Kell Brook: 5 Burning Questions as He Approaches a World Title Fight
It feels like Kell Brook has been on the brink of a world title challenge since at least 2010 when he fought the first of five fights that BoxRec records as a title eliminator.
That must surely be a record for a fighter who has not actually fought for a global title, although Brook is still one year shy of Alexander Povetkin's five-year wait between sealing the right to fight Wladimir Klitschko and reluctantly stepping up to the plate.
Despite managing to bring the champion to his native Russia, Povetkin was easily beaten, going down four times and providing clear evidence as to why he was less than eager to face the Ukrainian monolith.
Brook would probably be similarly overmatched if he faced either of the true welterweight kingpins—Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao—but he has no chance of landing those fights in the short term.
We are told by promoter Eddie Hearn, in his column in the Daily Mail, that Brook is guaranteed an IBF title fight against the winner of Shawn Porter versus Paulie Malignaggi, to occur within 90 days of their April 19 match. This time you have to believe it will finally come off.
Brook returned on Saturday against Alvaro Robles, winning in the eighth round when his brave but limited opponent's corner threw in the towel.
That Robles had not fought outside of Mexico before, despite the wealth of American welterweight talent in need of decent opposition, told you all you need to know about his level.
Still, now the real business of 2014 for Kell Brook can begin. Here are five important questions as he approaches the biggest test of his career to date.
1. Porter or Malignaggi?
Okay, it's an obvious one but everything follows on from it. No. 1 contender Brook thought he would get the next fight with Shawn Porter (pictured), but the IBF allowed the new champion a first defence against Paulie Malignaggi.
Porter surprised the previous champion Devon Alexander in December—it was Alexander whom Brook signed to fight on three occasions, but one or other of the men was injured each time.
Malignaggi is much more of a known quantity, having been fighting at the top level since losing a competitive decision to Miguel Cotto in 2006.
Although Malignaggi has enjoyed a mini-renaissance at welterweight, he is a fighter that anyone with pretensions of being world-class should beat.
After taking the WBA title off Vyacheslav Senchenko in 2012 (a fighter Brook stopped in four), Malignaggi was seen as such a vulnerable champion that Adrien Broner jumped two weight classes to dethrone him.
Malignaggi is famously lacking in power ("floats like a butterfly—stings like a butterfly"), but fundamentally he is a good boxer. If Brook lacks the power to stop Paulie then, like Broner, he will probably lose some rounds on activity level alone, although, overall, he should have enough to see off the 33-year-old veteran.
Porter pulled off a sizable shock against Alexander, having gone into the fight without any particularly impressive wins on his resume.
The question is whether that was a one-off—Alexander looked out of sorts and was a good style match for Porter—or if the unbeaten 26-year-old has a legitimate future at the top. If he comes through the Malignaggi fight, people will have to start taking notice.
Porter is a high-output fighter, which could trouble Brook, and he likes to rough opponents up on the inside, where Brook has never shown much prowess, instead preferring to fight at range behind his jab.
Given that there aren't the blueprints on how to beat Porter from previous fights, and that he's at an age where he should be improving, Brook would likely prefer Malignaggi.
Brook has publicly expressed that very opinion, although he seemed to be thinking more about the commercial potential of the fight than the stylistic concerns.
Porter-Malignaggi could genuinely go either way, but you would expect the champion to start as the betting favourite. If he proves the oddsmakers right, Porter-Brook would be an intriguing contest between two emerging and unbeaten, but to some extent untested, fighters.
2. Britain or America?
In his Daily Mail column, Eddie Hearn had this to say about Brook's potential opponents: "You have to say Porter is the favourite, but if it’s Malignaggi who wins then I think a fight between him and Brook is big enough to hold here in the UK."
This is a slightly odd quote because, in general, the bigger the fight the less likely it is to happen in the UK as opposed stateside. (The chance of, say, Khan-Mayweather happening in the UK is 0 percent.)
Also, Paulie Malignaggi is one of the few contemporary Americans who can reliably draw fans on the gate having topped the bill at the Barclays Center in his hometown of Brooklyn for his last two outings.
By contrast Porter of Akron, Ohio, has no real fanbase whatsoever, so you would think it would take less of Hearn's money to bring him over the Atlantic.
However, because Malignaggi has fought Ricky Hatton and Amir Khan in the past (both 11th-round TKO defeats), he has a much higher profile in the UK than Porter and would sell more tickets.
Even so, Brook-Porter would surely sell out the 13,500 capacity Motorpoint Arena in Sheffield, and maybe even the Manchester Arena with a decent undercard.
Plus, given that Brook is one of Hearn's most talented and marketable fighters, you'd expect him to do everything to get home advantage for his man in his first world-title fight, regardless of the opponent.
All the same, the location of the fight is obviously still up in the air and may depend on how much the American TV networks are willing to throw at it to keep in US prime time.
Brook is a guy whose temperament has been questioned in the past, and the extra demands of fighting overseas could certainly affect his performance for the worse.
Long term, if Brook is as good as Hearn would have you believe, he would surely have to fight in the US eventually. But at this stage in his career, he could get Porter or Malignaggi to the UK and that could prove very important in ensuring he takes the first step toward real success in the welterweight division.
3. Has He Received Adequate Preparation from His Recent Fights?
The closest fight on Brook's perfect 32-0 record was the July 2012 contest against Carson Jones which he won on a 12-round majority decision. (i.e. one judge had it a draw—and that was arguably the fairest outcome.)
Jones was the first American opponent Brook had faced but wasn't expected to seriously challenge him, not least because he already had eight defeats on his record.
But Brook's stamina was put under real scrutiny by Jones, who, despite being dominated early on, came on strong and had the Sheffield man taking punishment as the fight wore on.
In the rematch last year Jones wasn't given a chance to get into the fight and a better conditioned Brook stopped him in eight. However, Jones is only a third-tier guy in the division and it's questionable as to how much Brook really learned from a redo.
You would have expected Brook to have faced a second-tier guy by now—since the first Jones fight his best other opponent has been Senchenko. Although Senchenko had a decent profile for beating a finished Ricky Hatton, he was outclassed by Paulie Malignaggi in his only meaningful fight on the world stage.
Admittedly, Porter and Malignaggi are perhaps only second-tier guys themselves, but they are at the top of that tier, and it would have been good to have seen Brook in with someone like Jesus Soto Karass or Leonard Bundu—tough fighters who act as gatekeepers to the top level.
There is no question that Brook would have benefited from another incremental test before challenging for world honours, but that doesn't mean he can't make the jump in one leap. However, if he fails at the next hurdle, the quality of his recent opposition will deservedly receive some of the blame.
4. Can He Go 12 Hard Rounds?
Kell Brook has good power, but not so much that you would expect him to be a KO specialist at the world-class level. However, because he has had too much fire in his fists for most of his previous opponents, he has only gone past the eighth round three times.
One of those fights was the first fight with Jones, which was a good learning fight. The other two were one-sided affairs against durable but faded guys in Matthew Hatton and Lovemore N'dou.
What this means is that Brook has only had one tough distance fight and that was when he was tested by Jones and his stamina looked deficient. This is perhaps the biggest reason why he could really have done with a fight against a Soto Karass or a Bundu.
By contrast, Malignaggi (pictured) has gone the distance in five of his last six, three times over 12 rounds, twice over 10—and Porter in all of his last five, four over 10 and one the full championship distance.
Neither Porter nor Malignaggi is a big puncher, so they have got used to always being in shape to go long into a fight, as well as having plenty of experience in the art of pacing a fight.
Porter has never been stopped and Malignaggi only after two prolonged beatings in fights that still reached the eleventh round, so it's unlikely Brook could get rid of either of them early.
Brook may be able to overwhelm either of the Americans with his neat footwork and stinging shots in the early rounds, but they both have the potential to stick around and work their way into a fight.
If Brook has not developed a better engine than he showed against Jones, that could put paid to his chances of seeing off Porter or Malignaggi.
5. Is He Still Comfortable at the Weight?
At 5'9", Brook has a big frame for a welterweight, and he has been at the weight since turning pro in 2004. Boxers generally have to move up in weight as they get older, and Brook is now 27.
The Sheffield man has never actually missed weight, but both the Jones rematch and his outing against Robles on Saturday were contracted at 152-pound catchweights, five pounds over the welterweight limit and nearer to the 154-pound light-middleweight mark.
In both of those instance,s Brook was the money fighter and could force his opponents to dance to his tune, so cynics might argue he was simply trying to give himself every advantage.
Even so, the fact that Brook would find it an advantage to come in at 151 in those fights is telling. He is big at welterweight and when he had the option to not have to boil right down, he took it. That surely tells you that it is a struggle for him to make 147.
After the Robles fight, Brook talked about going straight back into camp, even though his title fight won't come until the summer, most likely July.
With so long to prepare, it would be foolish to go so far as to suggest Brook won't be able to make weight, but the question is whether or not he is losing anything by staying at welterweight—in particular power in his punches and stamina.
The motivation to win a world title will ensure Brook comes in at 147. But, while four pounds here and there might not sound much, you only have to look at how much more comfortable Canelo Alvarez looked at 155 in his last fight, compared to 152 against Floyd Mayweather, to realise the significance of it.
In the long term you would expect Brook to move to light-middleweight—in the short term the question is whether he can still make welterweight without compromising too much.
As with all these questions, come the summer, we will have our answers.