AMIR KHAN VS KELL BROOK WHO WINS?
AGE AND PHYSICAL EQUIPMENT
IT is difficult to name another contest of this magnitude – a sold-out pay-per-view event – where both fighters were so far past their best. The positive in that, some say, is that matching two 35-year-olds with significant miles on the clock makes it an even fight. Perhaps. It certainly makes it a fight that is hard to call. A dangerous fight, too.
As the showdown draws close, expect both Brook and Khan to claim they’re born again. Already Khan has said he feels like he did when he was in his mid-twenties. But replicating the form of their peaks inside a prize ring is frankly an impossible ask at this stage of their careers. There might be just enough left to produce a stirring contest, however.
Inactive since July 2019, Khan has been unconvincing since he was torn from consciousness by the mighty right hand of the much bigger Canelo Álvarez in 2016. That sickening fall was the ninth of his professional career. That tally now stands at 11, after being dropped by Samuel Vargas in 2018 and Terence Crawford the following year. And it is Khan’s performance against Crawford that should be a cause for concern. Though his arms remained fast, his punches lacked snap. More worrying were his feet; in spots, they were out of time with the rest of his body. Also, Khan underwent surgery in 2016 and 2019 to repair longstanding hand and elbow injuries.
Some will argue that Brook is the fresher of the two. Though he was stopped in four rounds by Crawford a year after Khan lasted until the sixth, he was briefly competitive in a way that Khan was not. But the torture his body has endured over the years makes for uncomfortable reading. For a large portion of his career, he did not ‘live the life’ and making weight has been a perennial struggle. Brook always looks gaunt and ludicrously unhealthy on the scales. That has to take a toll. He has survived a stabbing (2007) and a machete attack (2014) outside the ring. In an expedition to middleweight in September 2016, Brook’s right eye socket was broken by Gennady Golovkin. In his next bout, back down at welterweight just eight months later, he somehow shed significant pounds before Errol Spence Jnr fractured the Briton’s left eye socket. His skull has been rebuilt – Brook calls himself “The Terminator” – but the psychological scars remain. Evidence of such could be seen as Kell instinctively (and understandably) turned and covered his face when Crawford attacked in 2020.
The winner of this contest, then, may not be the best fighter but the least damaged.
At his best – likely back in 2014 during highly impressive victories over Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander – Khan was a supremely fast and dangerous technician. He could bang with authority and, when he retained his focus, box to orders in a manner that left his rivals beaten and befuddled. Brook has long called Khan ‘amateurish’ due to the way he jumps in and out of range. However, when executed with care (and it isn’t always) it is a very effective style. Khan’s chin will always have a bad reputation but when referencing that, one must also point to his immense courage and will to win. The 11 knockdowns he’s endured came in eight contests. In four of them, he regained his balance and won the fight. Perhaps the greatest nod to his warrior spirit came in 2010 when he remained standing throughout a hellacious slugfest with Marcos Maidana and emerged with his arms raised.
Finally, while consistently fighting at the top level, Khan has been educated by some of the best trainers in the world. Oliver Harrison, Freddie Roach, Virgil Hunter, Joe Goossen, Bones Adams and now Brian McIntyre have imparted their wisdom into Khan’s ears.
The peak Brook was a brilliant boxer-puncher who could switch stances effortlessly and effectively. His standout performance came in 2014 when, on away soil, he outpointed a very good Shawn Porter. However, while Khan can choose from fighters like Maidana, Alexander, Collazo and Zab Judah when it comes to naming his finest hour, Brook’s list starts and ends with Porter. Regardless, it is arguably the best victory either can boast.
Like Khan, Brook has proved his toughness numerous times. Though below par, he gutted it out to get past Carson Jones in 2012 and, even though he lost, nobody can criticise his efforts against Golovkin and Spence.
Brook’s desire to get this fight with Khan must also be seen as a strength here. While I don’t believe Khan was running from Brook, there can be no doubt he was less interested. Khan has been on Brook’s mind for a long, long time and that could manifest itself in the kind of determination required to win a hard fight.
Brook also appears to be the harder puncher. Just under 70 per cent of his victories came inside schedule, with plenty by way of a one-punch finish. Throw in Khan’s perceived frailties and Kell’s power could be a significant factor.
Khan’s punch resistance will not have improved and Brook’s lingering doubts about the cracks in his skull will surely remain. Training camp for both will unquestionably have been an almighty slog, too. The contracted catchweight of 149lbs won’t be easy for either to make.
Khan’s desire to stand and fight has been a blessing and a curse. It created one of the most exciting fighters this country has ever produced. At the same time, it has made certain fights that appear simple on paper – like Michael Gomez, Julio Díaz and Samuel Vargas – significantly harder than they needed to be. His gung-ho attitude played a part in more than one of his defeats, too.
Against Crawford in 2019, Khan was showing signs of fading reflexes and reactions. Some may say that his two-and-a-half year break from the ring has done him good. In truth, it has merely prevented him from taking any further punishment. It is unlikely he will be a better fighter at the age of 35 than he was at 32. The same applies to Brook, of course.
Though every inch an ‘Ingle fighter’ he was never as elusive as, say, Herol Graham or Johnny Nelson. Brook used to take more chances – and punches – while looking to land his own blows. Logic dictates that his advancing years will only make him more hittable. It is perfectly conceivable that he will be outboxed or overcome as he goes looking for the KO finish.
Brook has criticised Khan for joining up with Brian McIntyre – “BoMac” – in America, suggesting he is unsettled. It could yet be a masterstroke. Khan has been training alongside Terence Crawford, a brilliant fighter who has beaten both Amir and Kell. McIntyre studied Brook carefully in 2020 before plotting the gameplan that saw Kell stopped in four rounds.
Dominic Ingle is again Brook’s trainer. He has known Brook since the boxer was nine years old. He will be acutely aware of Kell’s ability at this stage and formulate a plan to get the best from him. Ingle will know Khan well, too. Over the years, Dominic has said Brook has the beating of him, stating it for the first time in 2005.
This can be no more than guesswork. Neither man will know for sure how their bodies will react in combat. This contest could end at any moment due to a punch or injury. It is also plausible that it could be scrappy in the extreme, and goes the full 12, as neither fighter manages to find their range or rhythm.
So how will the story end? The long and winding narrative to this point suggests Khan has the upper hand. From the start of the rivalry, he dictated the terms and conditions. Eager for attention and respect, all Brook could ever do was give chase. Khan’s focus was often elsewhere but he never wasted an opportunity to put Kell in his place. With all that in mind, Khan may always have been destined to be a thorn in Brook’s side. It would be cruel if Brook, after waiting for so long to do battle, is simply too damaged to do so.
However, the feeling – and it is nothing more than a feeling – is that Khan is the more faded of the two. And that Brook will engineer an opening in the first half of the bout, maybe as early as round three or four, that drops and ultimately stops a battle-worn Amir.
This is fascinating in many ways. Maybe Khan and Brook can produce something resembling the contest we yearned for several years ago. Regardless, we hope that both warriors settle their feud with their health intact.