It took Kell Brook less than three full rounds to score a clinical stoppage over Hector Saldivia in front of his hometown fans at the Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield. With the victory, Brook has become the official mandatory challenger for current IBF welterweight champion Randall Bailey.
The building of Brook (29-0, 19 KO) from prospect to contender has been a careful process. Brook has always displayed an abundance of speed and skill, but it was not until his majority-decision victory over the rugged Carson Jones that questions about Brook's heart and resolve were answered.
In escaping with a narrow win over Jones, Brook maintained his lofty status with the IBF and secured the elimination fight against Saldivia (41-3, 32 KO), a somewhat obscure Argentine fighter with a glossy record built against limited opposition, for the right to challenge the winner of tonight's IBF welterweight title fight between belt-holder Bailey and former unified junior welterweight champion Devon Alexander.
Now, Brook will get his chance.
With the Bailey-Alexander title fight airing later today at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Brook will undoubtedly be following the bout with keen interest. If Bailey retains his title, Brook will almost certainly be able to challenge for the IBF title in Sheffield; however, should Alexander prevail, the St. Louis native with a solid fanbase could complicate negotiations regarding a fight location.
Brook's fight against Saldivia featured a cagey start with both men feinting in the center of the ring. Brook consistently pumped his jab and landed the first telling combination of the fight when he scored with a left hook that followed a sneaky right uppercut. This punch would prove key as Brook floored Saldivia with another right uppercut toward the end of the round.
Perhaps somewhat wary of Saldivia's punching power, Brook did not press the issue, electing to box for the remainder of the round as he searched for an opening. Unable to land another telling shot, Brook appeared content with the strategy of methodically breaking down his opponent.
The second stanza was also decisive for Brook, and he immediately backed Saldivia up with a right hook to start the round. Saldivia responded with powerful, yet wild, swings, leaving him consistently off-balance. Some rough stuff ensued as Brook was warned for using his elbows and pushing Saldivia to the canvas after leaning on the Argentine fighter.
Brook continued to string together flashy combinations, often punctuating his assaults with overhand rights and left hooks. Saldivia did flurry toward the end of the stanza, though Brook rolled well with his opponent's punches and never appeared remotely uncomfortable.
The end was abrupt and clinical as Brook floored Saldivia with a perfectly timed, stiff jab at the beginning of the third round. Given the effectiveness of Brook's right hand, especially the uppercut, the ending proved surprising. Brook had done an excellent job of timing Saldivia throughout the fight, and the jab landed hard on the point of the advancing Saldivia's chin.
The Argentine struggled to his feet only to stumble toward the ropes, and the referee mercifully stopped the bout, which appeared to be an inevitability as early as the middle third of the first round.
While Brook was undoubtedly impressive, Saldivia was a limited opponent who, while possessing punching power, telegraphed his shots and offered little in the way of defensive fundamentals. Still, Brook showed poise, power and precision while doing exactly what was expected of him: scoring an impressive stoppage.
Brook will now eagerly await the result of the Bailey-Alexander fight, and promoter Eddie Hearn, in a post-fight interview, stated that negotiations with the winner of that fight will begin as soon as the results from Brooklyn are definitive.
Reiterating his desire to destroy Amir Khan, Brook will likely challenge for the IBF strap before the all-British showdown comes to fruition. Given the way Brook looked against Saldivia, it is certainly time for him to challenge fighters who are genuinely at the world level.