March 25, 2016
March 25, 2016
Kell Brook

Action Images/Andrew Couldridge

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“CALL me back in 20 minutes,” pants Kell Brook; the intermittent clarity of our telephone connection suggests a handset vibrating as vigorously as his heart and lungs. Sheffield’s IBF welterweight champion, putting in the hours on the running track, sounds exhausted and liable to throw up at any moment, which is rather apt as the 29-year-old is both sick and tired. Brook is fed up with criticism from fans on social media who denigrate his recent opposition, while simultaneously fast losing patience with the constant enquiries regarding a fight against arch-nemesis Amir Khan, whose fans are a significant source of the opprobrium directed at the Yorkshireman.

That castigation only increased when Brook’s mandatory defence of his belt against unheralded Kevin Bizier was confirmed, for this Saturday (March 26) in the champion’s hometown. To Kell’s detractors, the Canadian represented his third consecutive inferior challenger, following in the modest footsteps left by Jo Jo Dan – another mandatory and one who can boast two wins over Bizier – and Frankie Gavin, though both were despatched with the minimum of fuss. Brook defeated the world-class Shawn Porter to capture the belt and, for a man who has the Matchroom promotional machine behind him and volubly insists he wants the big names, the recent absence of marquee match-ups hurts Brook even more than it does the fans. He is keen to point out, however, that injuries – his leg was severely wounded due to a September 2014 stabbing, before he hurt his rib in sparring a year later – have played a pivotal role.

“I’m a bit disappointed, especially as it’s through no fault of my own,” Brook tells me after calling back less than 15 minutes later. His breathing has now resumed its typical register. “These keyboard warriors have a go at me but I had my leg cut in half, then I had my mandatory against Dan. After that, [his promoter] Eddie [Hearn] said Anthony Joshua was boxing and the show was already packed out, ‘so you’ve just got to fight.’ And that was the Frankie Gavin fight. Then I got injured again and now it’s my mandatory again, and I agree, Bizier is not a serious name; I wanna fight the best in the division.”

His frustration is palpable. A showdown with Khan is a natural pairing, bringing together Britain’s two world-class welterweights and long-time rivals, but despite Brook chasing the match for years, it has yet to come to fruition, and Bolton’s finest has now signed to face WBC middleweight king Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on May 7. Khan’s representatives reportedly hindered the Brook talks by demanding 80 per cent of any purse.

“It seemed closer than ever,” Brook muses, but his tone conveys only jaded suspicion. “The lawyers were involved this time and it’s the most communication we’ve had. But I don’t know what he was playing at, they are forgetting that I’m the champion and he’d be a voluntary challenger. Don’t try to price yourself out of the fight by demanding an 80-20 split because that’s not going to happen.”

Brook admits that Khan is the bigger name, just that it is not four times as valuable as his own. He assures me there are other, lucrative options out there for him – but that assertion has proved true also for Amir, who now gets a massive superstar on a lucrative Mexican holiday weekend previously occupied by Floyd Mayweather.

“The other fights are very attractive,” Brook enthuses. “Who wouldn’t want a unification fight for the WBC belt or Keith Thurman [the WBA ruler] if he beats Shawn Porter [on March 12] or the Tim Bradley-’Pac Man’ [Manny Pacquiao] winner [April 9] for the WBO. But you know, because we’re both from Britain, how exciting me and Khan could be. We’ve seen Carl Frampton-Scott Quigg made, even Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao after so long… Brook-Khan…”

He trails off – whether dreamy at the possibility of his utmost desire being sated or having been assailed by exhaustion once again, I cannot divine. The longed-for Khan clash may once again flatter to deceive – both Brook and the fans – but it is clear the IBF king, who turns 30 in May, now takes his craft entirely seriously. Fatherhood and winning a title of stature have matured him. Once derided for a perceived lack of application and discipline, Dominic Ingle-trained Brook has already been toiling in the gym, without a scheduled assignment, for the last two months.

“It’s probably around the third week where I’ve really got serious because we’ve got a cemented date but I’ve been training since November,” he reveals. “I had Christmas off, diet-wise, but New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day I was abroad in training camp, Fuerteventura.”

A doting parent, along with partner Lindsey, to daughters Nevaeh, who turned four on February 15, and Estelle, who celebrated her first birthday  10 days earlier, Brook could be forgiven an aversion to abandoning his young family in favour of brutal preparations. But Kell realises he cannot compete forever and adapts accordingly, having returned to Spain for the Bizier camp.

“It’s very tough,” he says, “but we’re Face-Timing every day. I get 100 per cent support from my missus and kids. You know, everything is about your kids. My eldest knows now, she sees people asking me for pictures, she knows her dad’s a fighter and she’s proud of me. That pushes me on even more, my family is a big driver for me.”

Khan is equally family-oriented yet also trains abroad, and I reflect that as these two have grown older they have become increasingly similar in their outlooks and aspirations. I do not share this insight with Brook, though. His heart’s sustained sufficient stress for one day.

This interview was originally published in Boxing News magazine

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