THE last time Kell Brook fought a world welterweight titlist in America he left the ring with the belt following a triumphant upset victory. Six rollercoaster years after that win over Shawn Porter, Brook emerged with only a look of complete bewilderment after a sudden and brutal assault by Terence Crawford.
The 34-year-old struggled to pinpoint the reasons for his third defeat yet the implications of it leave his life as a boxer in the balance. That crossroads moment is a grim inevitability that almost all fighters face and one that Brook will likely wrestle with in the coming months. On this evidence, his career at elite level is surely over.
Inside the quiet surrounds of the MGM Grand Bubble in Las Vegas, Brook’s solid if not completely convincing start ended when he walked into a lead right from his rival that sent him staggering to the ropes in the fourth round. The impact of the unsighted blow had a concerning effect on the Englishman, one that seemed to speak of eroding reflexes, concerns over past injuries and fading punch resistance. There were of course other factors at play, namely the cold and clinical brilliance of Terence Crawford. Starting the bout in an orthodox stance with only middling success, Crawford eased into southpaw five minutes in. It did two things: One, it allowed Crawford to get nearer with his lead hand and two, it took Brook further away with his.
The challenger, once adept at switching so effortlessly himself, was forced to overreach in an effort to replicate the success he’d enjoyed with his jab in the first two rounds. From the start, Brook was so preoccupied with not making a mistake it was perhaps inevitable he soon would. Though effective to a degree (he was 29-28 up on two cards at the time of the stoppage with the other judge liking Crawford by the same score), Brook never really looked at ease. He was trying too hard, it seemed. When that fluency has gone from a fighter’s arsenal, when everything is so forced, it rarely returns.
“I could have been more relaxed, more loose and got into my rhythm,” Brook admitted afterwards. “His timing is great. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to let my hands pop and he made me do that… He’s a great talent.”
As Kell attempted to get inside the front leg of Crawford and land his own right in the first minute of the fourth, he was swiped by the champion’s jab-cum-hook and stumbled head-first into the boundaries. Two left hands further dizzied the Englishman and with his right arm tangled in the ropes, referee Tony Weeks correctly administered a standing count.
The follow-up barrage from Crawford and its effect told the tale of one man at his peak and another past his. Brook appeared panicked under fire, his balance was shot and by the time he managed to hoist his gloves up to defend himself, Crawford – one of the sport’s most unforgiving finishers – had repositioned himself and was raiding from another angle. One wondered at that moment if Brook, as Crawford somehow surrounded him and fired blows at his skull, was haunted by the broken eye sockets administered by Gennady Golovkin and Errol Spence Jnr in his only other defeats. Thankfully, Weeks hauled Crawford away before any further damage could be done and stopped the contest at 1-14 of the fourth.
“Never in my career, nobody has ever done that to me before, not even in sparring,” Brook said of the quickfire conclusion. “I’m gutted.”
Brook looked in terrific shape but the years of yo-yoing in weight, and facing some monstrous opposition along the way, appear to have left their mark. But there have been few better British boxers in recent years. The win over Porter was outstanding and his desire to take gambles – against the fearsome Golovkin, Spence and Crawford, no less – only enhance his standing in history.
One hopes that Crawford, who is understandably chasing a money-spinning showdown with ageing Manny Pacquiao in his next bout, is allowed to take on his closest rivals. There will come a point in his not too distant future when he too is faced with the realisation that his best days are gone.
On the undercard there seemed to be a woeful injustice. Joshua Franco, from San Antonio, Texas, was deemed unfit to continue due to his right eye being swollen shut after two rounds of his fight with Andrew Moloney. The referee, Russell Mora, ruled an accidental head-clash had caused the injury.
The official warned both parties in the opening round that he believed the injury came from a head clash. But Moloney’s camp failed to understand that this could lead to the bout essentially being rendered null and void. At the end of the second round, doctors said Franco was unfit to continue.
Replays proved there had been a brushing of the heads, but nothing as forceful as the left hands that Moloney was hurling straight at Franco’s eye. One blow in particular appeared to be the culprit. Yet, after 28 minutes of looking at that those replays, a frankly crazy amount of time, the Nevada State Athletic Commission ruled a no-contest.
“I can’t believe that they took this away from me. I’ve trained my arse off the last five months, been away from my family,” Aussie Moloney told ESPN. “I can’t believe they didn’t give it to me. I can’t believe they’re taking this away from me.
“He did not touch me. That eye was closed by 50 jabs. That’s why his eye is shut, not the headbutt. There was no headbutt.”
The NSAC and Bob Bennett stood firm on their decision, sticking with Mora’s view that there was a head-clash and ignoring promoter Bob Arum, who urged them to change their minds. That’s admirable in a way, but they should probably explain further how they came to make that decision when the video replays they were studying for so long showed otherwise.
The Verdict Brook handed the most revealing defeat of his career.