THE HAUSER REPORT: These are heady times for British boxing. Four weeks ago, Anthony Joshua knocked out Wladimir Klitschko in front of 90,000 screaming fans in London to solidify his hold on the heavyweight division. On May 27, the scene shifted to Sheffield, where 27,000 partisans gathered in a soccer stadium to watch another Brit – 31-year-old local hero Kell Brook – defend his IBF 147-pound title against Errol Spence.
Standard operating procedure in boxing today is for fighters to call out King Kong, Godzilla, and Darth Vader and then fight Pee Wee Herman, Mickey Mouse, and Donald Duck.
Give Brook (36-1, 25 KOs) credit for going in tough. He won his IBF belt three years ago by decisioning Shawn Porter at the StubHub Center in California. Then, after three defenses against less-than-stellar opposition, he went up in weight and challenged unified middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin.
Golovkin beat Brook down. The fight was stopped in the fifth round. But Kell had his moments and was incrementally ahead on the judges’ scorecards (39-37, 38-38, 38-38) when the end came.
Spence (21-0, 18 KOs), age 27, posed another enormous challenge. Errol turned pro after losing a 16-11 decision to Andrey Zamkovoy of Russia in the third round of the 2012 Olympics. Now living in Texas, he entered the Brook fight with the look of a possible future pound-for-pound king. Yes, his opponents had been carefully chosen. They were either too old (42-year-old Leonard Bundu), too slow (Alejandro Barrera), or lacking in power (Chris Algieri, 8 KOs in 24 fights). But the way Errol devastated them was impressive. He entered the Brook fight as a 2-to-1 betting favorite.
Brook’s backers made the point that Shawn Porter, who Kell beat, was far more formidable than anyone Spence had fought to date. They also pointed to a possible chink in Errol’s armor: his chin. There have been rumors that Spence gets hurt more, and more often, in sparring than his team would like.
Paulie Malignaggi referenced that issue when he told a Sky Sports audience, “Errol is a terrific body puncher with solid hand speed, and he knows how to open you up. But he’s untested at this level. The question mark is what happens when Brook hits him, because he hasn’t been hit a lot. He hasn’t fought anybody like Kell and hasn’t been hit a lot by the level of opposition that he’s fought. Kell doesn’t just hit. He really hits. And he hits with sharp power.”
But Spence is very good. He’s a southpaw, which makes him even harder to beat. And Brook came into the fight with considerable wear and tear on his body.
In September 2014, Brook suffered serious leg and arm wounds after being attacked by a man with a machete. His 37 pro fights included the aforementioned wars against Golovkin and Porter. And equally problematic, Kell, who has long been a “big” welterweight, fought Golovkin at 160 pounds. There was a question as to how his body would react to shrinking down to 147 pounds again.
Brook-Spence was contested in Sheffield in the wake of the May 22 terrorist bombing in Manchester that took 22 lives and injured scores more. Security for the bout was tight.
In boxing, the better fighter usually wins. Spence was the better fighter.
Spence fought a bit tentatively in round one as Brook advanced behind an aggressive jab. In the second stanza, Errol began moving forward but was still reluctant to let his hands go. That changed in round three, when Spence started fighting more confidently. There was spirited back-and-forth action in rounds four through seven with Errol getting the better of it and going effectively to the body. His punches strayed low often enough that referee Howard Foster could have made an issue of it but didn’t.
After seven rounds, Brook’s left eye was closing and he looked like a tired fighter. At that point, Spence pressed the action. By round nine, Brook was fighting to survive, and Spence was fighting to knock him out.
“When you can’t see, there’s nothing you can do,” Brook said afterward, referencing the damage inflicted on his eye.
Forty seconds into round ten, an accumulation of punches put Brook on the canvas, the consequence of what might have been a decision to regroup by taking a knee. Kell fought back valiantly toward the end of the stanza, landing his best blows of the night. Then, midway through round eleven, Brook sought sanctuary on the canvas again, kneeling and signaling to Foster that he no longer wished to fight.
Spence was ahead on the judges’ scorecards at the time of the stoppage by a 97-92, 96-93, 95-94 margin. According to Compu-Box, he had a 246-to-136 advantage in punches landed. And Errol showed a chin. Brook hit him often enough but couldn’t change the flow of the bout.
After his victory, Spence said he wants to fight WBC-WBA 147-pound champion Keith Thurman next: “I’ve been calling Keith Thurman out for a long time. So Keith Thurman, come on, come out.”
However, Thurman hasn’t sounded like a man who’s anxious for that particular fight. Not now, anyway. Earlier this year, Keith was asked about fighting Spence, and replied, “I’m tired about being asked this f****** question. I see greatness in him. Has he been fully tested yet? No. Four years ago, I was Errol Spence and everybody, including Floyd, was ducking me. Build it up and I’ll fight him.”
At the moment, it’s academic. Thurman will be out of action until the beginning of 2018 because of recent elbow surgery. And Shawn Porter (who Keith has already beaten once) has been designated by the WBC as his mandatory challenger.
In an ideal world, Spence would fight Porter next with the winner to face Thurman. Porter would pressure Spence in ways that Brook couldn’t. But the ideal rarely happens in boxing.
Meanwhile, let it be noted that Brook came to America to take the title from Porter, and Spence went to England to get it back.
England is a time-honored place for a coronation.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book – A Hard World: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.
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