KELL BROOK could have retired last year with nothing left to prove and ticked almost every box. A British champion at welterweight. The winner of a sanctioning body belt on American soil. Some serious cash in the bank. But the Sheffield star had one last thing to do before he could walk away in peace. And that was to remove the Amir Khan-shaped thorn that had been lodged in his side since 2005.
Brook will likely be remembered for the February 2022 thrashing of Khan, the fighter who had long claimed that Kell was not in his league. Seventeen years of hurt forgotten in 16 minutes of one-sided combat. It was the kind of happy ending that even the best Hollywood scriptwriters would struggle to craft because, unfortunately, happy endings are rare in boxing. Even in the movies.
The story began for Kell, whose birth name was Ezekiel Brinsley Brook, when he walked into Brendan Ingle’s famous Wincobank Gym in 1995 as a hyperactive nine-year-old. Established fighters like Naseem Hamed and Johnny Nelson remember young Kell walking on his hands, doing backflips and somersaults. The Ingle family, with Dominic taking the reins, made a champion out of him.
He won 31 of 36 fights as an amateur, during which time he first encountered Khan in 2003 at a national training camp. Already playing catch-up, Brook turned professional as an unknown 18-year-old after Khan went to the 2004 Olympics to win a silver medal and nationwide fame. The following year, he called out Amir for the first time on the pages of Boxing News.
Brook soon caught the eye of the boxing hardcore. Flashy, spiteful, and technically supreme, Brook appeared to have it all. Behind the scenes, however, whispers of poor discipline got louder when Kell was stabbed outside a nightclub in 2007. But by June the next year, after halting Barrie Jones, Brook was the British champion at 147lbs. He would make four defences of the title to win the Lonsdale Belt outright. Efforts to lure Khan into a showdown, first made by Frank Warren and later Eddie Hearn, were unsuccessful. Brook carried on regardless, eager for a chance on the world stage. It was a long road to Carson, California in 2014 to take on unbeaten IBF belt-holder Shawn Porter. A difficult journey back, too, when Brook was the victim of a machete attack while on holiday in Tenerife just a few weeks later.
But against the favoured Porter, the Englishman showed his class to win a deserved 12-round decision in a showing that deserves more than the fleeting mention it’s getting here. Once recovered, he made three defences before an ill-advised expedition to middleweight in September 2016 landed at the fists of Gennadiy Golovkin. “I’m looking forward to feeling Golovkin’s power,” Brook said beforehand, “I’ve heard a lot about it.” At the O2 Arena, that power literally broke his face. Brook had his moments but they ceased when Golovkin took aim at the Englishman’s right eye and cracked the orbital bone. Kell was rescued on his feet in the fifth round by the towel of Dominic Ingle.
Back down to welterweight he went, to defend his IBF strap. Fearless, like always, Brook accepted the challenge of unbeaten leading contender American Errol Spence Jnr just eight months after the loss to “GGG”. Again, Brook was in the fight but, again, his skull was fractured. This time it was the left eye socket that snapped. Spence Jnr won in 11 rounds.
It’s fair to say that Brook was never really the same after that. He won three bouts in decent company before the old injuries seemed to tease him during his November 2020 challenge to Terence Crawford, who won in four rounds. It was cruel on Brook, one of the leading welterweights of a talent-laden era, that he fought both Spence and Crawford after the bone-breaking defeat to Golovkin.
It looked like the end after Crawford. The usual boxing end: Beaten, humbled, the best days long gone and a lifetime of reflection ahead. Then along came Amir Khan. A faded Khan, no question. Brook had significant miles on the clock, too. But Kell was terrific. While reminding us of his peak, he fought without a care in the world. Seemingly aware that everything came down to this one fight. With no sporting future to preserve, Brook pounded Khan and brushed off anything that came back. Kell roared in celebration when he exorcised the ghosts in round six. ‘The Special One’ retired last week.
We wish Brook all the best in retirement and thank him for being so generous with his time over the years. An exciting, courageous and brilliant fighter who, unlike so many, walks away on a high. The flipside of his happy ending is of course Amir Khan. He is weighing up his options, hoping beyond hope for that elusive dream exit.