You hear it all the time. It might be said by one boxer to another ahead of an upcoming fight. It might be said by one boxer to himself, or to the media, ahead of an upcoming fight. It might even be said following a fight, when a boxer has lost and attempts to find the words to explain the loss without sounding bitter or, indeed, reneging on their pre-fight promise not to offer up an excuse in the event of it all going wrong.
Whenever these words are said, they are typically received the same way by cynics. There will be a frown, a roll of the eyes, and certainly a pause as they wait for the excuse they were told, only moments ago, wouldn’t be forthcoming.
No excuses, you see, is a boxing falsehood. It’s as deceitful as a boxer telling you they’ve had the best training camp of their career, or that they will fight for free, or that their intention is to fight the most dangerous guy in the world. It sounds good, it sounds noble, but invariably it will lead only to an excuse, if not immediately then somewhere down the line.
This week excuses seemingly evaporated the moment Amir Khan signed with Eddie Hearn and Matchroom Sport on a three-fight deal and suggested one of those fights – maybe not the first, maybe not the second, maybe… – will definitely, unquestionably, without a shadow of a doubt see him oppose Kell Brook, Sheffield’s former IBF world welterweight champion, and Khan’s main domestic rival for the best part of six years.
This is said with such conviction not only because I’m an eternal optimist but because Khan, in signing with Hearn, a man he once considered his enemy but now realises can help revive his career, has, perhaps unknowingly, uttered those two key words.
He has uttered them to Kell Brook, his future opponent, and he has uttered them to Eddie Hearn, his new promoter, someone who expertly steered Brook to a world title at welterweight and now looks to do similar for Brook up at light-middleweight. Best of all, though, in signing with Hearn, Khan has told himself there are no excuses. He has backed himself into a corner, made the shrewdest move he’s made for some time, and removed all previous excuses blocking a fight with Kell Brook, a fight which has long been the one that makes sense and is now the one they need.
They know it, too. They know it’s needed now more than ever. They know they’ve drained the life out of it. Two years ago, lest we forget, Khan was horribly knocked out by Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez, while Brook’s run of back-to-back losses to Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence, fights in which he suffered orbital bone damage, were somehow even worse. If the fight, Khan vs. Brook or Brook vs. Khan, hasn’t yet passed its sell-by-date, it’s pretty close. It has turned. The smell has started to alter. It won’t be long before blue spots appear.
It’s kind of a shame, too, that we’ve reached a point where two brilliant talents who once carried so much power – in terms of leverage (at least in the UK) – are now set to meet out of necessity, aware time is running out, rather than as the natural climax to some great ongoing rivalry.
It’s true what they say, I suppose: a fight is easier to make when a fighter is losing. Certainly, in the case of Khan and Brook, this appears to be true. Had Khan, for example, not been out of the ring for two years and been left out cold by Canelo, there’s every chance he might have resisted turning to Hearn for guidance and instead, for better or worse, continued doing things his own way. Similarly, had Brook somehow prevailed against the superb Spence, he perhaps wouldn’t entertain the idea of facing Khan and would instead look to defend his IBF welterweight title against opponents inferior to Khan but, in Brook’s mind, more deserving of a payday.
That was always the problem, wasn’t it? Money. Is it worth it? Who gets the lion’s share? Who warrants more? It’s a problem removed, however, the moment both boxers, now former champions, realise their earning potential is plummeting and their window of opportunity closing. Now all of a sudden big money, the inspiration behind ludicrous fights like Khan vs. Canelo and Brook vs. Golovkin, seems hard to reach and only obtainable if the two team up and go after it together.
There’s no better time, either. For them, not us. (We wanted it years ago, when it was ripe.) Khan, 31, has headlined as champion; Brook, also 31, has headlined as champion. They’ve both, in the name of money, blindly staggered through the weight classes in order to ill-advisedly stand in range of two of the biggest punchers in the sport. Been there, done that, got the concussions and broken bones to prove it. All that’s left for Khan and Brook to do now, you’d think, is do the very thing they should have done a long time ago. Forget the bigger men. Forget titles. Definitely forget the tedious foreplay. Just get down to it.
“Looking at future fights, maybe someone like Kell Brook,” Khan said on Wednesday, when asked about potential opponents for 2018. “I know he has moved up a weight but maybe that fight could happen later on in the year.”
Maybe? Khan mentions the name of his Sheffield rival as if he heard it for the first time only yesterday, as if it’s a different Kell Brook to the one people have been screaming for him to fight for years. Someone like Kell Brook? No, Amir, Kell Brook, the real Kell Brook, will do just fine.
“I need to see what weight I am going to feel comfortable at,” he continued. “I am still saying I can make 147 pounds, but once I put the muscle on and go back into training camp that is when I will get a better understanding of what weight I want to fight at.
“But I want to be in the big fights. I belong in the big fights. I want to finish off my boxing career in these next couple of years with a big bang.”
The big bang will have to wait. It always does. Whether we like it or not, there will inevitably be some more flirting between these two. And, honestly, given the inactivity and injuries, this is the one time it’s not only justified but recommended.
To this end, Brook has a light-middleweight fight with Sergey Rabchenko booked for Sheffield on March 3, while Khan, yet to name an opponent, is lined up for an April 21 ‘homecoming’ in Liverpool (it will be his first fight on UK soil for five years). We are then definitely, probably, maybe on course for Amir Khan and Kell Brook to meet in a summer showdown, just as they were supposed to do in 2017 and 2016 and 2015 and 2014. Or, failing that, at some point later in the year, maybe, in what would be the third of Amir’s three strikes.
It’s the pair’s history that makes you doubtful. While linking up with the same promoter eradicates the majority of the excuses, time to think, fight and plot an alternative route to a title – Khan at welterweight, Brook at light-middleweight – can just as quickly bring them back again. Maybe new ones will emerge. Even more creative ones. (The path to the perfect fight rarely runs smoothly.)
To save disappointment, here are a few possible excuses circa-2018:
1) Kell Brook is coming off two brutal losses and will need to ease his way back into contention.
2) Amir Khan has been away from the ring for nearly two years, was last seen getting badly knocked out, and will need to ease his way back into contention.
3) Kell Brook suffered a broken orbital bone in both of his defeats.
4) Amir Khan has hand trouble and recently underwent surgery.
5) Kell Brook, known for his weight struggles, is now looking to embark on a career as a light-middleweight.
6) Amir Khan, once a lightweight, appeared out of shape and out of his depth in a 155-pound catchweight fight with Canelo Alvarez in 2016.
7) Kell Brook wants to be the A-side.
8) Amir Khan wants to be the A-side.
9) Both have other options.
10) It needs time to build (“Marinate!” yells Oscar De La Hoya from a condo in LA).
And here are some possible answers:
1) That’s fine. Ease your way back into contention, make sure you don’t lose, and then fight Amir Khan.
2) That’s fine. Ease your way back into contention, make sure you don’t lose, and then fight Kell Brook.
3) Understood. Either continue boxing for a living and fight Amir Khan or retire.
4) Understood. Either continue boxing for a living and fight Kell Brook or retire.
5) No problem. Fight as a light-middleweight but then fight Amir Khan at one of those awesome catchweights boxing has a habit of creating when big money is at stake.
6) No problem. Fight as a welterweight but then fight Kell Brook at one of those awesome catchweights boxing has a habit of creating when big money is at stake.
7) Toss for it.
8) Toss for it.
9) Exploring ‘other options’ hasn’t worked out well for either in recent times.
10) It has had years to do that. Build an undercard instead. (Marinate some chicken.)
It really is that simple.
Money, of course, will be the deciding factor – just as it was when Khan offered himself up as a sacrifice to Canelo and Brook did the same with Golovkin – but, by virtue of the fact Khan has done the unthinkable and made a deal with Eddie Hearn, you can be fairly confident the Brook fight has been dangled in front of him (which will mean ballpark figures have been discussed and that Khan has shown an interest not just in talking about a Kell Brook fight – nobody needs to hear any more of that – but actually going through with it and delivering us all something that should have been delivered a long time ago).
“It doesn’t take a genius to recognise that it (Khan signing with Matchroom) brings the Brook fight closer,” Hearn told Boxing News on Wednesday. “This isn’t a deal to make that fight happen, but it’s at the forefront of our minds to try and deliver that fight at the end of 2018.
“The barriers to make that in the past was the obvious animosity, but different networks and promoters, too. Now all the barriers have gone, we’re all in this together.”
See. There you have it: it’s going to happen. Finally, once and for all, Amir Khan vs. Kell Brook or Kell Brook vs. Amir Khan is going to happen.