Long-time rivals Amir Khan and Kell Brook meet in a catchweight showdown on Saturday night at a sold-out AO Arena in Manchester. Domestic classic pending or a case of two has-beens cynically cashing in their career chips? Luke G. Williams previews the action…
For years Amir Khan and Kell Brook have circled one another, like two preening stags attempting to assert authority and territory without actually coming to blows. Now, at last, the bitter domestic rivals finally meet in the ring, in a showdown that has captured the public imagination and significant mainstream media attention.
Brilliantly promoted by Sky Sports, whose range of pre-fight programming has made for fascinating and compulsive viewing, it’s been easy to get caught up in the fevered expectation surrounding Khan-Brook as 19 February has approached. The thunderstorm of hype seems to have swung consensus opinion (and doubtless pay-per-view sales) in favour of the fight being something approaching a must-see contest.
It’s quite a change from 12 or so months ago, when – after so many years and false starts – the prospect of a potential Khan-Brook showdown elicited sniggers and rolled eyes rather than excitement. Now, though, even long-time cynics seem to be shrugging their shoulders, intoning the words ‘better late than never’, grabbing their Sky remotes and eagerly parting with £19.95 to make their pay-per-view pre-order.
Amid the exultant mood of expectation, it feels somewhat mean-spirited to point out that – in global boxing terms – this fight is an utter irrelevance. Furthermore straight-faced comparisons I have seen made with the ‘Thrilla in Manila’ (another occasion when two men past their best conjured a classic!) are a downright insult.
The cold hard facts are these: the 35-year-old Amir Khan (34-5, 21 KOs) hasn’t fought at all since July 2019’s facile outing against Billy Dib and hasn’t held a world title since he was blasted out by Danny Garcia in July 2012 – nearly a decade ago.
As for Brook (39-3, 27 KOs, also 35 years old), the Sheffield man hasn’t been seen in a prize ring since he folded alarmingly quickly against Terence Crawford in November 2020 and it’s nearly five years since Brook ceded his IBF welterweight crown to Errol Spence.
In short, neither man is remotely close to being a world-class performer anymore and had they never fought another contest and drifted into retirement rather than facing each other no one would have been surprised.
Yet here we are, eagerly awaiting a showdown between two fighters who are promotionally adrift and globally irrelevant. Let’s be clear: the only reason this fight is happening is because the sole significant purse and fight remaining for either man is against each other. This contest is primarily about money, pure and simple.
‘Twas ever thus with prize fighting, you might argue, and with some justification too. Although there is also a side helping of egotism at work here for both fighters, as they weigh up the lofty careers they could and possibly should have had against the somewhat more dispiriting and disappointing reality. By ending their careers with a victory against their most bitter rival, both men seem to be seeking some sort of happy ending, and a sense of solace and closure.
“It’s a big thing for us both,” Khan has admitted during one of his more edifying and less crude pre-fight pronouncements during a week in which the spectre of homophobia and racism have hung over the promotional rhetoric. “If either of us lose, it’s something that will haunt us for a very long time. That’s the reason I’ve trained so hard. I’ve done everything I’ve needed to because I know I can’t lose this fight.”
Brook has made similar noises. “This means so much to me,” he said. “This fight’s been talked about for many, many years. You’re going to see the condition and the hard work I’ve put in. I’m ready for 12 hard rounds. I’m ready to put a show on for the fans.”
Realism (or possibly cynicism) to one side, Khan-Brook may be contextually meaningless, but it could – nevertheless – prove a highly entertaining scrap and picking a winner is a tough task.
At the weigh-in Brook surprised onlookers by weighing in a pound under the 149lbs limit, contrary to fears that he may come in over-weight, while Khan was only a few ounces over the 147lbs welterweight limit. Both men looked in magnificent shape, but there is surely a danger that one or both has over-trained, and may find their tanks empty on Saturday night.
Consensus opinion seem to hold that the victor will be the man who has regressed least from their peak, and assessing who that is on the basis of public work-outs, training videos or pre-fight verbal sparring is impossible. The only time we will be able to definitively establish just how shot both fighters are will be on Saturday night (and let’s be honest, one thing is certain, and that’s that they are both shot).
If pedigree and resume were the decisive factors then Khan would win with ease. An Olympic silver medallist at 17, he has faced a roll call of top fighters or leading contenders in and around 140 and 147lbs – including Crawford, Marcos Maidana, Devon Alexander, Paulie Malignaggi, Zab Judah, Luis Collazo, Chris Algieri, Danny Garcia and Lamont Peterson, as well as his ill-fated contest with Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez at a 155lbs catchweight for the WBC middleweight title.
Brook’s victory against Shawn Porter is arguably a marginally better win than Khan’s career highlight win against Maidana, but aside from this victory the Sheffield man’s record is pretty threadbare, showdowns with top tier foes in Gennadiy Golovkin, Errol Spence Jr and Crawford all ending in comprehensive defeats. Mind you, it is worth noting that he has only lost to top-tier talents, while Khan was blasted out by the hard-hitting but otherwise average Breidis Prescott in 2008.
As you would expect, both men seem to have prepared thoroughly and diligently – Brook in Fuerteventura with Dominic Ingle and Khan in Omaha under the guidance of yet another new trainer in the form of Brian ‘BoMac’ MacIntyre, best known for his long and fruitful association with the brilliant Terence Crawford. Both possess decent power and skills, with an edge in resilience to Brook and speed to Khan.
If the deterioration in their abilities is roughly equal, then this could be a fight won by the boxer with the stronger mindset and the man who is able to display the greater self-control and discipline in what seems sure to be a febrile Manchester atmosphere.
With this in mind it is worth noting that in the build-up this week Khan has looked calm, composed and confident, cocky even, while Brook has looked edgy and over-emotional. Does this point to Khan being in greater control of his emotions and thus the more likely man to stick to a clear and disciplined game-plan?
Perhaps, although it is worth noting that even when he was at his peak, Khan was prone to lapses in concentration, possibly borne of the over-confidence engendered by his plentiful natural gifts. You could also argue that Brook’s edginess reflects his desperation to win the fight, and that this deep desire will serve him well should the fight enter deep waters. There is certainly a sense that he will do anything he possibly can to secure the victory, and this makes him dangerous.
Any outcome seems possible here, which alongside residual memories of glory nights long past for both men, explains much of the anticipation surrounding the fight. Brook early, late or on points, Khan early, late or on points are all plausible outcomes.
So what of my pick? Gun to the head, I would say that the value for gamblers lies with Khan (the 6-4 outsider with most oddsmakers), but my hunch is that Brook’s desire, heavier hands and sturdier chin will see him secure a late stoppage or points victory.