This Saturday Kell Brook takes on Errol Spence Jr. for the IBF welterweight title, just one fight removed from his first defeat, moving up in weight to fight Gennady Golovkin. Clearly, Spence is less of a physical force than Golovkin, but likely no less of a challenge. Having dominated all his previous opponents, Spence convinced fans and analysts that he’s ready for the next level of competition, and Kell Brook fits the bill. The only real name on his resume so far is Chris Algieri, who, admittedly, has only lost to Pacquiao and Khan, but is otherwise unaccomplished in his professional career (except for his defeat of Provodnikov). Brook is similarly undistinguished in his record save for his victory over Shawn Porter, elevating him to the higher level of competition which granted him this match against a fighter who may be the next face of the sport.
Anyone watching the end of HBO’s broadcast of Crawford-Diaz this past weekend is likely to remember Max Kellerman’s effusive veneration of Spence in comparing his skill level, along with Crawford, to the greats in the history of the sport. Kellerman suspects, he says, that Spence is special. His choice of words for this statement was particularly appropriate, as Brook refers to himself as the Special One. The fight is, indeed, a battle to prove who will be seen as the Special welterweight, and potentially the most marketable fighter behind Saul Alvarez. Worldwide, Brook is probably better known than Spence because of the fight with Golovkin, but in America (where the money is), Spence has the advantage of being an Olympian. Fighters featured in the Games have always enjoyed an automatic bump in popularity in the States. He was the standout representative from our lackluster 2012 team, and has acquitted himself well since turning pro, but didn’t have enough to get the gold that year. Of course, scoring in Olympic boxing over the past decade has been notoriously corrupt and inaccurate. The question remains until this Saturday, who really is the next star of the division? Who can be charismatic, talented and powerful enough to be the poster child? It reminds me a bit of the plot line from The Lego Movie, where Chris Pratt plays the most ordinary lego-guy on the planet, but everyone around him keeps calling him “the special.” He doesn’t believe it until the very end, but the viewer harbors a deep suspicion that he may well be more important than he realizes.
“Because the only thing anyone needs to be special is to believe that you can be. I know that sounds like a cat poster but it’s true.” – The Lego Movie
Brook clearly believes himself to be that special. He puts it on his boxing trunks. It’s probably on his pajamas. But Spence has been disappointed in the past when a lot of other people had faith in him. Has his professional success buoyed his spirits to the point that he can overcome the force of skill commanded by Kell Brook? He has a two-inch read advantage, which will go a long way, and he’s a few years younger, which never hurts. Brook is more experienced, but still hasn’t faced anyone in his division at such a high level. Golovkin, of course, is arguably just as talented and what he lacks in talent he makes up for in size and power. It showed a lot of courage, confidence and amibition for Brook to face him. That being said, Golovkin knocked Brook out in five rounds.
The fight for the “Special” crown will be exciting in terms of the future of the sport, but may not be quite as exciting to watch. Both being slick fighters, Brook and Spence will probably spend a large part of the early rounds circling and jabbing, holding when their opponent gets too close. For Brook, that period of hesitation should be encouragement to establish his range and then stay there. Spence could conceivably stay on the outside for the whole fight and score enough points to win a decision. At the same time, both fighters are willing to trade at times, and are more than capable of putting together devastating combinations. Look for thrilling exchanges in the middle rounds, with one of the two (Spence, I’m guessing) getting ahead on points and then playing it safe for the last two to three rounds. Both men are dangerous enough to command the respect of the other, and both will have a bright future beyond a loss in this fight. If either of them has been avoided (and they’ll tell you they have), a loss will serve to bring them more lucrative and interesting opponents, while the winner will be set for marquee fights with the division’s biggest names.
All the champions at welterweight right now are marketable, some more so than others, but I could also see any of them being usurped at any given time. Manny Pacquiao still holds the WBO belt, but is getting older and seems to be taking fights on a whim. Keith Thurman holds both the WBA and the WBC belts, but showed himself to be fallible against Danny Garcia and also in previous fights. Lamont Peterson even still holds a titular WBA belt, and Brook holds the last of the group. With so much talent in the division it’s hard to believe a couple of those names won’t change by the end of the year, if not more than once. The question is whether one of them will set themselves apart as being different, whether someone can clearly show themselves to be special. It might not be this one, but at some point, after the dust has settled, the mandatories have been satisfied and the controversies cleared, the matchmakers will give us that epic fight between the best and the second best: the piece of resistance.