Excitement is building for the sport of boxing again and so far, 2017 is the gift that keeps on giving. Nowhere on earth are either of those two statements more relevant than the United Kingdom. Fresh off the heels of a record breaking event late last month featuring Anthony Joshua and Wladimir Klitschko another popular British champion looks to keep the Union Jack flying atop The Sport of Kings.
The welterweight title bout between Kell “Special K" Brook of Sheffield, Yorkshire and Errol “ The Truth" Spence Jr fighting out of Desoto, Texas was gestating for nearly a year and if you believe the likes of Floyd Mayweather that protracted process was due to Brook avoiding the bout.
And such was the confidence of Spence's camp and cheer leader Floyd Mayweather that it was reiterated time and again that Spence would be willing to travel to the U.K. too challenge Brook for his title – ‘careful what you wish for’ as the saying goes; Spence got what he asked for and is now fighting Brook on home soil at the Bramall Lane football ground in Sheffield this Saturday.
I must say I was not sold on the hype around Spence at first but I've been converted. Even if he does not beat Kell Brook and take his IBF welterweight title there is every indication that one day he will be champion. For Brook, he seems to be hitting his stride and it's also a crossroads fight, Brook is only giving up four years to the younger Spence however it's been a very different four years. Brook has already been in several wars whereas Spence has not been similarly tested – or even hurt thus far.
What can the past of both men and the history of hype teach us about a matchup like Brook – Spence what answers can be teased out through objective observation.
I invite you to read on!
The Past is Prologue
Eleven years ago, virtually to the day Joe Calzaghe – the great Welsh boxer and arguably the best Super Middleweight of all time took on the powerful American Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy at the M.E.N in Manchester. Lacy was being promoted as the next Mike Tyson, with a record at the time of 21-0 and 17 knockouts it was hard to argue the ferocity of the Jacksonville Florida native. Lacy had beaten some contenders but it was against Calzaghe that Lacy we would either sink or swim.
Calzaghe was approaching the end of his road and he knew it. The fight with Lacy was to take place just a couple of weeks before Calzaghe’s 34th birthday and though his dominance at 168 pounds was unquestioned being sandwiched between the glamour divisions of welterweight and heavyweight meant the recognition and especially the money alluded him. He was little known outside of the UK. Beating the hyped up American – convincingly – would go a long way.
Calzaghe was called a slapper by lacy and his camp. Without significant power to hurt him and was in no fear of exchanges in fact would welcome them as it would tailor made for a highlight reel finish for Left Hook Lacy.
What followed was a masterclass in boxing by the Welshman on Lacy. For 12 brutal rounds The Italian Dragon set fire to Lacy with angles, combinations and stinging power that had referee Raul Caiz Sr. waiting to stop the fight.
Calzaghe won every second of every round and the emphatic display lead to profitable showdowns with Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones Jr.
Calzaghe is understandably regarded as a living legend.
Lacy was never the same and finished his career in obscurity.
The lesson here is plain: both Lacy and Spence are facing opponents that are a significant step up in class. The respective champions are not regarded as particularly powerful but ARE accurate and technical.
Knockout percentages are not everything; Spence has a nearly identical record to Lacy at the time of the latter’s title shot.
Can history repeat?
What’s Special about “Special K?”
First, Ezekiel ‘Kell’ Brook has balls. Plain and simple.
With no available opponents Kell Brook jumped 2 weight classes to fight the pound for pound boogeyman of boxing – Gennady GGG Golovkin last September in the O2 Arena in London. Though Brook was stopped he acquitted himself nicely and endeared himself to boxing fans the world over.
He was hurt early by a GGG body shot but did good inside work landing a highlight reel uppercut that seemed to nearly decapitate the Kazakh fighter.
Brook was saved by his corner in the 5th round and was left with a fractured eye socket requiring fixation with screws. However, on two of the judges’ cards the fight was even and was ahead on one (that may have been home cooking). Brook stock was naturally raised with the gutsy performance.
One of Brook’s best performances was against ‘Showtime’ Shawn Porter, a bruising throwback fighter channeling Hank Armstrong and Jack Dempsey.
Porter is powerful. Crude. Dirty. A bully.
Brook boxed his ears off.
Whenever Porter would jump in sumo style as is his want Brook landed upper cuts, straight rights and stiff jabs and then either crowded Porter so he could never land accurately or often simply was not there to be hit.
Brook took a comfortable majority decision (should have been unanimous) and Porter’s IBF Welterweight title that night – nearly 3 years ago at the Stubhub Center in Carson, CA.
Deep in the Heart of Texas
You might not guess that Errol Spence Jr was born ‘up north’ on Long Island in NY by the slow polite southern drawl. Errol Spence Jr is all “yes sirs” and “yes ma’ams” a real southern gentleman.
Yet, Errol Spence Jr flips what he calls ‘the light switch’ and 18 of 21 opponents have been left in the dark.
Within Dallas County sits the small town of Desoto. Population barely 50,000. That suits Errol Spence Jr just fine. He’s a committed family man and when he’s not home being daddy he is in the gym dedicated to his craft.
Spence rose to prominence with his 2012 Olympic performance in the welterweight class making it to the quarter finals. He turned pro that November with a KO win over Jonathan Garcia in the 3rd round.
From there Spence has left a steady body count in the welterweight division.
His biggest wins thus far are over Chris Algieri one year ago and Leonard Bundu last august.
In both cases neither man had been cleanly stopped before, in the case of Algieri, he was down six times in his fight against Manny Pacquiao, but failed to finish him.
Spence is an accomplished amateur like Brook and will not be rattled by ‘the big stage’ Spence believes and his team believes that he will be a champion and in his short career he’s gained at least one notable cheer leader; all-time great boxing trainer and analyst Teddy Atlas. He placed Errol Spence Jr at #10 on his top pound for pound list in February.
Part of the criteria Atlas used was technical skill and how that skill is applied.
There we have the keys to what may separate these two fighters.
Right now, the odds makers are favoring Brook slightly. The widest margin being a points victory for Spence in Kell’s backyard.
Much is made of Spence’s power but it could be nullified by Brook’s technique as Calzaghe did against Lacy.
However, like Atlas mentioned it’s not just about the superiority of technique but how it’s applied!
Neither Brook nor Spence have blinding hand speed however Brook is extremely accurate Spence has not been hit hard nor accurately yet, to me there is no question Brook will hit Spence the key is what happens then! Brook will need to get Spence’s respect making the Texan wary of wading straight in as he’s prone to do. Thus far Spence has walked through the shots of other welterweights.
Can he do the same against a huge powerful welterweight like Kell Brook?
I think so.
Spence Jr has underrated defense built in to his footwork. If the gym stories are true the Al Haymon fighter has given everyone in the Mayweather Gym all they can handle including Floyd himself.
Errol Spence is a back-foot fighter, leaning on that left foot slightly ready transfer that kinetic energy into his opponent. He has economical footwork and like Floyd is an excellent judge of distance.
I am a huge fan of body punching and few in any weight class are as good at it or as committed to it as Spence Jr., the leverage and torque he generates with his fists into the guts of his opponents is frightening and Brook was hurt several times to the body against GGG and Errol Spence is essentially the southpaw version of GGG at welterweight; coming forward, cutting the ring with an educated jab used mostly to blind his opponents to set up those digging body shots.
Much to the chagrin of British boxing fans still bathed in the afterglow of their man Anthony Joshua’s legendary performance last month against Wladimir Klitschko the IBF title is likely changing hands this Saturday.
Brook will puzzle Spence for the first 3-6 rounds before the American is able to impress his game on Brook, look for Spence to avoid inside fighting with Brook who may be bigger on the night and where the veteran will be able to land uppercuts and hooks.
Brook will also likely win the battle of the jabs early, however in the mid-range Spence will connect with his short right hook, a powerful if overlooked weapon in his arsenal.
Once Spence lands the first few clean body shots on the Brit the movement will slow, the jab will be less proficient, that right hand may drop ever so slightly and then BANG…
Spence will become champion and the sport of boxing will find out just how far the young man can go.
For his part, Brook is and will remain a capable and popular British fighter taking on the toughest in the sport.
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* * * Special note: I want to extend my condolences to the families and loved ones lost in Manchester.
“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities…because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” -- Winston Churchill
Love from America,