“Mandatories, bloody mandatories.” What a grating slog. It really encapsulates the frustration of a mandatory, doesn’t it? You wake up in the morning, you’ve recently beaten Shawn Porter away from home for the IBF welterweight world title, you can’t do any training because you’ve been attacked with a machete while on holiday, now you’ve got to recover, fight Jo Jo Dan next, and you think: “Mandatories, bloody mandatories!”
If Kell Brook (39-3, 27 KOs) was an avid Alan Partridge fan he’d have been forgiven for thinking this during his reign as the IBF welterweight world titlist. When Brook won the belt by beating Porter by decision in Carson back in 2014, he was on the cusp of all he had dreamed of ever since bursting into prominence with a seventh-round British welterweight title win over Barrie Jones in 2008. He won the Lonsdale Belt outright by beating Kevin McIntyre (WTKO1), Stuart Elwell (WTKO2) and Michael Lomax (WTKO3) — it is a fun fact that all the men he beat in his first four British title fights were southpaws.
Brook did the right thing when it came to the British title, winning it outright before going for the WBO Inter-Continental title, a sixth-round win over Krzysztof Bienias, then he defended both of his titles against Michael Jennings (WTKO5), a former world title challenger. Brook, though, felt that his career was progressing slowly under then-promoter Frank Warren, who was in the process of lining up an interim title fight against Mike Jones in December 2010 when it became clear that it was unlikely Brook would contest the full title.
As much as Brook wanted a fight against holder Manny Pacquiao— and he and his people, led by his father, Terry Thompson, told me that they did — it was always a long-shot as the Filipino had reached the point in his career that many boxers aspire to; namely, the point where a governing body tells you what to do, you say, “I think not”, and can move on to another title without losing standing or money.
Instead of Jones, who fought Soto Karass, and after a fight against Michael Clark fell apart, Warren lined up a second-round blowout over Philip Kotey on the December 11 date instead. Brook acted in March of the following year when he phoned a local radio station in Manchester to announce that he was moving over to Eddie Hearn’s Matchroom stable.
Luckily, I was a guest that day, and this was before stuff was immediately put up on Twitter etc. then stolen by hacks, so I got the chance to go home and do a bona fide exclusive. Cue much toing and froing between the camps.
When the news dropped on May 2011, Warren told me that: “I chose not to renew his contract or be involved with him anymore,” (C/O BoxingScene). “I contacted his father, Terry, and told him I didn’t want to promote Kell. Kell’s career is in the hands of his father, which has been detrimental to his career.”
He also said the decision was due to a lack of dedication and discipline — “He’s been a bad lad out of the ring, a bad lad,” — as well as insisting that: “Why not fight [Cornelius] Bundrage? Don King and I were close on that one. It was a great fight for him. How long can Kell do welterweight? He’ll end up dead on his arse at that weight so should have taken these fights. As for the [Miguel] Cotto offer. I offer him that fight, and this is how his dad responds to the conversation: ‘Why can’t Kell fight Pacquiao?’ It is beyond belief how anyone can even say that.”
On the other hand, Team Brook argued that they had been the ones to walk away due to a contract clause stipulating that if Brook did not fight for the WBO world title by the end of December 2010 he could go elsewhere.
“We’d been promised the WBO world title by December of last year, obviously, so in fairness to Frank and the circumstances we offered to extend the time limit until March for him to produce a world title fight, but he didn’t accept the offer and the WBO world title fight just wasn’t there,” Brook’s father told me at the time (C/O BoxingScene).
“We could have sat down for two years waiting for Manny to vacate but what was the point of that? You can say it’s only a few years but Kell’s had six years with Frank. Yeah, we have had arguments but that is because Kell only wants to fight the best and asks me to get him the best.”
As mentioned, Warren offered Brook both Bundrage and Cotto at 154lbs to keep the partnership alive, but Brook and his team didn’t believe the offers would become reality and walked away to pastures new. Brook was one of the first of that initial wave of fighters to do this. People may forget this, but “Special K” was a real statement acquisition for Hearn.
As the dust flew up in the air, Hearn told me that: “I am so excited about adding Kell to our stable. There was never a strategy to start signing fighters but when someone like Kell comes along, there is no way I was going to pass up this opportunity,” (C/O BoxingScene).
“Kell oozes class and has that something special about him — in short he is going to be a superstar. Even in the last 24 hours we have started making big moves for Kell and the plan is to have a high-profile defence in June before challenging for the world title later this year.”
Brook’s decision not only kicked-started the British promotional Cold War, it also gave his career a boost as he had seemed to be in danger of either stagnating or withering on the vine under Warren. The main risk was that he was leaving a promoter who had a track history of eventually delivering world title fights, often on home soil, to join Hearn’s new project.
It worked. There were bumps in the road, Carson Jones damaged Brook badly when they met in July 2013 (WMD12), as well as elements of farce, everyone, absolutely everyone, knew that Brook’s March 2012 “Mystery opponent” was going to be Matthew Hatton only for all involved to act like the guy in the Son of the Invisible Man sketch from Amazon Women on the Moon (in a nutshell: he isn’t invisible, he thinks he is).
Eventually, though, all roads led to a world title win away from home that has aged well. It should have been the start. In retrospect it was the beginning of the end. A leg injury picked up after a machete attack following a dispute in Tenerife that is still shrouded in mystery led to seven months of inactivity followed by that first mandatory against Jo Jo Dan (WRTD4).
I happened to be out of the Brook game by then. In fact, I was out of the news game because it was dying on its arse — a casualty of the inter-promotional strife and butting of heads — so I was surprised when Brook used a voluntary up a few months later to meet Frankie Gavin in order to keep himself active and to hand the Birmingham man a shot at the title. You might not agree with the decision, but you can certainly see the logic as he got six rounds in the bag en route to a stoppage win.
Then came another IBF mandatory, a second-round win over Kevin Bizer. At that point you start to wonder if the two parties had gone as far as they could go. In the film Once Upon A Time In America, the two main protagonists are Noodles (played by Robert De Niro) and Max (James Woods). In their climatic final meeting (spoilers), Noodles tells Max that: “I had a friend, a dear friend…It was a great friendship. But it went bad for him, and it went bad for me, too.” The beleaguered Max is running out of time, so he chucks himself into a garbage compacter. At the risk of insulting fighters who have not won a world title, at some point Brook should have put the IBF belt in the bin and moved on.
However, next up was a PPV show-saving fight up at middleweight against Gennady Golovkin. It was Brook’s first defeat, but he took heart from it despite suffering a fractured right eye socket and he dropped back down to his more natural weight, where there was a mandatory against Errol Spence waiting for him.
Brook had gone 2-0 (2) in his other two mandatories, but Spence floored him twice, damaged both of his eyes and had seemingly ended his career over 11 rounds. Brook had three comeback wins then went solo and set up the Terence Crawford fight (LTKO4). By then, his relationship with Hearn was well and truly over. One of the originals had flown from the pack and they traded barbs in the press. That is boxing for you.
Now it is a question of waiting for Brook’s next move. The Amir Khan fight is still dangling tantalisingly over the horizon, close on paper but as far away as a mirage in the desert in real terms. Still, the sadness of it all is that for a number of reasons Brook’s career never took flight in the way some, this writer included, felt it would after his British title run and world title win.
The last time I saw him was post-Porter, he told me that: “As a young kid, I always used to drive past this nice area when we were going for Sunday dinner., I used to think: ‘One day, I’m going to live in one of these houses’ — now I’m living up there,” (CO BoxingScene). Brook seemed happy and content that night.
Winning a world title is a hard thing to do despite the proliferation of titles. It is about timing, ability and a lot of it is about negotiating — a splash of luck also helps. It was frustrating seeing Brook take on two pointless mandatories between a voluntary that was meant to sharpen the tools for further challenges. Other names were linked during that period, but never came to pass. It all created a perfect storm that led to one of our most talented recent fighters never hitting the peak expected of him.
It all came full circle in the end. Brook had hoped to push Pacquiao into a mandatory fight. That didn’t happen and he ended up with two meaningless mandatories when at the peak of his powers. Like the British title, the IBF is a respected belt, yet they don’t make it easy for you. The IBF are commended for enforcing their mandatories by many; on the other hand, most of them are poor and so are their ratings.
The problem with world titles of all types is that fighters who hold other belts are either not ranked at all or given laughable rankings. Once you win a belt it should be the beginning of something new, not the start of an endless purgatory period of negotiating with the various bodies to try to make the fights that will progress boxing, progress your career and produce elite, battle-hardened fighters.
It could be a case of doing what the top-names do and saying “One, two and out” if you face a logjam of mandatory obligations. Or pull a Canelo who recently told DAZN and the WBA to “El Fuckio offo!” knowing they would come back to him. Brook never reached that level, which is a shame, but the hope must be now that if the fire still burns the 34-year-old has it in him to add a deserved coda to his career. Say what you like about Brook, but not many people would have gone in back-to-back with the established Golovkin and Brook’s heir apparent Spence.
Ultimately, though, there is something tragic about it all. Naturally, Thompson wanted what was best for his son, the fighter wants to be in big fights, the promoters want the best for themselves, and occasionally doing the best for the fighter achieves that in the long-term. I sometime wonder, though, what could have been if all the people involved in this story could have all worked together.