brook had been a professional boxer for a decade, had won the British title six years earlier and was the underdog that night against Porter. Brook is right, he has never had a simple path, never had it easy and that will not change on Saturday night. Las Vegas is a city of miracles, of mirages and Brook will need all the magic he can find. It is also a city without a soul.

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