All of the lights went out on Kell Brook’s reign as IBF world welterweight champion in front of his home fans last night in Sheffield, England.
After a week in which Manchester, a city just under 40 miles from Sheffield, had been floored by an evil act of terror fight fans poured into Bramall Lane to enjoy a night of boxing all the while remembering what had happened earlier in the week. Sporting events were taking place across the country with English soccer’s end of season showpiece the F.A Cup Final taking place at Wembley Stadium in London.
Security was visibly increased for one of the biggest boxing occasions ever to come to Sheffield.
Pat- downs and bag searches were administered by friendly security staff to the media. Everyone was keen to do their job, co-operate and ensure that the reported 27,000 people enjoyed their night safely.
“The show must go on,” said the familiar star voice of MC Michael Buffer. This after a minute’s silence – just prior to George Groves fourth world super middleweight title attempt – for the victims of the atrocities at Manchester Arena had been somewhat woefully acknowledged by fans inside the stadium. As is the British way a round of applause burst out initially, but then chants of ‘En-Ger-Land’ could be heard from the stands. An act of defiance, a big **** you to the terrorists… but for 60 seconds perhaps it would have been much more fitting to pay tribute with only applause or silence.
After Groves had finally gotten the monkey off his back and became a world champion at 168lbs all eyes and ears turned to the main event.
Sadly, however, before proceedings the American national anthem had been categorically drowned out by a chorus of boos from the fans in attendance. Fuel to a fire, perhaps, already burning inside the mind of the away fighter, the Long Island born Errol Spence Jr.
The British alternative was sang loudly and proudly, a few shakes of the head were still felt at ringside.
As the first bell sounded the tactics of the much-hyped Spence were evident: attack the body. If the champion had been having extreme difficulty in making the weight then we were about to find out just how tough it had been.
Brook struggled to get the his laser like jab going, his timing was off early doors and never really looked like switching itself on throughout the contest. Spence may have been having success to the body as he took matters into his own hands, but he was beating the local hero to the jab. His first three minutes were those of a 27-year-old man unfazed by the bear pit atmosphere beforehand and who looked ready to prove he was ‘The Truth’.
The second 180 seconds would arguably prove to be one of Brook’s best against Spence, and as the fight played out this writer struggled to find a way to give him any other round.
Round two saw Brook finding his range, finding his target as the stalking Spence continually walked him down. Brook was having to dig deep to stay competitive. His eyes filled with the presence of a Spence growing in confidence, his mind having to go into overdrive to think of a get out of jail free card. That card wasn’t being presented in the form of the champion’s uppercut which he looked for too frequently and had minimal success with.
Three rounds in and the signs were worrying for Brook. His entrance to ‘All of the Lights’ was the stuff of memories, an ‘I was there’ moment but the lights were fading. Spence was shining, and shining brightly. A mix of menace and marauding he appeared to be bullying Brook.
At no point did Brook appear to regain the composure of the second session. At times his work was ragged, hurried and forced – but this was down to the forcefulness of what Spence was bringing to the table.
As Brook’s left eye continued to mark up he was waiting on a mistake from his American foe. Mistakes only came when Brook found success by dragging him into a dog fight.
Sheffield, nicknamed the Steel City, was watching true metal from Brook at times. His skilful playbook wasn’t itself being executed but his heart willed him on, if only for his own fans who drove him on at any whiff of an attack.
This was the steepest 147lb challenge of his career to date.
Into the eighth and it was clear that Brook had to force the issue. His left eye swollen, his mind perhaps wandering back to the injuries sustained against Gennady Golovkin in a game of punching roulette last September. That was a right eye that been broken by the pounding punches of the Kazakh. A broken right orbital bone his prize after taking on a financially rewarding challenge, but one that was unsuccessful and was surely coming back to haunt him inside the cooling temperatures of a venue that had been burning with atmosphere.
As the fight reached its championship rounds it was clear that Brook was going to have to dig deeper than ever to pull out the victory. His trademark ‘Chocolate Brownie’ right hand wasn’t on target for large portions of the night but found a home on Spence’s chin in the ninth.
A Spence onslaught put Brook to the ground one round later but to his credit the champion rose, despite his left eye looking worse than ever, and took the fight to Spence and had momentary success which brought deafening roars from his support.
The end was nigh and on the horizon, however. The 10th felt like one last hurrah, a thank you to his fans but in the end he was simply outgunned by a sharper, fresher and dangerous challenger who in the end overwhelmed Brook who would take a knee in the penultimate round. His left eye damaged, broken, double vision occurring and too much punishment from Spence. A sign that with both eyes having now suffered horrendous injuries it may well be time to retire.
For Spence, the 147lbs weight division has a new kid on the block. A Texan tornado that blew into Sheffield and took a world title with it. The new champion is a star in the making and while the night may be remembered for the crowd or Brook’s bow out, it is one that should be remembered for an away fighter who came to the UK and delivered on the hype an promise that some have failed to do in the past.
Gervonta Davis, Terence Crawford, Keith Thurman, Andre Ward and now Errol Spence Jr. American boxing is on the way back to being a dominant force in the sport.