5 Things Kell Brook Needs to Do to Dethrone Shawn Porter
Kell Brook, 32-0, enters as the underdog for Saturday night's IBF welterweight title showdown in Carson California, as the Sheffield, South Yorkshire, England, fighter takes on the American belt-holder Shawn Porter (24-0-1).
The betting odds, per Oddschecker.com, suggest that Brook has roughly a 30 per cent chance of victory, with Porter favoured at around a 70 per cent chance, if you ignore the negligible chance of a draw.
It is interesting to reflect that only a year ago Brook would have been a strong favourite against Porter, particularly had they met at an English venue.
Since then Porter has vastly inflated his stock by beating Devon Alexander for the belt in an upset win over 12 rounds in December, before blowing away the veteran Paulie Malignaggi inside four rounds in April—a more destructive win than Miguel Cotto, Ricky Hatton or Amir Khan had managed over the Brooklynite.
On the back of that, out of a group of largely U.S.-based experts polled by The Ring magazine, a surprising 21 of 21 picked Porter to win this fight, even if a couple suggested he may triumph only thanks to judges siding with the local fighter.
Recent British imports to the U.S. such as Gavin Rees, Brian Rose and Lee Purdy—dubbed "Eddie Hearn's expendables" by rival promoter Frank Warren (via Boxnation.com)—were thoroughly outclassed, but Brook is on a higher level than that trio and deserves serious consideration in this matchup.
Here are five things the Englishman needs to do to come home with the gold.
1. Throw a Purposeful Jab
Porter's burgeoning reputation is largely based on his destruction of Malignaggi earlier this year. Perhaps the key punch on that night for Porter was a leaping left hook thrown in the final round that banged up Malignaggi and precipitated the finish.
With a lot of people favouring Porter, and the bookmakers leaning toward a stoppage win for the American, it is clear that the way he offed Malignaggi is fresh in people's minds—and they believe he can repeat the trick against Brook.
What the Porter-by-knockout tippers may be overlooking is the sting Brook possesses in his jab. Malignaggi is famously feather-fisted, and Porter had no respect for his flicking jab—he simply barrelled past it to land shots of his own.
Porter will understandably enter the fight with a lot of confidence, and it is essential for Brook that he can chip away at that belief by landing meaningful jabs from the first bell.
The American belt-holder can use feints and does jump into range by springing forward in an unorthodox style, so Brook will have to time his punches well to keep Porter at bay.
Whether or not Brook can establish his jab is probably the key determinant of who wins this fight. If he can then he takes control of the action—if he can't then it may only be a matter of time before Porter lands something big and closes the show.
Brook has a genuinely hurtful jab, which neither Malignaggi nor previous IBF champion Alexander can boast—and that could be a game-changer on Saturday.
What is crucial is that Brook works the jab with conviction and puts his weight into it to begin to dissuade his unbeaten opponent.
2. Stay Loose and Relaxed
This is easier said than done. Nobody goes into a big sporting event intending to let nerves get the better of them or to tense up in a self-destructive fashion.
As discussed earlier in the week, Brook and his promoter, Hearn, admitted that he was particularly nervous on his U.S. debut (and only overseas outing to date) back in 2011 against Luis Galarza.
Galarza was something of a gimme—Brook won inside five rounds—but the Englishman did perhaps take a couple of rounds to find his form.
In Brook's worst career performance against Carson Jones in 2012, he ran out of gas down the stretch and was a little fortunate to take the majority decision—plenty of observers concurred with the German judge who scored it a draw.
He learnt a lesson that night, and his stamina and conditioning should now be improved, although he hasn't had a chance to prove that yet with his four subsequent opponents (including Jones in a rematch) all being dispatched before the end of eight rounds.
Porter has excellent stamina and has never come close to getting stopped, so Brook has to be prepared to go 12 hard rounds if he is to win the fight.
Therefore it is crucial that "the Special One" keeps his head and doesn't burn needless nervous energy. He told IFL TV this week that he has been "visualising the fight for months," and good psychological preparation will help him rise to the occasion.
Brook must stay loose and relax so that he can put his game plan into action and maintain a good work rate all the way through the fight.
3. Use Head Movement and Don't Just Pull Backward
Brook is a product of the Ingle Gym in Sheffield, where the house style of low hands and slippery movement was laid down by middleweight contender Herol Graham.
The Ingle fighter best known to U.S. audiences is Naseem Hamed, the supremely entertaining featherweight champion of the late 1990s.
For years Hamed got away with taking stylistic liberties because of his excellent speed and reflexes. It was not until he faced Marco Antonio Barrera, by which time he may have been on the downslide, that anyone was able to take real advantage of Hamed's signature flaws.
Brook does not have as eccentric a style as Hamed, but he shares one clear weakness in his game. This is his failure to use effective head movement, instead simply pulling his head backward.
The problem with this is that it leaves you susceptible to a follow-up punch, and, because you are already backpedalling, the next shot is more likely to take you off your feet and incur a knockdown.
Most of Brook's opposition to date has been heavily overmatched and therefore unable to expose this error, but it could cost him dearly against the explosive Porter.
If Brook keeps pulling his head back in a predictable fashion, that will enable Porter to measure up his leaping left hook, which could be a knockout punch.
He also wants to stay off the ropes as much as possible—that was where Porter ended the fight against Malignaggi.
In camp Brook must have worked on head movement and technique, and he will need to have prepared diligently with suitably tough sparring to be able to minimise his chances of getting tagged with something big.
4. Weather the Early Rounds
Porter wiped out Malignaggi in four rounds, demonstrating both concussive power and good finishing skills—there are plenty of people who think he can do the same to Brook by simply overpowering him.
Since then the Akron, Ohio, man has gained an extra layer of confidence and self-belief. On the flip, Brook will be understandably wary of his opponent's explosiveness.
Therefore the Sheffield fighter should start cagily behind the jab until he has developed a feel for Porter's bouncing, lunging style—and a sense of just what sort of power the American carries.
Before the Malignaggi technical knockout, Porter had five straight distance fights (four over 10 rounds, one over 12) so it is possible his punching ability is being overrated on the back of one big performance.
Porter has been improving, but you don't tend to become a serious puncher overnight. It is more likely that Malignaggi, 33, had regressed more than people realised going in.
Malignaggi had previously fought a lacklustre version of Zab Judah, who is 36—and before that the low-volume Adrien Broner, who was competing at too high a weight class and didn't show much power as a welterweight. If Malignaggi had lost some of his punch resistance, neither of those guys really tested it.
Whatever the truth about Malignaggi's decline and Porter's power, Brook would do well to be wary until the fight has settled into a rhythm and he can get into his groove.
If Brook loses the first three rounds, it is a salvageable situation—if Porter closes the gap early and knocks him out, it's not.
The last thing Brook wants is to lose early and see his reputation go up in smoke. It is crucial that he weathers the early rounds and forces Porter into a real fight.
5. Bring the Uppercut into Play
If there is one punch that is perfect to combat Porter's distinctive style, then it's the uppercut.
From his short, squat stance, the American belt-holder will leap in, accelerating off his toes. It is a somewhat risky style, but nobody has really made Porter pay for it so far.
Porter can be off balance when he jumps in, meaning a successful counter-punch could be particularly damaging and potentially score a knockdown.
Increasingly in modern boxing, fewer and fewer fighters have a well-honed uppercut, but Brook can throw the punch well, carrying power—and with either hand.
Wladimir Klitschko is a fighter who has a powerful uppercut but will only throw it later in fights once he has seized control of the action, to minimise the risk of something coming back.
Brook would do better the throw it early and often as it is a punch that can earn Porter's respect and force him to ask questions about his own game plan.
If Brook can catch Porter coming in, he can use his own momentum against him, and an uppercut landing in that arrangement is perhaps his best chance of scoring a knockdown or stoppage.
Porter has not really faced anyone with a damaging uppercut, and this it is a potential secret weapon to enable Brook to become the first fighter to beat him as a professional.
If Brook can bring the uppercut into play, it could be the punch that swings the fight into his favour.