They call it prizefighting. But for Kell Brook, Saturday's fight against Amir Khan wasn't chiefly about money or historical legacy. No, his prize would be far more primal. He wanted a scalp, Amir Khan's head atop his mantlepiece.
For many years Brook tried in vain to land a fight with Khan. Offers of ridiculous amounts of money went ignored. They had different promoters and then worked with the same promoter, but still, no fight. Khan had always fancied himself as an international superstar, worthy of the best the sport had to offer. Khan believed that Brook was beneath him in status, and perhaps more importantly, if unsaid, that the risk Brook presented wasn't worth it to him.
|Brook (left) immediately after the fight is stopped|
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Lustig
The lead up to Saturday's matchup focused on who had what left. Khan had been knocked out numerous times in the past and Brook had surgically repaired eye sockets from taking too many hard punches against the likes of Gennadiy Golovkin and Errol Spence. In his last outing, Brook didn't make it out of the fourth round against Terence Crawford; perhaps this was why Khan finally agreed to share a ring with his English rival.
Khan and Brook entered Saturday's fight at 35, years past their best, yet still inflamed with animosity toward the other.
In the first round they spent little time with pleasantries or caution. Both were determined to end the other, and as fast as they could. Khan's hand speed and combinations flowed while Brook put everything into surgical strikes with single power punches. At the end of the round, Brook got through with a power punch that wobbled Khan's legs, an early sign that Khan's punch resistance would be a problem.
Khan tried a number of tactics to gain an edge: leading with single shots, flurrying with fast combinations, or countering. But the problems that have plagued him throughout his career reappeared: he got greedy, he didn't respect what his opponent could do, and his defense and spacing deteriorated.
Amir controlled most of the third round and landed several impressive combinations. But as he kept going for the gusto, his technical flaws were apparent. He jabbed from too close, giving Brook ample opportunities to counter. He was a defensive mess when throwing his combinations, often getting completely square and leaving enormous gaps between his gloves. Despite landing several authoritative punches on Brook throughout the third, Khan paid for his defensive lapses. He was again wobbled at the end of the round.
By the end of the fourth, Brook had no doubts about his ability to take Khan's shots and he was buoyed by his ability to hurt Khan. Although Brook wasn't at his sharpest and missed too many right hands over the top, he landed enough to change the course of the fight. In addition, he mixed in several left hooks to the body and a couple of eye-catching left uppercuts, leaving Khan guessing about what to do defensively.
Brook was now relentlessly marching forward behind power shots, and Khan was in retreat, without ideas of what to do next. Brook kept pounding away. Ultimately, referee Victor Loughlin had seen enough by the sixth round and stopped the fight. Brook celebrated the triumph, raising his arms in jubilation. This wasn't just another day at the office. It was everything.
|Brook celebrates the victory|
Photo courtesy of Lawrence Lustig
Brook will retire in due time with a strange career that encompassed one sublime performance against top competition (Shawn Porter), two admirable showings in defeat (Golovkin and Spence), and a lot of what-ifs. Although he had 43 professional fights, less than a handful made any sort of impact. He had a multitude of injuries and a few fight cancellations of note, but even when he was fully healthy, he wasn't easy to get in the ring, especially against solid opposition. Between the Porter and Golovkin fights, Brook defended his welterweight title three times and none of his opponents were legitimate top-15 guys. So much of his career was spent in marking time appearances for fat Matchroom/Sky paychecks.
It's possible that after it's all over Brook will have some regrets about aspects of his career. But I have no doubt that his victory over Khan will help take the sting out of some of those self-flagellations. Khan was his white whale, his trophy, and he finally conquered his elusive foe, the one that truly mattered to him.
In the end Brook had his just rewards. His victory was comprehensive and satisfying. And despite both fighters looking removed from world-class, they came to win and settle scores. Neither was in the mood to be cute or eke out a decision. They were there to make a stand. We will see more important fights this year and I'm sure better ones as well, but Brook and Khan deserve credit for their prizefight. They left no doubt, made no excuses, and let their hands fly. That's all we could ask for, and they delivered.