By Sean Reed
The more things change, the more they stay the same, so even with the biggest fight of his boxing life looming, Errol Spence, Jr. was mellow, grounded and unassuming as always. Spence faced IBF welterweight champion, Kell Brook, last Saturday, May 27th, at Bramall Lane in Sheffield, England, and understandably, the level of attention on the 2012 U.S. Olympian increased, both home and abroad.
The once non-descript gym Team Spence inhabits became a haven for demands on his time. Public workouts, interview requests, photo ops, autographing boxing gloves, fight posters and t-shirts, selfies, etc., were all accommodated with Spence's customary level of professionalism and aplomb. "Focus" is a played out, clichéd word, but witnessing it with your own eyes is altogether different. Amidst the heightened notoriety, Errol, Jr. (also known as "E.J.") was solely fixated on leaving a lasting impression in phase one of his ever blossoming boxing legacy.
"Especially with my pedigree, a U.S. Olympian, winning 'Prospect of the Year' and all these awards, to go fight for a title; most guys in my position get it handed to them or they're fighting an old guy or for a vacant title. But I'm fighting a live dude, a big welterweight, a guy who can fight. So I definitely think it helps my legacy to say that I went over there and fought him in his hometown." Those were Spence's final documented thoughts, prior to making the trip overseas, and he couldn't have been much more prophetic.
Kell Brook, a speedy, 1-2, jab-right cross specialist with power in both hands, was not only the biggest test of Errol's career, but probably the most daunting task period, at 147 pounds. Fulfilling a lifelong dream of staging a title defense on the pitch of his favorite football club, "The Special One" certainly would ask and answer questions of his top rated challenger. But "E.J." brought 37 bouts worth of international amateur experience with him, countless rounds of sparring larger men and set a pace Brook eventually couldn't sustain, forcing him to capitulate in the 11th round.
Fans on both sides of the pond wondered if Brook-Spence would replicate Joe Calzaghe vs. Jeff Lacy, Alan Minter vs. "Marvelous" Marvin Hagler, or something in between. Junior Witter vs. Tim Bradley and Ricky Burns vs. Terrance Crawford were also noted, but what we got was a well contested prize-fight uniquely its own.
As he always does, Spence used the opening stanza as a recognizance round, establishing distance behind the southpaw jab. Brook, who has a pretty good jab of his own, looked to immediately counter Spence's likewise. Spence did a great job of working his free hand to the body, whenever Brook tried to clinch, and though this more subtle attack is lost on most (as are the amount of blows he parries with his forearms and gloves), in terms of scoring, it would pay dividends in the latter portion of the contest.
From the time they arrived in England, British fight fans playfully chided Team Spence, with chocolate brownies, in reference to Brook's right hand, which he promised to familiarize his foe with. Errol had chocolate brownies hurled at him and trainer, Derrick James, was served up a plate full, courtesy of an anonymous patron at a restaurant. Brook delivered on his guarantee, force feeding "chocolate brownies" in the ring, all of which Spence digested well.
Dominic Ingle kept reassuring Brook that Spence would wilt, the deeper they got into the fight, but that didn't prove to be the case. On a bad day, "E.J." has been known to spar as many as 14 rounds, with a thirty second respite; 17-18 rounds on good days, with fresh sparring partners rotating in, every 4th round or so. That being the case, it’s doubtful fatigue will ever be an issue, as Spence's career progresses, and it certainly wasn't in his first world championship bout.
Spence made a point to fire back immediately, whenever the Bramall Lane crowd cheered Brook's exploits. The fighter's feet got tangled early in round 6, causing Spence to stagger into the ropes. The fans went crazy, eliciting a vicious, 2-handed response to Brook's head and body. All the while, the Sheffield native had his opponent wary of uppercuts. Brook picked up on Spence's pattern of dipping to his left, off the southpaw jab, looking to follow up with lefts to the body. Smartly, Brook began meeting Spence at the point of attack with uppercuts, underneath his high peek-a-boo guard.
Sensing he might be trailing, the DeSoto, TX. resident ramped things up to a higher level and pace in the second half, stalking Brook, cutting off the ring, probing his way inside and opening up with both hands, once there. Flush right and left hooks to the head not only got Brook's attention, but visibly swelled his left eye, which had already absorbed meaty jabs from the beginning.
Round 9 was the most one-sided to that point, as Brook was hurt and desperately trying to hold. Ingle gave a lengthy dissertation as he re-taped Brook, during a break in the action, but the tactic was for naught. In the 10th, Brook's body language was bad, and Spence's persistent mental and physical pressure convinced the defending champion to take a knee, after a flurry against the ropes. Admirably, Brook bit down on his gum shield one final time, fought back, but couldn't deter Spence's offense.
Smelling blood, Spence was a shark on a carcass, affording no breaks, flurrying at every opportunity. After being separated from a clinch, a pawing, defeated Brook took another knee, rather than deal with his pursuing conqueror. God may have saved the Queen, but it was referee, Howard Foster, there on Brook's behalf.
At the end of the day, Spence walked thru the requisite resume fillers and non threatening name brand opponents in style. Stepping it up, Kell Brook posed proper questions of Spence and he resoundingly answered them; he was literally punched in the mouth, had a bloody bottom lip to show for it, and fended off adversity and storms with his forearms and head movement as the umbrella. The new I.B.F. welterweight champion was forced to fight off his back-foot considerably more than fans are accustomed to seeing.
There’s a lot of work yet to be done, but phase 1 of legacy enhancement has been completed.