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Kell Brook: Enslaved to Desire

Hamza Ahmed

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It had been a long time coming.

Crossing the Atlantic weighed by expectation and shackled by the pain of injuries, Kell Brook could finally call himself a world champion following a majority decision triumph against the prime and undefeated Shawn Porter. The sweaty hand wrapped fist which hung victoriously in the simmering California heat that fateful August night in 2014 was emblematic of the freedom he had been yearning for. The freedom of finally becoming a world champion. The freedom of creating a legacy as one of Britain’s best. The freedom of potentially facing the division’s elite such as Keith Thurman, Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley. One fight however, appeared inevitable. 

Running parallel was national rival Amir Khan, who spent the same year chasing his own aspirations of securing a Floyd Mayweather fight, and went about adding credence to his case by beating Luis Collazo and Devon Alexander. But that wasn’t what Brook or more importantly, the paying public wanted. They wanted to see Khan V Brook, a clash consistent with logic.

Champion v challenger. Domestic dust up. War of the Roses. Both ranked in the top 10 in the same division.

A guaranteed payday that would have lavished riches upon both combatants. A victory over the other potentially paving the way for a superfight elsewhere. It seemed destined to happen.

Little did anybody foresee that we’d still be waiting for the fight to this day.

A deceptively friendly rivalry instantaneously dissolved into a bitter war that has waged ferociously for at least 6 years. Khan, quickly believing Brook needed him more than he needed Brook, elected to use this opinion to inexplicably leverage himself into the position of a slavemaster, not literally but allegorically. Khan greedily seized the mantle of dictating terms. The one who demanded his needs were met without fulfilling his own promises. The one who didn’t give a damn about what the fans wanted.

And with this overindulgence of power, Khan sold Brook the freedom of his dream bout against him but only after mentally enslaving the Sheffield native and forcing him to do whatever he wished. Brook begrudgingly accepted. The freedom of the dream he wanted would come at the price of becoming chained to the dream itself.

Brook won a title as he was commanded to. He headlined a show as ordered. He built his profile up as asked. He stepped up to fight middleweight terror Gennady Golovkin when told to fight someone with a name and although his stock rose in a brave defeat, his only spoils of war were a broken eye socket. He defended his title against mandatory challenger and American standout Errol Spence Jr. when instructed to and despite being game in a losing effort, he forcibly exchanged his IBF title for another loss and another broken eye socket. An exhausted Brook accepted Khan’s demand of negotiating without promoter Eddie Hearn involved, until Khan himself reneged on that order by penning a 3 fight promotional deal with the man he once swore he would never work with. Brook even begrudgingly accepted a 147lb limit, despite emphasising how detrimental the weight cut is to his health. Each passing demand Khan concocts uncovers a new layer of ruthlessness, ones that indicates Khan holds zero respect for Brook as a fighter and for his career. When Khan orders jump, Brook submissively asks how high.

If Brook’s continued obedience hasn’t been enough to force a release from the chains he now finds himself handcuffed in, then perhaps the events which transpired in Sheffield on December 8 2018 might end up being the key to free him. Clad in Christmas themed trunks, Brook outboxed and bloodied Australian counterpart Michael Zerafa en route to a wide unanimous decision. The scorecards reflected ease yet it was anything but for what was designed to be a routine tune up morphed into an uncomfortable evening. Brook was hit too much. Stunned too much. Defensively too lax. Shipped too much punishment. He looked sluggish, laborious and alarmingly vulnerable, all signs indicating a fighter declining before observing eyes. The faint belief was for Khan V Brook to finally be made official once the fistic festivities had ceased. Instead, Brook and Hearn were forced to plead in a scene routinely present on live charity appeals as opposed to boxing events, wearily enquiring anybody out there to free Brook from the manacles.

In spite of the appeal, Hearn persisted Brook will no longer pay anymore costs towards securing his desire of a Khan fight and would instead target the kings of the 154 pound division, no doubt a myopic approach given the divisional landscape has radically altered. Where once financially viable options such as Mayweather, Cotto and Canelo were available, the division has since been supplanted by giants of the truest sense.

WBA and IBF unified champion Jarrett Hurd and WBC Champion Jermell Charlo are poised to race on the road to unification. The remaining titlist Jaime Munguia is slated to box Takashi Inoue in January. Significant weight advantages, relentlessness and youth – all 3 equate to violence for a man who has already sustained significant eye injuries. 

A torturous weight cut back to 147 lbs would also spell disaster for Brook given that division too has drastically altered. As candid as Brook has been in desiring a rematch with Spence, it only takes a sane person to recognise another loss would spell retirement. Manny Pacquiao is on a novelty run and finds a Mayweather rematch more palatable. Shawn Porter, despite having a loss against Brook, is also interested in other ventures such as those involving unifications. All that remains is Terence Crawford, the spiteful streaked WBO titlist who has been earmarked for a showdown with Khan. If the Bolton native accepts, why would Crawford further consider Brook?

Time. Health. Titles. Opportunities. Legacy. 

If the now ubiquitous singer Gala encouraged listeners to free themselves from desire then Kell Brook is the antithesis to that mantra, instead becoming enslaved to desire. He has spent 4 years loyally fulfilling everything that has been asked of him. He has paid the price dearly in ways currency itself could not quantify. Sacrifices have been made to find the key at the end of the rainbow, only to discover another hurdle to overcome. Incarcerated by the torment endured and the lies Khan has sold as promises, Brook is now on his knees in front of the man who has gleefully (yet shamefully) tortured him. Dishevelled, betrayed, caged. Angry, vengeful, bloodlust.

Freedom comes at a price but seeking freedom after becoming enslaved to the desire of a Khan fight has forced Brook to make considerable concessions, ones which could ultimately end up being in vain. Khan has one fight remaining with Hearn and the only thing that would deaden Brook is if Khan were to knife him in the back by accepting a fight against anybody else not named Kell Brook. Hearn would be left afflicted, forever black marked by the failure to a deliver a fight he believed he could. Brook would be shattered, forever questioning whether it was worth coming so far and having nothing to show for his efforts. And that’s without considering the valuable time lost, which could have been spent elsewhere such as engaging in unifications whilst still close to optimum condition, selling out arenas as a household name and solidifying a legacy surpassing Khan’s.

But that could have been. Instead this is now and the blunt reality is there is nowhere else for Brook and Khan to go, irrespective of the nonsense the latter perpetuates. The Zerafa fight for Brook, the Vargas fight for Khan, the inactivity, the wear and tear, the injuries, the soul separating knockout Khan suffered at the hands of Canelo, the staccato irregularities of momentum – all indicators elucidating the reality that both men are finished at the highest level and will likely never hit those peaks again. The fight between the 2 must happen next otherwise Brook is potentially one failed negotiation away from being classed as the guy who chased Khan and not the guy who was a world champion. For a man that talented, that kind of legacy would be a tremendous shame. 

For those acquainted with Harry Potter lore, Zerafa may very well prove to be the sock to Brook’s Dobby and Khan’s Lucius Malfoy. It’s theoretically possible a lowly Australian could prove to be the catalyst to finally free Brook from this painful saga, one that can only have its fairytale ending if he were to beat Khan. Unfortunately, Khan still holds the master keys and Brook’s chance at independence will only ever come on Khan’s terms. Perhaps Khan’s behaviour of consistently diverting Brook away through nefarious means is fuelled by the fear of getting knocked out by a man he despises in front of millions. Perhaps it really is a breakdown in negotiations as he maintains, arguing an impasse is reached every time he wants the fight. Perhaps it’s because Khan is afraid that a loss will forever banish him into terrain he fears venturing – irrelevance.

Or perhaps this really is Khan’s plan. Maybe his ill treatment towards Brook is an act to spite not just Brook and Hearn but boxing. This is a man who in his delusions of grandeur, still maintains Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao “ducked” him and even filmed a documentary chronicling the chimerical chase. What if this is Khan’s way of getting back at the sport for what he perceives to be betrayal – that what Mayweather and Pacquiao did to him, he wants to do to Brook? Maybe this WAS the plan, feed an already submissive Brook false hope. Whilst Brook dreamed, Khan sharpened the knives. The only question that remains then is 

Et tu Amir?

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