By Tris Dixon
This time two weeks from now another English football stadium will have emptied and stories for the next decade and beyond will start to be retold.
Will Kell Brook be able to pick up from where countryman and Matchroom stablemate Anthony Joshua left off on that astonishing night last month, or will Errol Spence be able to do what Wladimir Klitschko could not and silence hordes of supporters?
Like that heavyweight epic for the ages, this is fascinatingly poised but for a multitude of different reasons.
While Joshua-Klitschko featured one boxer at the start of his journey and the other near the end, this stars fighters closer to their peaks.
There has always seemed to be something special about Brook, and that’s not just because of his ‘Special’ nickname. He looked out of place on undercards on the way up, as though he was always likely to find a spot higher up the bill.
He had it all; talent, quickness, speed, arrogance, swagger and a finishing instinct. He could take people out with one shot – to the head or body – and as he rose in levels his performances tended to improve. He hasn’t had many off nights, he just hasn’t had many of the right fights, the kind of battles that will linger long in the memory against the type of opponent who will bring out the best that might still be within him.
However, it might not be there. Not anymore. The potential could still go untapped. He is getting older. He’s fought back from a near death stabbing incident. And, of more immediate concern to the purists, he’s shrinking his body back down to 147lbs for the first time since his March 2016 beating of Kevin Bizier having fought in a potentially damaging loss to Gennady Golovkin up at middleweight, which ended in round five with the Kazakh starting to turn the screws.
Many questioned early on in his career whether Brook would fulfil his vast potential. They said he was skilled but not motivated. They said he had power, but might not use it in the right circumstances. They said he could have it all, but he might not have the discipline to make it.
Across the Atlantic, in the gyms and on undercards, a quiet buzz could be heard around the name Errol Spence. He often impressed in short outings, then came the stories of marking up Floyd Mayweather and supposedly decking Adrien Broner in sparring.
His reputation was continuously enhanced. Word got out. The bubble grew bigger.
Neither have the wins that either fulfil or validate their potential. Brook’s career high is defeating Shown Porter to win the IBF belt he puts on the line in a fortnight, Spence’s best victory was stopping Chris Algieri.
At 27, Spence has big nights ahead while there’s a feeling the big fights that have been rumoured for 30-year-old Brook, be it against Manny Pacquiao or UK rival Amir Khan, should have happened by now. Yes, the Khan fight for British bragging rights may always be there, but it doesn’t mean either will be at the best by then. We will see.
The biggest fight of the Sheffield man’s tenure as the IBF’s welterweight champion wasn’t at welterweight, it was that audacious middleweight challenge of Golovkin. Some felt sure it would result in the Sheffield man’s career being cut short. It was violent while it lasted, and Brook was certainly more competitive than many feared, but it wasn’t enough. It was not ever going to be. Not against Golovkin. Not at 160lbs. The surgeon who helped rebuild his battered face afterwards said he could have been one punch from going blind.
This isn’t at middleweight, but Brook was struggling at 147lbs long before that. Should he have vacated the title and looked for challenges at 154lbs? It’s almost without doubt he will move there should he lose to Spence – and we will probably then be told that he is no longer a welterweight. If he wins, however, he will be expected to stew his body back down to 147lbs, to look towards messrs Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia and even Manny Pacquiao. All would be big fights, all arguably bigger than Spence, who is having his first real marquee contest.
Worth noting, also, is that this marks Brook’s first outing following a loss. He reckons coming back from defeat will bring the best out in him, unlike former Sheffield idol Naseem Hamed, who after losing to Marco Antonio Barrera allowed his career to fizzle out with one drab bout before walking away. Brook-Spence is unlikely to be dull.
The weight is a serious question mark, though. Remember how drained Chad Dawson was after dropping to super-middle to face Andre Ward? He was never the same again, neither was Roy Jones, who after defeating John Ruiz at heavyweight, couldn’t rekindle any of his earlier career magic when the poundage had to be dropped again. The same could be said for Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns and Oscar De La Hoya, all who suffered having dropped back down in weight at some point in their careers.
Spence has started every pro fight he’s had as a heavy favourite, while expectations of Brook have always been high – with the exception of the GGG fight, when no one expected him to put up the game argument he presented in the early rounds.
Spence is not Golovkin, but Brook is also not allowed to weight 160lbs.
It’s a cauldron of ambition, potential, desire, promise and both have points to prove. Both will want to move on to bigger things, even though this is plenty big enough in its’ own right.
This time in two weeks, when the trash collectors clear the debris left by around 25,000 fans, one man will be dreaming about what might still be, the other will have his own pieces to pick up.