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THEY say that a fighter is often the last to know when it’s time to retire. This is a truth that nobody who watched Kell Brook’s defeat against pound-for-pound king Terence Crawford at the MGM in Vegas last weekend would disagree with.
A pro for 17 years, the 34-year-old former IBF welterweight world champion fought like an ageing gunslinger desperate to defy Father Time against a much younger challenger, having convinced himself that he still had what it took regardless of the evidence to the contrary — evidence staring him in the face.
In the case of Brook this is a face that has been subjected to two reconstructive surgeries in the past five years to repair two shattered orbital bones: the first against Gennady Golovkin in 2015, the second against Errol Spence in 2017.
In truth Brook was never the same after his defeat by Golovkin. He stepped in to face the fearsome punching Kazakh as a replacement for Chris Eubank Jnr, Golovkin’s original intended opponent, after negotiations broke down. For Brook it was the boxing equivalent of a roll of the dice, what with him stepping up two weight divisions to face the middleweight world champion and hardest pound-for-pound puncher in boxing at the time.
On the night he fought gamely until his trainer, Dominic Ingle, threw in the towel in the 5th round to prevent him taking further punishment, whereupon he was taken to hospital where a fractured orbital bone under his right eye was diagnosed and operated on. Two years later in 2017 lightning struck twice, when against Errol Spence he was forced to take a knee and retire in the 11th, having suffered a fracture of the orbital bone under his left eye.
You would imagine after all this that Brook would have given serious consideration making an offering to the gods of fate in a desperate attempt to have the curse they’d so obviously placed on him lifted.
Against Crawford last weekend, he entered the ring looking flat and dehydrated, a dangerous combination for any fighter to possess. He started well enough, controlling the range artfully with his jab, nullifying his younger opponent to the point of turning him static.
However Crawford is that rare animal — an elite fighter who doesn’t enter the ring with a gameplan for a given opponent. Instead he formulates one in the process of downloading his opponent’s information in the opening rounds, which against Brook saw him switch to southpaw as he came out for the fourth round.
The short overhead lead right which sent Brook stumbling across the ring to land against the ropes is not a shot that a prime Kell Brook would have got caught with — and if he did it would not have sent him flying across the ring in the way it did last Saturday.
The harsh truth is the Kell Brook at 34 is a fighter with diminished reflexes, poor punch resistance and gun shy relative to his glory years. Moreover, the way he pawed his eyes after recovering from the first knockdown against Crawford confirmed that though the metal plates that have replaced the orbital bones under both eyes may pass muster in a pre-fight medical, the psychological damage has been irreparable.
Brook can look back with satisfaction on a career that saw him provide more than his fair share of thrills and spills in a boxing ring. His greatest moment came on August 16 2014 in Carson City, California, against Shawn Porter. Arriving as the challenger and firm underdog for Porter’s IBF welterweight title, he performed magnificently over 12 hard back and forth rounds to win by majority decision.
It was a stunning on-the-road victory that rightly drew comparison with that of Lloyd Honeyghan, another British welterweight champion who in 1986 travelled to the US to face Donald Curry as a huge underdog and proceeded to upset the odds, taking the fight and Curry’s crown with a sixth-round stoppage.
Kell Brook may of course decide to go again, convincing himself that he still has whatever it takes to prevail. But this would be folly. The long-running saga of a potential match-up with bitter rival and fellow Brit Amir Khan has lost what any lustre it may have had. And, too, how many hard training camps can one body and mind take before breaking down completely?
This is a question every fighter must face and if not prepared to answer honestly himself, have it answered for him by those within his circle of trust. It’s to be hoped that this is what now ensues.
Speaking of circles of trust, based on his increasingly unhinged claims and allegations surrounding his defeat against Tyson Fury in February, former heavyweight champion Deontay Wilder’s own is not fit for purpose.
First it was his ring walk costume to blame for the way he was so utterly dominated. Too heavy, he claimed, responsible for draining the strength from his legs. More recently we’ve had allegations that Fury had something in his gloves, some illegal substance to make them heavier. Even more ludicrous is the claim that his former co-trainer, the unfairly maligned Mark Breland — who saved Wilder from being seriously hurt against Fury by throwing in the towel in the seventh round — tampered with his water.
In being unable to accept his defeat, and what’s more the manner of it, the former WBC heavyweight champ is unlikely to draw any salutary lessons to take into a third fight, should one come to pass. His increasingly unhinged statements after a prolonged period of silence between then and now is suggestive of a defeated man rather than defeated fighter.
There is no shame in losing in boxing, just as there is no shame in losing in life. It’s how you respond that defines the kind of person you are. At this juncture Deontay Wilder’s legacy is on course to being defined not by any of his achievements in the ring, but his ridiculous antics out of it.
Staying with heavyweight boxing, look out for Joe Joyce v Daniel Dubois tomorrow night. Two unbeaten British heavyweights who carry sleeping gas in their hands, this is a classic “don’t blink for a second” contest that will almost certainly not last the distance.
John’s book — This Boxing Game: A Journey in Beautiful Brutality — is available from all major booksellers.
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